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Chip Shots: Slippery Slope

Steve Dykes, Getty Images

Recently I played 18 holes with friend and golfing competitor Kevin at Bucksport Golf Club, where I ended up getting an up close and personal lesson in something called “Slope Rating”. You see, Bucksport is a very nice, and challenging, nine-hole course, with a slope rating of 136.

Before I go on telling my tale of woe, let me first share with you the definitions for “Course Rating” and  “Slope Rating” (both taken from About.com Golf) —

Course Rating: USGA Course Rating is an evaluation of the difficulty of a golf course for scratch golfers. (More specifically, the number is an estimate of the average scores of the best 50-percent of rounds played by scratch golfers at the course being rated.)

Course Rating is very easy to understand because it is expressed in strokes. A par-72 course that is easy might have a course rating of 68.9; one that is difficult might have a course rating of 74.5. That means that a scratch golfer should be expected to average 68.9 strokes in his better rounds at the easier course; and 74.5 at the more difficult one.

Slope Rating (a term trademarked by the United States Golf Association): is a measurement of the difficulty of a golf course for bogey golfers. To put it another way: USGA Course Rating tells the best golfers how hard a golf course actually plays; USGA Slope Rating indicates how much harder the course plays for “regular” (meaning not among the best) golfers. The minimum slope rating is 55 and the maximum is 155 (slope does not relate specifically to strokes played as course rating does).

The calculation is all based on the fact that a difficult course will negatively impact a bogey golfer’s score much more dramatically than a scratch golfer.

So, after reading the definitions and knowing that I am essentially a bogey golfer, you can probably tell how this story is going to play out, can’t you?

After four holes I was only two over par, which is great for me. I was hitting the ball well and feeling comfortable. And why wouldn’t I? So far this season I have been consistently scoring in the mid to high ‘80s. After pulling my tee shot on number five, I ended up with a double-bogey seven, and finished the front nine with a 47; not my best, but certainly not my worst ever either. I was one behind Kevin in stroke play and up by five in skins. And then the back nine happened.

A few bad tee shots, some poor putting, and two lost balls later, I was adding up my score and it wasn’t pretty. I shot a 54 on the back nine, losing to Kevin by three strokes but miraculously winning two skins. My 18 hole total? 101.

A majority of courses in the greater Bangor area have a slope rating of 110 to 125. Those are the courses on which I have been scoring in the mid to high eighties. So, for me, the slope rating accurately (and unfortunately) predicted how poorly I would score at Bucksport. Would I want to play Bucksport often? No. Did I enjoy the challenge and realize that by playing courses with a higher-than-average slope rating I will improve my game? Yes.

Bucksport’s length, rough, sand traps and rounded greens all conspired to teach me a lesson in humility and cause me to teeter on the edge of a “Slippery Slope”. And you can bet I’ll be back for more in the future.

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