Golf Handicap: Course and Slope Rating mysteries…

Golf Handicap’s Black box
Most golfers see the Handicap System as a black box judging their golf fate. Most don’t understand it but have chosen to go with the flow and humbly accept its verdict.

We already discussed the overall methodology of the USGA Handicap system as well as some of the principles behind it. But we never discussed in detail the most puzzling and mysterious part of the Handicap System, the Course and Slope ratings.

Course Rating
I often define it as “the real par of the golf course” for scratch golfers. Most golfers would agree with me that there are par 4’s that are more difficult than others. In fact, the same par 4 would be more difficult from different teeboxes. The course rating is an attempt to differentiate how some holes are more difficult than others even though the par would be 3, 4 or 5.

Slope Rating
This is also a measure of the relative difficulty of the course, but this time focused on the bogey golfers comparing them to scratch golfers. Slope ratings range from 55 to 155, with 113 being the standard difficulty of the course. So whenever you see a 155 Slope rating, run away from it.

So what?
So based on that principle, there are committees in charge of evaluating the difficulty of holes and give them a rating with decimals. So a par 4 could become a 4.3, or a par 5 a 4.9. After they have evaluated all 18 holes, they add those real ratings and get the Course Rating, or how I call it, “the real par of the course”.

To calculate those ratings a committee of licensed folks from the USGA visit golf courses every 10 years or so and rate the golf course. They assume:

  • A male scratch golfer can hit teeshots of 250 yards on avg, and reach a 470 yard hole in two (sea level)
  • A male bogey golfer can hit teeshots of 200 yards on avg, and reach a 370 yard hole in two (sea level)
  • A female scratch golfer can hit teeshots of 210 yards on avg, and reach a 400 yard hole in two (sea level)
  • A female bogey golfer can hit teeshots of 150 yards on avg, and reach a 280 yard hole in two (sea level)

Based on that they take into consideration the following aspects of the hole to determine the ratings: Length, Landing zones, roll, elevation changes, doglegs, prevailing winds, altitude (shots fly farther at high altitudes), topography, fairway (how difficult is to hit it), greens (how difficult is to hit it), rough recoverability, bunkers, out of bounds limits, water hazards, trees, green surfaces, psychological (cumulative effect of obstacles).

We at are constantly updating golf course ratings to ensure the most accurate information in the Handicap Calculation process. If you’ve learn that your local golf course have changed ratings recently, let us know so we can adjust our database.

To learn more about Course Ratings you can visit the USGA primer on course ratings

Enjoy your Golf!

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  1. Craig

    “A female scratch golfer can hit teeshots of 150 yards on avg, and reach a 280 yard hole in two (sea level)”. You mean bogey, not scratch, right?

  2. Greg Langshaw

    I played at Ko Olina recently and they are getting ready for the LPGA tournament, and as such they have let the rough grow, narrowed the fairways, and generally made the course harder to play, does this affect the slope rating?

    • Great question Greg! well in practice it does affect the slope rating because the golf course is now set more difficult. However, because of the dynamics the rating is not modified. It would require a USGA rating committee to visit the course and review the ratings (which of course costs money) for the three or four weeks that the course is playing that way.

      Having said that, for courses that generally host this kind of events and that are kept like that frequently, the course and slope ratings should reflect it. Because the intent of the ratings is to reflect average conditions. For example, ocean courses generally have lots of wind, which affects the rating. But there are calm days as well and ratings won’t change for those.

      I hope this answers your question.

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