What is Slope Rating in Golf

What is Slope Rating in Golf?

Golf is a lot of things but easy isn’t one word many people would use to describe the sport.

Becoming a great golfer is hard and getting into the 80s or 70s is really hard for most golfers. It can take years (if not decades) to reach your golf potential.

While the game isn’t easy, the scoring system isn’t either. It’s easy to get confused when you see things like slope, rating, course rating, handicapping, and all kinds of other golf terms

Keep reading to learn more about these terms as we’ll simplify them. This will make it easier for you to learn about which tees to play based on your skill level. 

What is Slope Rating in Golf 101

So, what is a slope rating anyway? 

According to the USGA (United States Golf Association), “Playing length and obstacles impact higher-handicap players more than lower-handicap players, and Slope Rating measures the relative difficulty of a golf course for players who are not scratch players compared to those who are scratch players.”

A slope rating of a golf course is a way to measure how difficult the course is for the average bogey golfer. A bogey player is roughly the equivalent of a 20 handicap index golfer. This is a good way to compare what an average male bogey golfer will shoot vs. a scratch golfer on a course. 

As Wikipedia said, “It is used by handicapping systems to equalize the field by accounting for the likelihood that, when playing on more difficult courses, higher handicap players’ scores will rise more quickly than their handicaps would otherwise predict. The term was invented by the United States Golf Association.”

History of Slope Rating in Golf 

Despite the long history of golf (which has gone back hundreds of years), the slope rating is relatively new. In 1977 Dean Kruth, a Lt. Commander and the Naval Postgraduate School, began to develop a course rating system. 

He then developed a “bogey rating” by analyzing shot data for volunteers who played local golf courses. Eventually, he went on to work at the USGA for 16 years starting in 1981. Paired with a Handicap Research Team (HRT) they created the modern day slope rating system.

This helps calculate the difference of a course rating process and bogey rating so there is a numerical difference of what a bogey golfer vs. scratch player would shoot. After years of testing, the system was officially implemented around the country in 1987. 

It wasn’t until 1990 that all golf associations began to rate golf courses using the USGA course rating system. Again, this numerical rating system helps establish a scratch golfer vs. bogey golfer on any given course. The rating procedure factors in measured length, overall length, forced lay ups, green target, green surface, and tons of other factors to create an accurate course rating.

Here’s what is important to remember, the system shows that higher handicap golfers will shoot higher scores on more difficult golf courses (higher slope ratings). This will rise much faster than low handicap golfers who can stay closer to par. 

Let’s get into how the slope rating is calculated by each rating team… 

How Slope Rating is Measured 

To calculate the slope rating there is a formula that is used:

  • Slope rating for men: 5.381 x (Bogey rating – USGA course rating)
  • Slope rating for women: 4.24 x (Bogey rating – USGA course rating)

The slope rating of a golf course is calculated by multiplying the number (which is 5.381 for men or 4.24 for women) by the bogey rating – the USGA rating. It’s also important to note that bogey golfers are classified as 20 handicaps for men, while women are 24 handicaps. The bogey rating and course rating are determined by professional course raters (wouldn’t that be quite a job)? 

They use over 460 variables to determine the standard course rating from multiple tee boxes. Some of the biggest factors include overall length, trees, hazards, and rough. 

What does the Slope Rating mean

Course Rating

The course rating (not to be confused with slope rating) refers to a golf course’s difficulty level for scratch golfers. Scratch rating is much easier to understand as it’s measured in strokes on a particular set of tees.

For example, an easier golf course might have a stroke rating of 69.2. This means a scratch golfer should shoot under par (assuming the par is 72 which is pretty standard). While a harder golf course might have a course rating of 75.1, which means the average 0 handicap golfer will shoot about three over par. 

It’s important to note course rating is not a measure for the everyday golfer but instead, a scratch golfer. Which if you didn’t know, refers to a player with 0.0 index rating – i.e. they shoot around par on the golf course. This is a great golf goal for a lot of players to achieve as it happens to such a small percentage of golfers. 

According to the USGA, this represents not even 20,000 men! If someone is better than scratch they have a plus (+) handicap. The same report shows that a little over 30,000 men have this type of elite handicap (about 1% in the country). 

Slope Ratings

While slope ratings refer to how challenging a golf course is for a bogey golfer. This is not measured in strokes like course rating. 

The course rating is a good measure to learn how hard a course plays on a sliding scale depending on the tee boxes. But the USGA rating is a way to measure just how much more difficult it is for everyday bogey golfers.

Slope ratings can vary significantly depending on the golf course. They can range anywhere from 55 to 155 with the average golf course at 113. 

Basically, the higher the slope rating, the harder it is for a bogey golfer to score well. 

This is why it’s beneficial to check out the slope rating online or check the scorecard when you play a new golf course. This calculation makes it easier to figure out the best tee boxes to play to enjoy the round. 

Slope and Course Rating Example

To better understand this complex concept, let’s review what it looks like on a scorecard at Pebble Beach.

An average male scratch golfer should shoot 2.9 shots over par from the tips (blue tees). If they moved up to the white tees, they should shoot right around par (71.8). This is the difference from making the golf course shorter and easier to play.

While the slope rating from the tips is extremely high – 144 for a bogey golfer. This is significantly higher than the average 113 slope rating as the course is challenging even for lower handicapped golfers.

FAQs About Slope and Rating 

Do you have more questions about slope, rating, and USGA handicap index? If so, keep reading to learn more now. 

Is a higher slope rating harder?

Yes, the higher the slope and rating, the more challenging the golf course. According to the USGA, “It is determined by comparing the Course Rating™ to the Bogey Rating™. A course of standard difficulty has a Slope Rating of 113.” 

What does a slope rating of 130 mean? Is a 130 slope rating hard?

Since the average slope rating is 113, a 130 is a big jump up meaning it’s much more difficult for the everyday golfer. A course can receive an updated course rating if they change the construction of the holes, lengthen the golf course, etc.

Do all new courses get a course rating and slope rating?

Yes, the USGA slope rating happens from each set of tees to establish both the bogey rating and scratch rating on newly constructed golf courses. This establishes the standard playing difficulty for the world handicap system.

What is a difficult slope rating in golf? 

The average slope rating is 113 so anything higher is deemed more difficult. Some of the most challenging courses are 130+ like Pebble Beach. 

What is an easy slope rating? What is a hard slope rating?

Since 113 is the average rating, anything below about a 90 is considered “easy.” But technically, anything under 113 can be considered easier as it’s less than average.

While the opposite is true if the slope rating is higher than 113.  It’s important to note that each tee box has its own slope rating as well. 

What is the slope rating of Augusta National? 

Augusta National is one of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. It’s also one of the most challenging golf courses (not only to play but get on as well).

Ironically, there is no official slope and rating for the golf course. But the unofficial slope and rating of Augusta National (according to Wikipedia), is 78.1 course rating and 137 slope rating.

This golf course is no doubt one of the hardest venues in the country. It’s also very long at over 7,500 yards from the tips and continues to test players like no other course.  

What would an 18 handicap shoot at Augusta? 

Here’s what Golf Digest said, “I estimated that a player with a Course Handicap of 0 could expect to shoot an 81, a 9 might shoot 91, an 18 would shoot 103 and a 36 approximately 125.”

What is the slope rating of TPC Sawgrass? 

TPC Sawgrass is home to the Players Championship each year and often referred to as the “5th major” in golf. It’s an exciting golf course that is also treacherous if you find yourself in the wrong spot. 

Long holes, sloped fairways, tons of water hazards, and a difficult closing stretch (including the island green #17) makes for a fun golf tournament to watch on TV. But it’s not as fun for the players who can really struggle and close down the final three holes. 

The Florida State Golf Association has the course with a slope rating at 155 rating and 76.4. But it’s important to note this is measured during normal playing conditions, not when it’s set up for the PGA Tour event. 

Needless to say, it’s one of the most challenging golf courses and amateurs should be aware of playing this bucket list course. According to the same Golf Digest article, “A golfer with an 18-handicap typically would shoot 116, but would be in the 122-124 range under tournament conditions (see accompanying chart).”

Final Thoughts 

Understanding slope rating and course rating can get confusing. But you don’t have to worry about it too much as most golf apps will take care of the hard work for you.

Just remember…

Course rating is based on a scratch golfer. This is easier to understand as it’s a numerical value relating to par. For example, the course rating might be 71.0 (under par) or 74.0 (over par).

While the Slope rating is based on a bogey golfer. This ranges from 55 to 155 depending on the difficulty of the golf course.

Do you ever use the course or slope rating to determine which tees to play? Or do you primarily look at yardage? 

Let us know in the comments below. 

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