What Are You Doing on My Course? - A Course Rating Guide

June 15, 2022
Belleville, IL - St. Louis, MO 

The Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association Course Rating Committee is back into the swing of things this season. On Thursday June 9, they were out at Orchards Golf Club in Belleville, Illinois forming a new course rating, and our interns joined in. For a golf course, the Course Rating Committee will give each hole its own rating for both the men and women scratch and bogey golfers. When out on the course, golfers often stop to ask questions such as What are you doing out here, What is a course rating, How do you do that, How do you get selected to do this?. Knowing about course rating, and how it affects you as a golfer is always useful. So, let’s clear some things up:

What is a course rating?
A course rating is the difficulty of a course determined by a certified Course Rating Committee. The course rating is based on the expected performance of a scratch golfer (scratch golfer: a player with a 0.0 Handicap Index) under normal course and weather conditions. When a committee is rating a course, they also calculate a Bogey Rating, which is based on the expected performance of a bogey golfer (bogey golfer: a player with a Handicap Index of approx. 20.0 for men and 24.0 for women). It should be noted that during course ratings, one is to assume both the scratch and bogey players hit straight shots (not left or right as what one might do).

Who can rate a course?
Any one. The MAGA Course Rating Committee is a group of volunteers who will get together pre-season for a workshop to fine tune their skills and learn of updates to the course rating procedures. There is no predetermined skill set necessary, as everything can be taught and learned. The one rule in regards to who can rate a course is that one should not serve as team leader when at your home course to avoid bias. One perk to being on the team is that after a rating is complete, the team eats lunch and then heads back to the course to play a round to gain insight on the job they just did.

What is measured during a course rating?
Everything that can be measured is measured during a course rating. Physical, numerical measurements are made for total hole length, fairway widths, green dimensions, bunker depths and distances to obstacles, such as out of bounds and penalty areas. Do not worry, raters are also taking all of the other factors of a golf course into consideration as well. The team rating a particular hole will determine what advantages and takeaways need to be applied to a rating for aspects such as roll, bounce, mounds, trees, wind, forced lay-ups, and ability of a golfer to recover.

The conditions aren’t the same today as they normally are, how do you get an accurate rating?
Raters must consider and rate the course as if in midseason when the majority of rounds are played. Some ratings cannot be done during midseason, so raters are instructed to rate the course not as the course is during the time of rating, but as it would be in peak season. 

How often does a course get re-rated?
A course rating is allocated on a 10-year cycle. New clubs receive more attention during the first ten years - being rated three times in those ten years - which allows the course to mature and the growth of the course to be reviewed. Many clubs will make changes to their course such as adding or removing bunkers and changing greens. When this happens, the Course Rating Committee will re-rate the course to apply these new changes. If there are no changes made to a club, then it will be re-rated every ten years. The MAGA is always in communication with clubs to make sure any significant changes are noted and a new course rating can be made. 

What's the difference between a course rating and slope?
A Course Rating in conjunction with the Bogey Rating are used to calculate a Slope Rating. The Slope Rating is an indication of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch players. To find the slope rating, you subtract the Course Rating from the Bogey Rating and then multiply it by the predetermined number (men - 5.381; women - 4.24).

How does a course rating affect me as a player?
For any course with a Course Rating, a player can use the scores from his/her round towards his/her Handicap Index. Having a Handicap Index allows players to play a casual round or compete with anyone on a fair and equal basis. This means a bogey player and a scratch player are able to play the same tees at an equal level, despite their difference in playing abilities. 

Once players have a Handicap Index, they can use that to determine their course and playing handicaps. A Course Handicap determines the number of strokes a player receives on a course, which is calculated by multiplying the Handicap Index by the Slope Rating divided by 113 and then added to the Course Rating minus par. A Playing Handicap determines the number of strokes each player gives or receives to ensure a fair and equal game for all players. This is calculated by multiplying the Course Handicap by the Handicap Allowance. 

So, when you go into GHIN to put in the score from your round, you are able to do this because the course has a rating. Once you have a Handicap Index based on those scores, that course rating then allows you to have adjusted scores based on the difficulty of the hole on the course, making the play equal for all golfers playing.

What was the course rating experience like for our interns?
Our interns had a great experience at their first course rating. Each of them joined an experienced course rater to learn the ropes. Everyone was split into groups, and together the course rating team finished rating the course in about 3 hours. When asked about their experience, this is what our interns had to say:

“I thought the course rating was very interesting and gave me an insight into the strategy of golf that I did not have before. Learning how to see what makes a course more difficult and what strategies a golfer has to take to avoid those obstacles has me excited to get back on the course and use what I've learned.” - Jack Underwood

“I really enjoyed going out and rating the course. I didn't realize how much work went into it, but the result was cool. The next time I go golfing I will be looking at the course in a different perspective.” - Tanner Weberling

“I have been playing golf for a really long time and for years I have always been curious as to how course and slope ratings were determined. It was fascinating to see all the hard work that goes into doing it. Thank you to Ron and his team for having me out and teaching me about course rating”. - Parker Leavitt


Hopefully, this will help further your understanding of course rating and how it affects your golf game. Keep in mind next time you visit a course, that a team of trained course raters went hole-by-hole, taking into consideration all of the factors that could affect the game you play. These people follow a Course Rating System Guide that is provided through the World Handicap System by the USGA and R&A. Each decision that gets made in regards to the Course Rating process can be drawn back to this guide. 

If you are interested in volunteering and becoming a part of the MAGA Course Rating Team, contact Ron Rhodes ( /Blog/390786/What-Are-You-Doing-on-My-Course-A-Course-Rating-Guide ) or Curt Rohe ( /Blog/390786/What-Are-You-Doing-on-My-Course-A-Course-Rating-Guide ). Any questions you have about course rating, this process, and joining the team, please contact us at the MAGA (314-567-6242).

More Course Rating Resources:
MAGA Course Rating
10 Questions about Course Rating
10 Questions about Course Rating
Course Rating Photos

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