Choosing Your Game

Aug 13, 2014
Kris Jonasson (British Columbia Golf)

Terms such as “double black diamond” warn the less experienced skier that this particular run may not be pleasant; while “bunny slope” resonates with the beginner. Even the name of the Grouse Grind suggests a difficult hike; while “meadows trail” suggests it’s appropriate for all and “promenade walk” sounds pretty darn inviting.

Written descriptions like the ones above give a clue to skiers and hikers as to what their experience might be and are easily understood prior to choosing the selection of route or trail. Why doesn’t golf have the same type of ranking system?

The answer is "we do", and its actually much more descriptive. Regrettably most golfers only use half the formula, and don’t take advantage of options to maximize enjoyment, regardless of the choice made.

How often have you stood on the tee at a new course and have a member in the group say, “Lets play the green tees, its only 6400 yards” or “We can’t play the white tees, its only 5900 yards”. The debate begins and ends with the yardage.

To fully enjoy a golf experience everyone should look at the yardage but also know and understand the significance of the assigned slope rating. In many instances it might be even better if the yardage was left out of the discussion and only the slope rating was debated.

To put it simply, a golf course with a slope rating of 113, is roughly 6000 yards long for men (shorter for women), that does not have much in the way of hazards, difficult rough, undulating, speedy greens, out of bounds or places in which a ball can go missing in action. A lower slope rating indicates the course is easier (and for many, more enjoyable) while a higher rating means the course is more difficult, regardless of the yardage.

To use the analogy of ski hills, a slope rating less that 113 equals a bunny run, 113 to 125 is an intermediate run, 126 to 130, advanced intermediate run and above 130, expert run.

Golf does have a good ranking system that will help us all determine how to get the most out of our experience on the course.

There is, however, a third component that makes our ranking system the best. All we have to do is match the slope rating to the scoring system and we can get the most pleasure out of every round we play.

In my case, I am quite content to play stroke play on any course with a slope rating of 125 or less. The slope rating won’t affect how many times I three putt or cold top a fairway wood, but it will reflect a reduction in strokes taken due to penalties. Generally, unless I played horribly, I will be quite content with the score I shoot.

When the slope rating is between 123 and 130 I might consider playing match play. If I have a bad hole I have only lost that hole and can move on to the next one. At anything over 130 I will play stableford. My day will not be defined by the huge number I might take on one or more holes.

My advice is look at the slope rating first, choose the scoring system you like for the slope rating chosen and finally if you must, look at the yardage from the tees you choose. I bet you will increase your enjoyment.