A Rating More On Course

True or false: When a course rating team calculates a slope rating, it determines a number, from 55 to 155, that is reflective of the challenge facing a scratch player.

In an era when course architects make their next offerings seemingly more difficult than their last, utilizing an abundance of sand and water to humble all but the best golfers, the statement seems to be true. But it is false. The scratch player is the yardstick used to determine a course rating. For slope, the rating team turns to an equally important component, and a number that won't appear on any scorecard: the bogey rating.

When the USGA course rating system was improved in 1987, the slope rating became a second dimension to the existing course rating. Many golfers know that a course rating is an evaluation of a course's difficulty for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions. But those same golfers are unaware of the bogey rating, which isn't posted on a layout's course handicap tables or its scorecard. The greater the difference between the course and bogey ratings, the higher the slope.

The two ratings are determined by course raters, who work in teams on behalf of a state or local golf association. Rating teams prepare a course and bogey rating for each set of tees on a course. While yardage is the primary determinant, there are 15 other factors taken into account, such as water hazards, trees, out of bounds, prevailing wind and altitude above sea level.

Picture a tough-as-nails par-4 that bends to the left, the No. 1 handicap hole on the course. From the middle tee, a male scratch player would boom a drive that carries the bunker at the dogleg's corner. He would hit a crisp approach shot over the lake fronting the green, landing the ball beyond the gaping greenside bunker. The shot would stop within reasonable birdie range of the hole. This is the golfer the rating team would use as its criteria when determining the course rating is 71.5.

Now envision a male bogey golfer attacking the same hole. That person is defined in the USGA handicap system manual as a man having a handicap index of 17.5 to 22.4 (about a 20 average), hitting an average drive of 200 yards and able to reach a 370-yard hole in two shots. The bogey woman has an index of 21.5 to 26.4, hits a 150-yard drive and reaches a 280-yard hole in two. The bogey golfer puts up a game fight, but a birdie would be this player's best hole of the entire year. The rating team uses this player as its criteria to set the bogey rating at 96.3, which means the bogey golfer is predicted to average 96.3 on the better half of his scores on this set of tees.

Once the rating team verifies its calculations, the state or local association computes the slope. The formula is the difference between the bogey rating and the course rating, multiplied by a set factor (5.381 for men, 4.24 for women). For the tees outlined earlier, the calculation is 133.45 for men, which is rounded to 133 since slope is expressed as a whole number.

Many players who fall into or near the bogey golfer category choose the tees they will play by consulting the yardage on the scorecard. Even worse, they just follow the rest of their group to a specific color tee and do not consider their capabilities against the challenge a different set of tees will provide.

Most bogey golfers would be better served looking at a combination of yardage, course rating and slope. For those inclined, a little math could lead to a more enjoyable round. Bogey players should take the slope rating, divide it by the set factor (5.381 for men, 4.24 for women) and add that to the course rating. The result is a target score for the bogey player, and is a truer yardstick of the challenge that lies ahead.