What Are Golf Course Ratings?


While you may only play your local golf course, and you know what to expect, how do you know how challenging a course you’ve never played is? One way to get a good handle on the difficulty of a golf course is using a golf course rating. The golf course ratings are basically a measure of how difficult a course is based on the par for each hole.

Course ratings are set by the USGA, and then evaluated by professionals who actually golf the course. Once your course has a golf rating, it is combined with a slope, to determine your handicap. While it may sound like a very complicated system, it is actually a good way to determine the skills of golfers based on a unified rating.

How to Read a Golf Course Rating

A golf course rating is a numerical value that offers some insight into what the score would be for a scratch golfer. For an 18-hole golf course, the rating may be 72, which means that a golfer would hit par on every hole and have a score of 72. The rating does not have to do with the difficulty of the course, as this is what is measured in the slope.

What is Slope?

So now that we know what golf course ratings are, what is a course’s slope? Before explaining slope, it’s important to understand the way the USGA defines golfers. When it relates to ratings, there are two types of golfers, including:

  • Scratch Golfer: A scratch golfer is a golfer than can play any course and have a handicap of zero. To be more specific, a scratch golfer is basically someone who can play a course and remain on or below par through each hole.
  • Bogey Golfer: A bogey golfer is a golfer that has a handicap of around 20 on a course with average difficulty. This is your recreational player that often goes over par.

So what does this have to do with slope? According to the USGA the slope score of a specific course “indicates the measurement of the relative playing difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers, compared to scratch golfers.” In basic terms, the slope tells a golfer that is often over par, how difficult a course is in relation to a scratch golfer.

While the numbers may seem challenging to understand, they just give a basic rating of difficulty that golfers can use not only to prepare for courses they’ve never golfed, but also as a way to compare their scores against fellow golfers and their personal best.

How to Use Golf Course Reviews

While the slope and course ratings may seem like complicated numbers, they can actually be extremely helpful for golfers of any level.

If, however, you want a more detailed explanation, your best bet is to read golf course reviews, and the best resource for them is often Golf Digest.

A quality golf course review will provide you with various pieces of information including:

  • Type of grass
  • Tee times
  • Check in procedures
  • Facilities and amenities
  • Layout information
  • Pace of play

In most cases, the reviews are written by fellow golfers, and are impartial, providing you with a quality insight into the course. A good review will provide you with all the information you need for a convenient and stress-free experience on the green.

4 Must-Visit Golf Courses in the US

If you’re a serious golfer, there are some courses that just must be visited at some point. Four of these “bucket list” golf courses in the US include:

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links (Monterey, CA)

One of the most easily recognizable names in golf, Pebble Beach has been the host of the U.S. Open on five occasions. Rated as the no. 1 public golf course in America, this traditional links style course offers challenges and beauty all with the backdrop of a historic fairway.

2. Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club (Orlando, FL)

If you’re looking to splurge then a visit to Bay Hill Club is the way to go. Only open to resort guests, this iconic course has plenty of history and offers a stiff challenge for any golfer.

3. Pinehurst Resort – No.2 (Pinehurst, NC)

Home to multiple major championships; Pinehurst No. 2 offers golfers an opportunity to play on the same fairway as legends like Phil Michelson and Tiger Woods.

4. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, OR)

Emulating the classic Scottish courses, Bandon Dunes is a labor of love for the true golf purist. Built in 1999, the course has stood the test of time and still offers a challenge for golfers of all levels.

Test your golf skills with a visit to any of these iconic golf courses. Using your newly learned information on slope and rating, you can compare your day on the green with the legends of the game!

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