What is a scratch golf course rating?

In the lead-up to the introduction of the slope system in Australia, we are going to explain a few things, starting with the scratch course rating.

Over the next few months, all Australian courses will have been re-rated according to the USGA system and will be assigned a scratch course rating. But why have they been re-rated and what is a scratch rating anyway?

Firstly, the scratch course rating is not the slope of a golf course. The slope system will eventually be implemented into Australian golf but at the moment, the courses have been re-rated only. (The slope is actually just a calculation based on the scratch and bogey ratings of a golf course which you can do on your calculator, or head if you’re good. But we will talk more about this in another post).

Australian golf courses have been re-rated as Golf Australia has adopted a version of the USGA system course rating which provides a much more robust and consistent way of measuring the difficulty of a golf course. The old course rating system was heavily biased towards the length of the golf course; in general the longer the course the harder the golf course. The new USGA course rating incorporates obstacles found on a golf course, such as prevailing wind direction, course elevation and hazard placement.

So what is a scratch golf course rating?

Officially, this is the definition of a scratch course rating:

A “USGA Course Rating” is the USGA’s mark that indicates the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as strokes taken to one decimal place, and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of a scratch golfer.

So it is essentially what a scratch golfer should go around in. Each course will be assigned a scratch rating for at least three different sets of plates, from which the tee markers must be placed within 20 metres. If you’re playing off the blue tees (which are associated with the blue plates) the scratch rating will be different from playing off the white tees.

How is it measured?

A scratch golfer is defined as a male golfer who hits the golf ball 250 yards off the tee (200 yards for women) and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots. Note: this is carry only, and does not incorporate roll. This distance is used for course rating purposes only and provides a way to determine an “effective playing length”, not the actual length of the hole but how long the hole plays.<

Then values are assigned to 10 obstacle types, and multiplied by weighting factors to give an “obstacle stroke value” and an overall scratch rating:

Topography: the impact of the terrain on play.
Fairway width: the difficulty of keeping the ball on the fairway.
Green target: size and difficulty of hitting the green.
Rough & Recoverability: covers the difficulty of a shot when the fairway or green has been missed.
Bunkers: how they come into play and the difficulty of recovery.
OOB & Extreme: rough the proximity of these factors and how they come into play.
Water Hazards: proximity of the hazards and how they come into play.
Trees: based on the density, proximity, and difficulty of recovery.
Greens surface: assesses the difficulty of the green, and includes speed and contouring of each green.
Psychological: based on the accumulative effect ratings of the other 9 obstacles, there may be a value-added in this category.

So as an example, it is entirely possible to have a golf course that is rated more difficult from the front markers than the back, depending on where the hazards lie off the tee. It would be unusual, but it serves as a good example of how the new system works.

We’ll look at a few more aspects of the new course ratings over the coming weeks, including the slope.

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