First in Slope
By Dean L. Knuth,
Director of Handicapping, USGA
Returning to Kingsmill Resort as a vacationing guest in August 1991, was nostalgic to me because Kingsmill's River Course was the first golf course in the world to be Slope Rated under the USGA Handicap System, now in effect throughout the United States.
It all started here at Kingsmill when, as a member of the USGA Handicap Research Team in 1979 (while still serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy based in Norfolk), I was commissioned by the USGA to set up a major experiment to test the portability of handicaps. One hundred twenty "bogey" (average) golfers from six Tidewater area clubs (20 golfers each) were subjected to play each of these courses in a sort of "home and home" tournament. The courses ranged in difficulty from the relatively easy Hampton Golf Course to the Kingsmill River Course, which was chosen as the biggest challenge in the area.
I rated each of the courses, starting with Kingsmill to determine the relative difficulty for the bogey golfer to over- come such "obstacles" as distance, trees, water, bunkers, out-of-bounds, rough, greens as targets, and putting. Kingsmill, as expected, produced the highest Slope Rating and the bogey golfer test bore it out with the most scores topping 100 and at least a dozen strokes higher than at an easier course. It proved that golfers needed more handicap strokes on more difficult courses than less difficult courses.
So Kingsmill was the birthplace of Slope Rating. After more tests and refinements, I joined the USGA staff in 1981 to guide the introduction of Slope. The Colorado Golf Association Slope rated all of its own courses in 1982 and implemented the system in 1984. The results showed a dramatic improvement in handicap accuracy. No longer did the golfer from "Panther Mountain" dominate the "Open Flats" player. Golfers from easier courses received more strokes at difficult courses.
In 1984, Slope was implemented in six states and twenty more in 1985, including the Virginia State Golf Association. In 1989 it became the USGA system and slope became mandatory this year, in use by over 11,000 golf courses in every state.
Slope has gone international with Canada and Mexico in the process of rating and implementing. Scotland is using the Rating System and the countries of continental Europe are looking to make this a truly international system. Even the handful of courses in China have been Slope Rated. So as you could imagine, it was with a strong sense of nostalgia that I teed it up at the River Course on August 25. I had a great time, but twelve years older, I sure needed those extra handicap strokes that I received because of its high Slope Rating-the world's first.