Editors' BlogSeptember 18, 2007

Slope Question

I'm surprised we don't get this question more often. This comes from Ed Higgins of St. Louis:

You may have covered this in the past, but perhaps you could consider an article about course ratings and slopes.  I just returned from a wonderful trip to California, where we played Pebble, Spyglass and Spanish Bay and as I compared my experiences with the calculated difficulty of the course, they didn't match up, at least for me.  What's the difference between the two numbers?  Is one more predictive?  Is a course with a slope of 140 supposed to be ten strokes harder than one with a slope of 130 (with some adjustment for your handicap)?  Is length weighed more heavily than green speed?  Is the whole rating thing subjective or are there uniform standards?  Can you offer a "pocket converter" for the average player?Â

  You lucky man. Sounds like a heck of a trip. On your question and suggestion: It would be a good story and one that Dean Knuth, the former USGA executive known as "the Pope of Slope," could help us with. I've talked to Dean a great deal about this subject and I'm quite sure he'd say something like this:

Course rating is what a scratch player would shoot on the course. If the rating is 72.0, his or her score would be very close to that.

Slope rating is an indication of how much harder the course gets as one's handicap increases. If an average slope is 115, say, that's a gentle increase. A slope of 140 is an abrupt one, meaning that a 15 handicap will score much higher than the course rating plus 15.

Factors that contribute to course rating are carefully enumerated by course raters, usually from the state golf association, trained by the USGA and these associations. They include distance, rough, hazards, etc. Raters are educated about what contributes to a higher slope. For example, a 225-yard forced carry over water may not be a problem for the scratch player, but would be a huge problem for the high-handicapper. The presence or absence of such forced carries may result in a very different slope for courses of similar ratings. All of these factors are carefully codified, allowing for objective, consistent ratings and slopes from one course to another.

Hope this helps. Good idea for a story, though.

--Bob Carney

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