RENSLOW: Finding equality on the course |

RENSLOW: Finding equality on the course

We are all created equal. That’s what is says in our constitution. But our founding documents weren’t addressing athletics. No matter how much I try, my dreams of making the Olympic track team continue to go unrealized.

All golf courses are not created equal, either. A layout amongst the tall pines of the foothills will be a world apart from a coast side, links style property. With respect, if you would like to play an 18-hole regulation golf course, tooling around a little 9-hole course is just not the same.

In previous columns, we have touched on golf’s handicap system. This system provides a basis for players with different skill sets and/or experience to compete on a level playing field. Since that time, a number of inquiries have come in. The curiosity is: how are golf courses rated and what is the difference between a “course rating” and a “slope rating”?

Now for those of us who have not memorized the first 20 digits of pi and have no problem sleeping, we’re going to keep it light. However, in our goal toward a well-rounded golf education (used to impress your friends), it is important that you know this.

A course rating is just what you might think. It is an evaluation of playing difficulty, based on a scratch player (who can play to the course handicap) on a given course. It projects the average round for the scratch player, on a specific golf course, under normal course and weather conditions.

Each golf course is surveyed by a team of course raters during the opening of a new golf course, then updated periodically (several years). First, the team of raters will drive or walk the course to learn, track and record the particulars (length, obstacles, hazards, etc). Next, the raters play the course in order to fine tune and record the most appropriate numbers.

Chances are this average projected score would not be the traditional par-72. It is measured in tenths and will be a higher score for the more difficult courses and a lower score on the less challenging courses. For example, more often than not, from the middle tees (historically known as the “white” tees for men) a course rating will be in the high 60s, such as 68.8 or similar.

The slope rating is all about the difference between this scratch player, we will call him Mr. Scratch, and the non-scratch player, known to us as Mr. Bogey.

A few decades ago, the USGA (United States Golf Association), keeper of the handicap system, noticed that Mr. Scratch would shoot a score close to par no matter how easy or challenging the golf course. Conversely, they noticed that Mr. Bogey’s score would get worse, relative to the difficulty of the golf course.

So, while the scores of Mr. Scratch stay relatively constant, Mr. Bogey’s scores soar higher and higher as the golf course becomes more challenging. The basic point of a slope rating is to compensate for this growing disparity.

A slope rating is the USGA mark that indicates the measurement of the relative playing difficulty of a course for Mr. Bogey compared to Mr. Scratch. It is computed from the difference between the Mr. Bogey (bogey rating) and Mr. Scratch (course rating) then multiplied by a constant factor. This slope rating is then expressed as a whole number with an average of 113 and a range from 55 to 155.

Whew, that’s a lot to digest. But, the good news is — these two ratings cover all the bases. Each time we play and post a score from a round of golf, the handicap system is doing a lot of thinking for us and striving for a level playing field.

Because even though we may not have been born equal when it comes to our golf game, the course and slope ratings go a long way in making us equal on the course.

For more details on the Handicap System. log on to or send me a note.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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