Golf Slope Ratings Explained: What Is Golf Course Slope Rating?

golf slope ratings

Golf has several confusing terms and rules that are often misunderstood by players who are new to the game and experienced golfers.

The out-of-bounds rule, golf slope rating, golf handicap calculation, and dangerous animal relief are just a few examples.

These concepts are complex, but you can see the logic once you understand them. Today we are going to focus on golf slope rating.

We will cover the following key points in this article:

  • Define the term: Golf Slope Rating,
  • How golf slope ratings are used,
  • How to use golf slope ratings in your daily golf life!

Let’s get started!

sloping green

Definition: Golf Slope Rating

We have seen golf slope ratings explained in several ways, but we decided to go to the experts. The USGA (United States Golf Association) governs the game.

The official definition:

Playing length and obstacles impact higher-handicap players more than lower-handicap players. Slope Rating measures the relative difficulty of a golf course for players who are not scratch players compared to those who are scratch players.

If you are like us, you probably read this and think, “What?”. Clear as mud, right?

Here is our spin. Golf Slope Rating is designed to indicate the difficulty of a golf course. Each tee box on a course will have a different golf slope rating.

You can find the golf slope rating of most courses on the scorecard. It will be a number between 55 and 155. The higher the number, the harder the golf course.

golf course and bunkers

How Is Golf Slope Rating Used?

The slope rating of a golf course is used in the golf handicap (handicap index) calculation.

It makes sense if you think about it. Not all golf courses are the same. Some are wide open with limited trouble; others have hazards and sand traps to snag your shots.

The idea of your golf handicap is to estimate what you would shoot on a specific course, so the calculation needs to consider the difficulty of the golf course you are playing.

Golf slope rating and course rating are the factors used to measure how challenging a golf course will play.

To take it one step further, the longer the tee box you decide to play, the more complex the course plays.

This is why every tee box on a golf course has a different slope rating.

The back tee might play 7,000 yards and have a slope of 137, but the forward tee from 5,000 yards has a slope of 120. Typically, a shorter tee will be considered easier.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

golf course aerial shot

Deep Dive: Golf Slope Rating

Are you starting to understand golf slope rating but thirsty for more?

The minimum golf slope rating is 55, and the maximum is 155. The higher the number, the more difficult the golf course is to play (especially for a “bogey golfer”).

When you look at the scorecard, you will see two numbers representing the difficulty: the course rating and the slope.

These calculations allow the golf handicap system to correctly rank players on different golf courses.

The next obvious question is how is the golf slope rating determined, and what factors impact this metric?

How Is Golf Slope Rating Determined?

The USGA (United States Golf Association) governs this process, but they don’t have the resources to rate every course.

They authorize different associations to rate courses in their area. For example, if you live in Virginia, the VSGA (Virginia State Golf Association) rates your golf courses.

Golf courses should be “re-rated” every ten years or if there is a significant change to the layout or the tee boxes.

A trained golfer will play the course and take notes to calculate the golf slope rating.

golf ball

What Factors Impact The Slope Rating Of Your Golf Course?

The first concept that you need to understand is effective playing length. Simply looking at the yardage of a golf course can be misleading.

The length of each hole is important, but you also need to consider the impact of roll, wind, elevation changes, altitude, dog legs, and forced layups.

In addition to the effective playing length, the course rater will also use a checklist of 10 obstacle factors:

  • Topography
  • Fairway
  • Green target
  • Recoverability and rough
  • Bunkers
  • Crossing obstacles
  • Lateral obstacles
  • Trees
  • Green surface
  • Psychology – how intimidating the hole is visually
golf course on a sunny day

The Course Rating System calculates ratings using table values, adjustments, and formulas.

The Course Rating is calculated from the effective playing length and obstacle factors for 9 or 18 designated holes.

The Course Rating is expressed in strokes to one decimal point and represents the expected score for a scratch player.

The Bogey Rating represents the expected score for a Bogey player.

The difference between the Course Rating and the Bogey Rating determines the Golf Slope Rating.

A golf course of standard relative difficulty has a Slope Rating of 113. It is important to remember that each set of tees will have a different course rating and slope.

For example, the back tees on your golf course might be 73.4 (course rating) and 130 (slope), but your senior tees might be 69.1/125.

golf course, ball and club

A golfer that consistently shoots 80 from the back tees will have a lower handicap index than a player who shoots the same scores from the senior tees.

One final thing to keep in mind. Men and women have different course ratings and slopes. The same senior tees we reference above might be 74.5/135 for women.

Use Golf Slope Rating To Determine What Tees To Play

Have your heard of the “Tee It Forward” initiative?

TEE IT FORWARD is a joint initiative between the USGA and The PGA of America that encourages players to play from a set of tees best suited to their driving distance.

Many golfers make the mistake of playing from tee boxes that are too long and challenging for their skill level.

The USGA and PGA of America want the game to be fun. When you play shorter tees, you will have more chances to make birdies and pars & your pace of play will improve.

No one wants 18 holes of golf to take over 5 hours!

aerial shot of golf course

Golf Slope Rating can help you select the “right” tees. It is an excellent indicator of how tough the golf course will play.

Whenever you play a golf course you have never seen, look at the different tee boxes and consider three factors.

The yardage, the course rating, and the golf slope rating. Use these numbers to select the tee box that you will enjoy playing!

Up Next: Deep Dive On The Golf Handicap System

golf course
Photo of author
Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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