What is SSS and CSS in Golf?

Do you ever look at a scorecard and wonder just what on earth CSS and SSS means? Or, have you ever shot one under your handicap and your handicap didn’t get reduced? Although, most golfers aren’t aware of how a Standard Scratch Score or Competition Standard Scratch Score are calculated, they are key factors in re-calculation of golf handicaps following a round of golf. In this article we explain what SSS and CSS are and how they will effect your handicap. 

The Standard Scratch Score is the measurement of any particular courses difficulty. This is based on the ability of a Scratch Golfer to play that course. This forms the benchmark for handicap revisions at that course. For instance a par 72 course assessed as playing 2 shots more difficult for a scratch player than the par would be given a SSS of 74. 

The Competition Standard Scratch is an calculation made on any given day depending solely on the scores of the players taking part and will form the final benchamrk score on which handicap revisions are calculated. 

Standard Scratch Score 

Let’s start with Standard Scratch Score and how it is calculated. The SSS is the final number given to a course following evaluation of the difficulty. There are many contributing factors to this evaluation , but essentially it is rated for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions. In the past few years the Scottish Golf Union and England Golf have used the USGA Course Rating system to calculate the SSS for a course. 

A question that usually arises when discussing SSS is “why is my course’s standard scratch lower than my friend’s?” Well, that again is simple – even though some courses have the same overall par, some are quite simply a lot more difficult than others depending on individual holes and the difficulty of the terrain.

As we mentioned earlier the USGA Rating Process requires an in depth analysis of holes and takes into account 10 obstacle factors. These are: topography, fairways, green target recoverability and rough, bunkers, out of bounds, extreme rough, water hazards, trees, green surface and psychological elements. To add to this, factors such as roll, wind, forced lay-ups, the number of doglegs and changes in elevation are also taken into account. Finally and most significantly the length of the course is also take into account. 

Interestingly, one factor that helps save a short course’s standard scratch from being low is the Green Target. This takes into account the size of the green, the length of the approach, how well the green holds and how difficult the normal pin positions are.

One factor is set apart from the rest as not tangible and that is Psychological factor. Psychological is defined as any obstacle that causes an “uneasiness of the mind.” This is purely mathematical and is added on after the on-course rating is complete.

Each factor is assigned a value of 0 to 10, depending on its relation to how a scratch or bogey golfer would play the hole. When the evaluation is complete, the numbers for each hole’s obstacles are added and multiplied by a relative weighting factor.

The weighted obstacle stroke values are applied to scratch and bogey formulas and then converted to strokes. Those strokes are added or subtracted from the Yardage Rating to produce the USGA Course Rating and as a result the SSS. Pretty complicated stuff, but the governing bodies believe this is a well refined method and produces excellent results. 

As you can imagine rating a golf course's SSS takes a team of 3-4 people a whole day. 

Competition Scratch Score 

As stated earlier, the competition scratch score is the benchmark score calculated in every amateur tournament round in the UK. 

Calculations are made via a mathematical equation often by a computer program, however it is not uncommon to see some clubs do the math manually, as soon as the last competition card is handed in.

To begin, the make-up of the field is established based on the percentage of the players in each handicap category. Then the the percentage of the field who have returned net scores within their respective buffer zones is calculated (a buffer zone is how many over par your nett score can be to avoid the dreaded 0.1 increase. It is simple’ category one golfers can be one over their handicap; category two can be two over and so on).

If a high percentage of golfers have met or buffered, CSS can drop one below SSS. One shot is the most that CSS can drop by. If a low percentage of players have met or bettered their buffer zones, CSS may well go up and it can climb up to three shots above SSS before a round becomes “reduction only.”

Currently this is the most feasible way to produce a CSS. The USA use the slope system although this does not bring into account weather conditions. There are plans for a World Handicap System that is currently due to be introduced some time in the earlier 2020's and this is likely to be an amalgamation of current UK systema and US system. 

Learn more aboout how golf handicaps are calculated - Click here

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