Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Is the USGA Rating System Fair?

I have been tracking my handicap for about 8 years now, and played at least 50 different courses during that time. One thing that simply baffles me on a regular basis is how the USGA determines the rating it assigns to each course.

Sure, I understand that if a particular course is a Par 71, or even a Par 70, the rating will be a touch lower simply due to the lower expected strokes. What is becoming apparent to me over time, however, is that the actual length of the course appears to carry far too much weight in the rating, and the condition of the course far too little.

I had the "opportunity" on Memorial Day to play with my Dad and Step mom at a local Chicago Park District course at Jackson Park. Jackson Park is a short Par 70 course on the near south side of Chicago...total yardage is only 5,508, and only one of the holes, the Par 5 14th, is over 500 yards (559). The five Par 3s on the other hand measure up with most other higher rated courses at 133, 144, 176, 183, and 212 yards. The rating the USGA gave to this course is a stunning 65.7 with a slope of only 107! That is from the "tips" if you will.

Wow, what a piece of cake dandelion of a course...right? Well, maybe, on the perfect day with all the right breaks. First, many of the holes are short, yes, but just banging your Driver onto, or near the green doesn't always get you the results you might expect. The greens are small, sometimes downright tiny, roll with inconsistent speed, and have some absolutely gnarly breaks to them. Should you be slightly less than perfect with your driver or 3-wood off the tee, you are often faced with a shot from behind the multitude of trees surrounding the greens, from out of what might be accurately called "dirt" bunkers, or (and this is if you are really lucky) from out of a patch of mud and grass in a depression just feet off the edge of the green.

So go ahead and take a hybrid or even an iron off the tee...hell, knock it into the middle of the fairway. Now, should you manage to land in one of the more narrow than you would ever expect fairways, there is a pretty fair chance that you are going to be in a divot, a patch of weeds, or perhaps just some bare dirt. Should you miss the fairway, the rough is often just like hitting out of a well-fertilized, yet rarely mown front lawn.

So, you must think I went out and shot 100 the way I describe it. Nope, I shot a 79. I made 3 birdies, and only putted 28 times all day. I nearly drove onto 4 different Par 4 greens. I was slightly "wild" off the tees, only hitting 2 fairways all day. On any other day, I would be very content with a 9-over par...especially breaking 80. Here is the issue...I currently play to an 8.8 handicap. That means that just to meet my handicap differential, I needed to shoot a 74.

Now, could I have shot a 74? No doubt I could have, but I can tell you that I would have a far easier time shooting an 86-88 on any other of the courses I normally play with ratings around 71-72. So, I walked away with 3 birdies, one double bogey, and a 14 handicap differential...the same differential I had from a less than inspired 89 I had shot a couple weeks earlier at Prairie Landing in West Chicago.

Here are two other examples to help support my point, then you can let me know if you agree, or if I am just blowing so much smoke (or both I suppose).

Heritage Bluffs - Channahon, IL - 72.1/132 - Par 72
Orchard Valley - Aurora, IL - 70.6/130 - Par 72

Pacific Dunes - Bandon, OR - 69.3/125 - Par 71
The Links at Carillon - Plainfield, IL - 72.5/125 - Par 72

Fairways & Greens!

1 comment:

Brad said...

This is why we're heading to Prairie Bluff on sat!


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