We are close to concluding our USGA course rating project, with just three courses remaining to be re-rated using the USGA course rating system, which includes slope rating.
The Course Rating is a measure of how difficult a tee or course is for a scratch golfer relative to par. The Slope Rating is a measure of the relative difficulty of a set of tees for a higher handicapped golfer when compared to the scratch golfer. The South African Golf Association will decide when to introduce these new ratings into South Africa.
This rating process was initiated to bring South Africa in line with all the other golf-playing nations who are using the USGA Course Rating System. It will also be the rating system used for the World Handicap System, due to be introduced in 2020.
The project has been headed up by GolfRSA's Eric Lefson, who we tracked down to find out a little more about the process.
Eric, congratulations on almost reaching the end of the USGA course rating project – exactly how many courses have you rated so far?
The rating teams have completed 438 courses, so we only have three more courses to complete.
Out of interest, which courses do you still have to rate?
We will be rating Somerset West this week, the team is scheduled to rate Noodsberg Country Club in KwaZulu-Natal next week and that will leave only Alexander Bay in the Northern Cape. I expect we will have fully completed the rating process by the end of February.
How long does it typically take complete a course rating?
Well, that depends on the number of tee options at the club. You can have a nine-hole course where tees for the front and back nines are very similar, maybe a few metres apart, where two people will take about three hours.
Then, you could be rating a highly complex course, such as some of the modern courses, where they have different obstacles and tee options. This makes it take longer to rate.
A course with five sets of tees for men and two for ladies could take a team of four people the better part of a whole day.
How long have you been doing this for?
We started on 1 June 2016.
What were some of your unexpected challenges when rating the courses?
The biggest challenge is establishing where the tee is, on average, played from.
Even though all the obstacles on the course are considered, distance is still the primary driver of the rating process.
The problem is that distance on the USGA course rating system is the average playing length of the hole, and at most of our clubs the distance on the card and where they mostly play from is not the same. The front tees, currently named "Women's tees", are way more accurate because they typically only have a small tee!
What, according to your rating, is the most difficult course in SA?
The Links at Fancourt off the back tees.
Which course has the highest slope rating (and why this is different to difficulty)?
It is also The Links at Fancourt, but what you are getting to is quite important. Course Rating measures the absolute difficulty of a tee for a scratch player, while Slope is the relative difficulty for a higher-handicap player when compared to a scratch player.
So, typically, a course with a high course rating is long and has tough greens as the key drivers, whereas courses with high slope tend to have a lot of carries. Carries affect a high handicap much more than a scratch golfer.
An example is Royal Johannesburg & Kensington’s East Course, which happens to be one of the country’s great championship courses. It is tough from the back, with a Course Rating of 76.8 and a slope rating of 142. This shows it is tough but not impossible for an average player. Kyalami is similar. Conversely, courses like Steyn City, Pinnacle Point and Eagle Canyon have lower course ratings from the back, but due to the way they play, the slope is high, at around 150.
What are some of the more interesting courses that you came across, and why?
Having seen most in South Africa, I think the biggest surprises are these little gems you find where the courses are maintained by a handful of members. It’s amazing to see how much passion people from smaller courses have – they work so hard to keep a club of, say, 15 members alive.
There are probably 100 courses in the country that have fewer than 50 members, but these members have such pride in their course. You might pitch up and think it is a bit rough around the edges compared to your home course, but they are doing the best they can do.
And they are eager to improve their courses, so they are open to suggestions about their course layout.
I really enjoy the Boland and Eastern Cape in this regard. Courses like Kei Mouth (minus their three new holes!), Hankey, Kirkwood are but a few.
Which course has the biggest difference in rating between their forward and back tees?
Again I think it’s The Links at Fancourt, with nearly 11 shots difference.
For more information on the USGA course rating system, please see our November 2016 newsletter.
Quote of the Month
"You don't have the game you played last year or last week. You only have today's game. It may be far from your best, but that's all you've got. Harden your heart and make the best of it.” ~ Walter Hagen