Course Rating in Alberta

Written by Stephen Wigington

If you are a long-time golfer you may not realize how unique the sport is. It’s tough to take a step back and objectively look at the game you have adopted as part of your lifestyle. But committing 4 hours to walk around 100+ acres of land trying to put a tiny white ball in a hole while wearing a collared shirt isn’t exactly “normal”.

To get this objective look at golf, a good starting point is to compare it with other sports. Picture any other sport with various skill levels trying to compete in the same game. How do you make it fair? Maybe the tennis expert is forced to play with the wrong hand, the track star gives a head start, or the better hockey team needs to play with one less player on the ice.

If you turn your mind back to golf, you quickly realize that the difference of skill levels is baked right into the sport. The Handicap Index you carry as a golfer can (as of 2020) be taken around the world to compete on a fair and equitable basis with any other golfer.

Remember those 100+ acres of land you were wandering? They are split into 18 holes, and no 2 holes anywhere on the planet are the same. With such an overwhelming variety of golf courses, the keystone of the entire handicapping system becomes: Course Rating.

The average golfer will recognize 2 numbers when they are looking at a scorecard: the Course Rating and the Slope Rating. To reach these numbers, each hole will be measured for length, and inspected for up to 10 different obstacle factors that can impact the hole’s difficulty (water, sand, trees, green surface, etc.). Each hole will also be looked at from 4 different perspectives: a scratch male (0.0), a scratch female (0.0), a bogey male (20.0), and a bogey female (24.0). Time for our first question: Why is there a difference in Handicap Index between a male and female bogey player? Great question. There is a definite reason for this, but that won’t be the technical answer given here. The simplest answer (to almost any Course Rating question) is that although accuracy is very important, consistency is paramount. The overall goal of Course Rating is to provide a quantitative idea of how difficult a course is so it can be used to calculate a golfer’s Handicap Index. If the way we measure the difficulty of a golf course changes, all previously rated golf courses become outdated.

Once we have rated a golf course from our 4 different perspectives, we get two ratings. The “Course Rating” is the rating calculated using our scratch golfers. If a scratch golfer plays under normal course and weather conditions, this is what we have calculated they will shoot.

The other rating we get is the “Bogey Rating”, or what bogey golfers would shoot under those same normal conditions. The Bogey Rating is not published as it alone does not directly impact anything for the golfer. What it does is help to determine the slope of the golf course. Simply put, the Slope Rating measures the difficulty of the course for Bogey Golfers compared to Scratch Golfers. Generally speaking, the harder a golf course, the higher a Slope Rating would be, but this is not always the case. A Slope Rating doesn’t need to be high if the course has been designed to be accommodating to the Bogey Golfer (i.e. less forced carries, wider fairways where bogey golfers would hit it, etc.).

Next time you tee it up, try looking at a few holes from the 4 different perspectives. Maybe you will gain some perspective of your own on the intricacies of Course Rating.