What do Course Rating and Course Slope Really Mean?

If you have an official USGA handicap you need to be familiar with Course Rating and Course Slope. Every time you turn in a score you are required to record the Course Rating and Slope for the course and set of tees you played. Many golfers are familiar with the terms Course Rating and Slope, but don’t really know what they mean.

Course Rating

Course Rating indicates the difficulty of a course for a “par” or scratch golfer. For example, if a course has a par of 72, the Course Rating might be 71.4. This is the score the scratch golfer is expected to shoot on the course. The number goes up with the difficulty of the course. A rating is given for every set of tees on the course. The rating from the blue tees might be 72.8 and from the white tees 71.0.

Why are two different measurements used to describe the difficulty of a course?

In 1980 the USGA noticed that no matter how difficult a course is, the very best golfers will always shoot close to par. On the other hand, less proficient golfers are more likely to be negatively impacted by the difficulty of the course. Less skilled golfers are much more likely to be impacted by course difficulty. Based on this information, the handicap system was revised in the late 1980s to include a second measure called Course Slope.

Course Slope

The Course Slope predicts the difficulty of a course for a “bogey” golfer, someone who shoots 18 over par or 90. Course Slope is a number between 55 and 155, with 113 being the average. The higher the number the more difficult the course. As with course rating each set of tees will have a slope rating. For example, the blue tees might be 123, the white tees 119, and the red tees 114.

Example

In most cases, the challenges a course presents to a scratch golfer are different than those faced by bogey golfers. As a result, two different courses could have a Course Rating of 72, but the Course Slope of one could be 113 and the Course Slope of the other could be 135. How does this happen?

The course rated at 72 with a slope of 113 is probably not a long course. Or maybe it has wide fairways and with few hazards. So the par golfer still shoots par on this course and the bogey golfer shoots 90.

The second course is also rated at 72 but has a slope of 135.   The increased Course Slope could be a result of the length of the course. A longer course can wreak havoc on a bogey golfer. He is hitting long irons or woods into most greens, which will usually result in a missed green. The longer course doesn’t have as much impact a par golfer.

Another factor could be narrower fairways or more hazards (sand traps, water, out of bounds, etc). As with course length in the first example, more hazards on a course present more challenges for a bogey golfer and makes the course harder. So while the par golfer will still shoot 72 on the second course, the bogey golfer will have a score above 90.

Hopefully this explanation will help you better understand the difference between Course Rating and Course Slope. Next time you tee it up with your golf buddies, ask them if they can explain the two course ratings. If they can’t, maybe you can get first tee honors by telling them. And remember to tell them that you learned about this on the Louisville Golf blog!

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