Human Interest


We all know the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know!” Well, six years ago that phrase took on significant meaning for me. The person I knew was retired spine surgeon, Dr. John Peters, and he got me involved in a very enjoyable activity. Many times when I emailed John with the week’s info about our Thursday golf group, he would reply that he couldn’t play because his team was “rating a golf course.” “Rating a golf course? What do you mean by that?”

Turns out John was part of a six-member team recruited by the Indiana Golf Association (IGA) to “rate” golf courses. His team was responsible for determining the slope and course rating of golf courses in central Indiana. Slope and course rating are numerical measurements of the degree of difficulty of a golf course and how well a “scratch golfer” would play the course. A “scratch golfer” is one who is good enough to par every hole. The course rating is the number score that a golfer could expect to get on that course. Take for example, the Legends of Indiana course in Franklin, IN. From the white tees (5998 yds.), its rating is 69.0. The scratch golfer could expect, on average, to shoot a 69, or 3-under par, from the white tees. If he plays from the white tees, the course is too easy for him.

If he goes back to the gold tees (7011 yds), the rating rises to 74.4, or 2.4 strokes over par. The scratch golfer can expect to struggle on several holes playing from those tees. Every set of tees has a different course rating. The longer the yardage from those tees, the higher is the rating and thus the degree of difficulty of the hole. 

Most golfers pay closer attention to the slope of a course, however. It provides more information about the actual physical makeup of the course, and is determined from a calculation of 10 criteria. Golf course slopes range from 55 to 155 with the average being around 115-120. Again, the higher the slope the harder the course. Returning to our Legends of Indiana example, the white tee slope is 128, and the gold tee slope is 137. I played better on easier courses with slopes below 110. But I digress.

John’s rating team was headed by Tom Crandall. After Tom retired, the Indiana Golf Association recruited him to lead a course rating team. He took an online course on how to rate a golf course, and then formed his own team. The team included Barry Rohm, who had previous experience on other rating teams. He knew the ins-and-outs of course rating so he was an asset to Crandall’s team. Besides that he was a good player.

When John mentioned all of this, I said if anyone ever drops off the team, let me know because I’d be interested in helping out. About a year later, John called and said one guy had wanted to call it quits. He wanted me to meet with him and Tom Crandall to give me details of the job. So I knew a guy who knew a guy who offered to make me part of the team. I loved the idea and was very excited. They gave me several manuals to study to learn how the procedure works. I dove in and learned what I could. They emphasized this was a volunteer job. No one was paid anything by the IGA, PGA, or the golf course we were rating.

There were a few perks, however. Whatever course we were rating gave us free breakfast and lunch, and we were permitted to play the course for free after completing the rating. We could play that day or any later date. Also, the Indiana Golf Association gave each of us a very nice red golf shirt with IGA and PGA logos to wear while working at the course. It felt like I was involved in something special.

Collecting data to rate a golf course is a very time consuming, complicated task. The number of factors to consider is overwhelming and many variables have to be taken into account. Our six-man team divided into 3 pairs and each measured 6 holes (1-6, 7-12, 13-18). We each had a golf cart, rangefinder, GPS, and the rating manual. Measurements were made and data was recorded from each set of tees. Some courses had five or six sets of tees, so we accumulated a lot of data. That means we measured the same hole 5 or 6 times from different spots. We had a very complicated booklet that had a sheet for each hole and each tee. The criteria we used were all converted into numbers that we entered on the final paper. Our book had examples and explanations of each criterion, and the number value for that particular item. 

Measurements were made for both men and women and for pro (scratch) and amateur (bogey) golfers. Using a GPS and Bushnell range finder, we headed to the first tee box to begin that hole. If two sets of tees were less than 25 yards apart, we only had to measure from the farthest-back tees. We measured from the women’s tees, too.  

A male pro averages hitting his drive 250 yards with 25 yds of roll. A bogey golfer drives it 180 yds with 20 yds of roll. Women pros drive the ball 180 yds with 20 yds of roll. Bogey women golfers drive 150 yds with 20 yds of roll. Starting at the tee, we drove our carts distances of 170, 200, and 275 yds from each tee, and began filling out the checklist of obstacles we had to evaluate and how they each affected the difficulty of the hole. To say it was complicated was very accurate.  

Ten “obstacles” were factored at each landing area. At each of the distances from a set of tees, we looked for the obstacles listed below. Based on criteria in our reference manual, each obstacle was assigned a number determined by our assessment of how it affected playing the hole. That number was entered on our hole sheet. We had a separate sheet for each hole and each tee box. A description of each obstacle follows:

  1. Topography —where the ball lands (the landing area), is it flat, uphill, downhill, mounded, or slanted. Each feature had a number we entered on the master sheet.
  2. Fairway —the width of the landing area had a number value
  3. Green target —what is the probability of hitting the green on the next shot? Are there obstacles between the player and the green. This was given a number value.
  4. Rough and recoverability —depth of rough, proximity to landing area, probability of being in the rough and missing the fairway had a numerical grade.
  5. Bunkers —location, size, depth, of fairway bunkers. Probability of landing in a bunker translated to a number.
  6. Out-of-bounds/Extreme rough —distance to OB, if any, from the landing area. Probability of going OB, also had a value
  7. Water hazards —if any, distance from landing area, slope to the water, the size of hazard all had number values.
  8. Trees —size, proximity to landing area, do they impede access to the green? Overhanging limbs, width of opening between trees on sides of fairways. These were given a number.
  9. Green surface —level or sloped, bunkering around green, dimensions, shape, obstacles near green, what percentage of perimeter was surrounded by obstacles, speed of roll. Each factor translated to a number value.
  10. Psychological impact of the hole — a totally subjective assessment. Visual intimidation. 

So here we are, driving to several spots on each fairway making note of the 10 obstacles, measuring multiple distances, looking for rough, bunkers, water hazards, trees, OB, elevation changes, and other parameters. And that was just for the first shot. On par 4’s we did the same for the second shot. On par 5’s, we measured and evaluated the 3rd shot, too. 

It usually took at least four hours to do 6 holes. Those courses with multiple tee boxes and/or a lot of obstacles, could stretch it to 6-8 hours. It was a tedious process. If I worked with Barry Rohm or Tom Crandall, it went faster because of their knowledge and experience. They didn’t labor over some obstacles like I did. I had to continually remind myself we were measuring the course based on the ability of scratch and bogey golfers and not on a hacker like me. I was more concerned about trees or bunkers than a scratch golfer would be. The good golfer would not be intimidated by an obstacle like I would. It wouldn’t impact his score like it would mine. 

When completed, our hole data sheets were given to Tom whose job it was to consolidate the information and report it to the course rating overseers. They, then, calculated the slope and rating. Tom spent hours and hours doing this job for which he got two free meals and a round of golf. 

I can’t emphasize enough how complicated this process was. Golf courses live and die by their slope and rating. If golfers see a course has a high slope or rating, they will be less inclined to play it thinking it’s too hard. This scares away business for the course. In one case, our team rated a course, and our data resulted in a higher slope and rating than determined previously. The pro was not happy and asked to have another team re-rate the course. The previous rating was ten years old. In 10 years trees grow bigger, wider and taller, new bunkers and hazards may be added, the rough can get deeper and thicker, sand washes out of bunkers, and other physical changes occur. We stood by our evaluation in spite of their disapproval. 

During the two summers I was on Tom and John’s team, we probably rated 10-12 courses. I loved doing it because I enjoyed the challenge, and I really liked being part of the team. We had fun doing it, but took it seriously at the same time. We got to play several courses we probably wouldn’t have been able to play otherwise. The others were all better players than I, but it didn’t matter. We got along well and did a good job.

Tom’s health took a turn for the worse so he decided to give up his position. About the same time the Indiana Golf Association changed their policy on golf rating teams, and our team was eliminated. Bummer!

Thanks to John Peters and Tom Crandall, I was able to learn a procedure I previously knew nothing about, and participated in a “golf-related” activity I really enjoyed. It was a great experience. Thanks, Tom and John. 

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