I’ve been playing golf for most of my life but only got serious about lowering my scores in the last few years. I began researching the handicap system and figuring out how to compare myself to other golfers. I learned everything about what went into defining handicap. That’s when I came upon the slope of a golf course.
What Does Golf Course Slope Mean?
The slope of a golf course covers the difference in how a golf course plays for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch player. The higher the slope number, the harder the course is for the bogey golfer relative to the scratch player.
The slope of a golf course is often misunderstood. Many people think it tells you the difficulty of the course.
Slope numbers range from 55 to 155. The average course in the United States has a slope number of 122. There is a simple math formula to determine what the slope number is. (Bogey Rating – Course Rating) x 5.381 = Slope. To get the slope, each course gets both a Scratch Rating and a Bogey Rating from each tee. The Scratch Rating is another term for the Course Rating. Then it follows the formula above.
This image is from the Ocean Course at Kiawah Golf Resort in South Carolina which is currently considered the “Toughest Golf Course” in the Nation. This was an aerial shot taken by one of the writers at AEC Info in 2019.
The Slope Rating for the Ocean Course is 144 for Tournament rounds.
This seems confusing but makes sense when you stop to think about it. A beginning golfer is going to have trouble with the course at Augusta. A PGA pro is going to play Augusta a lot easier. So how do we place that golf course in front of two completely different players and compare it? With the slope.
There are a lot of questions left about ratings and slope. Let’s dive a bit deeper and see exactly what these terms mean. First, we need to discuss golf handicap.
What is a Golf Handicap?
If you have spent any meaningful time around a golf course you have heard the question, “What’s your handicap?” Well, slope rating is directly linked to golf handicap. For some, handicap can be a confusing part of golf. Knowing your handicap and what it means can really improve your game.
Many amateurs will score their rounds and aim to break barriers. The first is usually breaking 100 strokes. Then it goes by 10. Break 90. Break 80. When you score in the 80’s your golf game has evolved. Breaking 80 means you are close to shooting par. Typical courses with 18 holes have a par of 72.
Since golf rules are universally acknowledged around the world, it only stands to reason that the handicap system needs to be consistent too. The World Handicap System is being pushed by the USGA and will unify all the different handicap systems around the world.
Simply put, a handicap system allows golfers of all abilities to match up against each other. Now, if you struggled in high school math, this may look completely confusing. Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.
First you have to play some rounds of golf. Play at least 5 rounds but it’s even better if you look at around 20. Take the average score out of those rounds. Got it? Good.
Now find the course rating of the place you are playing. Take that course rating and subtract it from your score. Multiply that by 113 and then divide by the slope on the scorecard.
For example: your average round is 100. The course you are playing has a rating of 74.2 and a slope of 115. Your handicap is 25.35.
How to use a Handicap?
Using a golf handicap is simple math. If you are able to calculate your handicap with multiplication and division, you will be able to use your handicap with ease.
You are in a foursome with Gary, Greg, and Justin. Playing your local 18 hole Country Club. You are a 10 handicap. Gary is an 8 handicap. Greg is a 15 handicap. And Justin is a 6 handicap. Put Justin at the top. He now gives strokes to everyone else. He is giving you 4 strokes and Gary 2 strokes. Understand? Simple subtraction there.
This helps even out the field when playing. Feel free to play against your friends who are scratch golfers while you struggle to break 100. It’s okay. But what exactly is a scratch golfer?
What is a Scratch Golfer?
Anyone who spends any time on the golf course understands that a scratch golfer is someone who is very good at the game. But what exactly does it mean and how is it determined?
A scratch golfer is someone who has the ability to score a par on any course on any day. They have to play to a handicap of 0 on any rated course. So take that calculation we worked on above and work backwards from zero. Here’s the example.
Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (slope rating/113) = 0
A scratch golfer should be able to hit off the tee for 250 yards and make the green of a 400 yard hole in 2 shots. When you think about that in your mind, you see an almost professional golfer. Break it down and you realize that a scratch golfer should be putting for a birdie almost every single hole.
Scorecard from The Ocean Course At Kiawah Island showing slope rating of 144 for Tournaments, 138 for Ocean Tees.
Lowering Your Handicap
Once you start paying attention to your handicap, it becomes easier to lower it. It’s tracking progress. Tracking progress in anything is going to help you improve because you are playing and practicing with a purpose. Here are some ways we can work on lowering our handicaps.
We are playing and practicing with purpose. Set goals in small chunks when looking to lower your handicap. A good goal is to lower your handicap by 5 shots at a time. This will become harder and harder the lower you go. The higher your handicap is, the easier it will be to lower it in chunks. Let’s look at some of the low hanging fruit.
Most golf shots and added strokes will be in play around the green. Many of these shots need touch and feel. You aren’t just full swinging away. So let’s work our way from the green out to the tee.
Work on your putting game. The goal should be to focus on never 3 putting. The best way to do this is to have a reliable distance stroke on the green.
Focus on learning how to read the green correctly. ( If you want to read the greens better, consider buying a green reading guide like the Strackaline for your home course. AEC Info readers can take 25% off their order here )
Then get into a good putting routine. You should also practice putting from 30 feet away. 20 feet away. And finally, 10 feet away. If you can reliably put a putt of over 10 feet near the cup, you will cut down dramatically on your 3 putts. Spend time on the green practicing your 30 footers, 20 footers, and 10 footers. Get it close time and time again.
Work on your chipping game around the green. You want to be confident in your distances here and your swing. Many amateur golfers are very inconsistent and turn simple chips into multiple strokes. Practice this the same way you do with your distance putting. Get confident. Know how to hit from the rough and the fairway. Be able to consistently put it on the green.
As you move farther back you are looking at anything you can practice at the Driving Range. When you go to the range you need to have a plan of action. Don’t go there to just hammer balls for distance. Work your irons. Work your woods and driver. Get a consistent stroke where you can hit the ball for both distance and accuracy.
Having a trusted and consistent game will lower your handicap. The better you get, the more you will work on hitting for distance and shaping shots.
Many golfers may look at terms like slope and handicap and be confused. Worse still, they may think learning about them is a waste of time. It seems like an added extra that you don’t need to focus on. If your goal is to improve your game, and it should be, then learning about these terms and how to apply them is important.
Playing good golf means playing fun golf. It should be everyone’s goal to learn the technical terms and how to apply them to play better.