Golf Guru

By Ron Kaspriske Illustrations by John Ueland
May 31, 2009

Q:__ What's the process for determining a course's Slope Rating? I assume it's based on perfect weather and course conditions -- yet I'm expected to play the course in a storm, wind or bad conditions.____* -- David Smith, Scottsdale*__

A: There are some things in life that are so complex that, rather than try to figure them out, it's better just to take a large swig of blind faith. The Golf Guru feels that way about flying. If you really thought about it -- hurtling through the sky in a hollow metal tube -- you'd never get on the damn plane. Similarly, you don't need to know why or how the Slope system works, just that it does, more or less. But in brief, here's what happens. Your state golf association sends a team of four raters to each course. They follow a USGA guide to assess how difficult the course is for scratch golfers, looking at each hole, its hazards and length. This is the Course Rating. At the same time, they rate the course for the average player, too, the "bogey golfer," taking into account how those same obstacles play for the likes of you and me. The difference between the Bogey Rating and the Course Rating determines the Slope Rating, the idea being that on harder courses, the scores of bad golfers rise disproportionately compared with those of good golfers. (The term "Slope" reflects the gradation of the line that appears when these scores are plotted on a graph.) The point of it all is to level the playing field -- Handicap Indexes are based on the same standard and so actually mean something. Without Slope, an 18-handicapper from an easy course would be no match for an 18-handicapper from a tough course. As for weather and course conditions, ratings are based on normal midyear, midday conditions for the area. And because Handicap Indexes are calculated from the best 10 of your last 20 scores, the effects of rain, wind, twisters and terrible lies tend to average out.

My advice? Forget all this fuzzy math and voodoo science and just go out and play.

Q:__ Is it legal to carry two putters? I have one that's good for putts over six feet and one I like for putts under six feet.__ * -- John Quero, Dubai*

A: You can carry 14 putters if you wish, but don't put any other clubs in your bag. Jesper Parnevik played the last round of the 2002 Masters Tournament with two putters, and Sergio Garcia tried it in a tour event last year. Those crazy Europeans. Good putting requires a clear head; two putters will only cause confusion. Not recommended.

News Alert!

The collected so-called wisdom of The Golf Guru ($18.95) is available in a book, including all questions old and new, assorted bonus chapters and a foreword by the game's commander-in-chief, Arnold Palmer. Aside from telling you everything you need to know about the game, the book serves as a wonderful gift, doorstop, projectile, piece of kindling. I hope you like it. Please send all compliments to The Golf Guru; any complaints, however, should be directed to the publisher.

World News

From our foreign desk


If you want to play golf while gazing at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, your only option is Mena House Oberoi Golf Course, 250 yards from the Great Pyramids. Egypt's oldest course (opened in 1899) is getting an overhaul thanks to German architect Bettina Schrickel, who won the job against six other course designers. The design fee? Zero dollars. "It's a labor of love," says Schrickel. "It's an honor to do this work." ... Despite hyperinflation, cholera and hugely unpopular President Robert Mugabe, golf survives in Zimbabwe. At Bulawayo Golf Club (founded in 1895), members have been paying with gasoline because local bank notes are now worthless. Meanwhile, the highly rated Leopard Rock golf resort was recently bought for $8.5 million by investment group LonZim. ... The recession has hit the Old Country's golf courses hard: 90 percent of clubs in England have vacancies for members.