Being a course rater involves much more than one would normally think. Volunteer course raters regularly drive significant distances to show up at the course very early in the morning. They work as a team to solidify the backbone of the USGA Handicap System that allows golfers from all over the world to compete on an equitable basis. Without an accurate USGA Course Rating, this would not be possible.
Traditionally, the best course raters are avid golfers who are or have been low handicap players. The reasoning for this is because it can be difficult for a bogey golfer to evaluate the ability of a scratch golfer. However, it is also important to have higher handicap players on the rating team as well, since lower handicap raters often overestimate the ability of a bogey golfer. All raters have a working knowledge of the USGA Course Rating System. They are continuously educated through seminars and online training programs facilitated by the USGA and the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
A course rater is responsible for implementing the many steps that make up a USGA Course Rating. First, proper measuring of the golf course is vitally important to an accurate rating. Scorecard yardage is not acceptable as a sole source of yardage and must be verified. Measurements are taken from the center of the teeing ground of each tee rated, to the center of the green. Accurate measurements are just the beginning. Raters apply adjustments to the yardage based on Roll, Elevation and Dogleg/Forced Lay-up to come up with the Effective Playing Length.
Raters evaluate each hole for both the scratch and bogey golfers. The scratch rating is better known as the Course Rating, and the bogey rating is used to determine the Slope Rating. Each obstacle is assigned a value from zero to ten. Zero meaning the obstacle does not exist, and ten meaning the obstacle is of the most extreme significance.
Here are the obstacles and the ways raters evaluate each:
- Topography – The evaluation of the impact of terrain on
play, determined by slopes and mounds in the landing zone that affect stance/lie or if the shot to the green is uphill/downhill.
Fairway – This is an evaluation of the difficulty of keeping the ball in play from tee to green based on the following: fairway width in all landing zones, hole length and nearby trees, hazards and punitive rough.
- Green Target – The evaluation of the difficulty of hitting the green with the approach shot based on green dimension and shot length.
Raterwill also consider surface visibility, firmness andcontour.
Recoverability and Rough – Evaluation of the probability of missing the tee shot landing zone and the green, and the difficulty of recovering if either, or both, is missed. R & R is based
off ofthe green target rating and rough grass height around the green.
- Bunkers – Determine how bunkers come into play and how difficult they are to recover from. Things to consider include difficulty of the green target, carry over a bunker,
fractionof the green guarded by bunkers, the bunker’s size and depth, sandcondition, etc.
- Out of Bounds/Extreme Rough – How OB/ER impacts each shot based on proximity to the landing zone or green. Also consider
numberof times OB/ER is in play, shot length to the target, or carry over extreme rough. In addition, wheather conditions along the boundary might assist or prevent a ball from going out of bounds or into extreme rough.
- Water Hazards – Evaluated based on the shot length to carry a crossing water hazard and distance of the water hazard from the center of the landing zone or green. Other factors include
numberof times the hazard is in play, fractionof the green surrounded by the hazard and location, size, and conditions in the hazard.
- Trees – Ratings are based on size and density, distance from the center of the landing zone or green to extending branches,
difficultyof recovery based on the ability of the scratch golfer and the length of the shot.
- Green Surface – The evaluation of the green based on its difficulty from a putting standpoint with consideration given to speed, surface contouring
andslope or tilt.
- Psychological – This obstacle is an evaluation based on the cumulative effect of other obstacles on a player’s score. For example, the higher the sum of all obstacle values assigned five or more, the higher the psychological obstacle value is for that specific hole.
- Playing the golf course is another important part of the rating process. Sure, it’s fun, but it gives raters greater insight as to how the course plays based on the ratings they have assigned. After playing, the rating team will have a discussion and may adjust its ratings. It is a full day of work, but most find it to be very rewarding.