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Pope Of Slope

WHAT'S IN A SLOPE?

First, you get the Rating, then you finagle it for a bogey golfer

T.R. REINMAN
San Diego Union-Tribune
Staff Writer

Sunday
July 31, 1994

When it comes to the arcane, golf has to lead the all-sports league.

Pro football might have its 200-page playbooks for players who couldn't find the library in college.

Soccer might have its extra time, a period known only to the one man with the watch and whistle.

But golf . . . every golf course has a rating and a slope.

Everyone who plays golf has seen those numbers on a scorecard, and anyone who establishes an index and converts it to a handicap uses them.

Yet, for a lot of those very people, and for a lot of people who think of golf only as a good walk spoiled, ratings and slopes are as mysterious as one of Gaylord Perry's dewy deliveries ever could be. The Southern California Golf Association director of course rating, Kevin Heaney, was in town recently. With a crew of volunteers, he assembled the numbers to establish the rating and slope at Rancho San Diego Golf Club and La Jolla Country Club.

These were two of almost 70 such stops the SCGA makes annually from Bakersfield into Baja California. Each course is rated every seven years or when major changes are made. (La Jolla recently finished a complete renovation of all 18 greens; Rancho San Diego has changed several holes.) New courses are rated every three years for their first nine as they mature.

The U.S. Golf Association also has a formula that is used throughout the rest of the nation. The chief difference is that SCGA officials play the course being rated and the USGA makes its evaluations while walking it.

"But I always make sure our guys rate a course by the established standards, not by the way they play it," Heaney said after a long day at La Jolla. "Otherwise, we'd have a lot of 150 slopes in Southern California."(See standards in chart below.)

A 10-man crew, including players of varying ability and home-course hosts, receives a form with 11 boxes for each hole. Into each box -- representing things such as trees, rough, green target, recoverability -- goes a value. The standard is 4. A lower value means the difficulty posed by, say, trees, is less than standard. A 10 means the hole is etched into a jungle.

These values are entered as they relate to both a scratch player and a bogey player.

At this point, the process dips into a murky pit of number-crunching understood fully only by the USGA's director of handicapping and the inventor of slope ratings, Dean Knuth; regional kingpins such as Heaney; and select IBM mainframe computers.

The rating is basically a yardage formula for the scratch player with a slight adjustment for his obstacles. That is, about what a scratch player should be expected to score on a given course.

He's easier to figure because his shots are straighter and longer, obstacles pose less of a threat and he can putt.

The slope is the relative difficulty of a course for a bogey player compared with a scratch player.

A bogey player doesn't hit it as far or as straight as a scratch player, so obstacles are more important in figuring out how he's likely to play a course.

Aviara and Stardust's Lake-River are a good example of the difference between rating and slope for scratch and bogey players. (See comparison in chart below.)

Aviara is more hilly and wetter than Handlery. But because it's 8 yards shorter than Handlery, its rating is virtually the same. Its slope, though, is seven points higher. Relatively, bogey players are going to have a tougher time than scratch players when they move from Handlery to Aviara.

The slope formula was created to make handicaps equitably portable. Before the Slope System was introduced about five years ago, if a player developed a Handicap Index on a relatively easy course, it often wasn't representative of what he could be expected to shoot on a more difficult course.

That is, a 6-handicap at Singing Hills' Oak Glen course couldn't be expected to shoot 78 at Torrey Pines South. The slope system, which begins with Heaney and his band of volunteer raters, changes that.

Still, it's not an exact science.

A bogey player can't look at Oak Glen, with its 112 slope, and look at Torrey South's 136 and see no way to play Torrey.

Length counts for about 90 percent of the final number, but a high slope doesn't mean only that a course is a collection of dry spots sprinkled amid gator-filled ponds.

Is the grass sticky kikuyu or hard and fast bentgrass? Does the wind blow a) all the time; b) only into you on the par-5s; c) left to right on the water holes, where the water's on the right?

Are the bunkers small but deep and filled with beach sand? Are the fairways fairly flat but the greens devilishly tiered and lightning-quick?

For all these reasons it's tough to look at a slope rating and make a decision about the playability of a course.

And Heaney sees a change coming.

"I think Slopes are leveling relative to the way things were about 10 years ago, when architects were in their `wild' phase," he said. "I think they understand that people are tired of being beaten up when they play. The game's hard enough."

But this is veering from arcane to anecdotal, and this is, after all about ratings and slopes.

The USGA Slope formula Course yardage, divided by 160, plus 50.7 equals bogey yardage rating (BYR). Course yardage, divided by 220, plus 40.9 equals scratch yardage rating (SYR).

BYR plus bogey obstacle rating equals bogey rating (BR). SYR plus scratch obstacle rating equals course rating (CR).

BR minus CR times 5.381 equals the course's slope.

And you thought the World Cup's extra time was a puzzlement.

MAKING SENSE OF GOLF'S NUMBERS

It requires a lot of arithmetic to ensure that a golfer's handicap serves its purpose on any course, no matter how easy or treacherous. Following are the various formulas used by the Southern California Golf Association

STANDARDS USED BY SCGA TO RATE COURSES

Scratch profile The scratch golfer drives the ball 250 yards (225 of carry, 25 of roll), can hit his second shot 220 yards (200 and 20), tends to draw the ball and is strong at all phases of the game.

Bogey profile The bogey golfer has an SCGA index of 17.5 to 22.4, his drives average 200 yards (180 yards of carry, 20 of roll), his approach shots on average do not exceed 170 yards (150 and 20) and he tends to slice the ball.

FIGURING THE SLOPE

Slope definition The relative difficulty of a course for a bogey player compared with a scratch player.

Slope formula Course yardage, divided by 160, plus 50.7 equals bogey yardage rating (BYR). Course yardage, divided by 220, plus 40.9 equals scratch yardage rating (SYR). BYR plus bogey obstacle rating equals bogey rating (BR). SYR plus scratch obstacle rating equals course rating (CR). BR minus CR times 5.381 equals the course's slope.

FROM RATING TO INDEX TO HANDICAP

Rating A yardage formula for the scratch player plus an adjustment for his obstacles.

Index Represents potential ability of a player on a course of standard playing difficulty. Used to convert to a course handicap.

Course Handicap Number of strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees to adjust his scoring ability to the level of the scratch player.

COURSE COMPARISON CHART

COURSE COMPARISON CHART
Handicap values for: 3.0 9.8 18
Course Blue Tees Rating Slope index index index
Singing Hills Oak Glen 6,132 69.0 112 3 10 18
Aviara 6,591 71.8 130 3 11 21
Stardust River-Lake 6,599 71.7 123 3 11 21
Torrey Pines South 6,986 74.6 136 4 12 23

Example A golfer with a 9.8 index receives a handicap of 10 strokes at Singing Hills Oak Glen course, and 12 strokes at Torrey Pines South.

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