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What Does Slope Rating Mean In Golf? (And How It Works)

Slope rating is a measure of difficulty allocated to a golf course in order to take into account how challenging it is for golfers of different levels.

Without slope rating, golfers of different standards would see varied advantages and disadvantages on golf courses, with a players general handicap not necessarily a fair allocation of strokes on a certain layout.

Slope ratings can be considered a measure of how difficult a course is for players of different levels.

It recognises that a particularly hazardous course may only cost a scratch player a couple of shots, while a player off a handicap of 25 might lose 10 or more as a result of the exact same challenges the course presents.

What is a typical slope rating?

A slope rating of 113 is considered the standard relative difficulty for a golf course, with lower slope ratings being considered ‘easier’ courses and higher ones considered ‘more difficult’. However, just because 113 is the ‘standard’ measure of slope rating, it doesn’t mean it is the norm for courses, with the average slope rating in America actually coming in at around 120.

Given that the course found on the lower end of the spectrum are usually shorter par 3 courses, this accounts for the average sitting above 113, given there are fewer short courses out there than proper 9- or 18-hole layouts.

In fact, the scale of slope rating runs all the way from 55 through to 155.

How is slope rating calculated?

Slope rating is calculated through a course analysis, carried out by a team of trained officials or experts. These people conduct a detailed investigation of the course considering normal conditions, taking into account factors such as length, obstacles and elevation to determine an overall level of difficulty.

The relationship between all of these factors can be quite complex, with things like altitude, elevation and wind all impacting how long a course plays.

For example, a course may have several 400 metre par fours, but if they often play downhill off the tee and have a coastal breeze from behind, they could be deemed relatively easy given an extra 30 metres of carry the conditions provide on a regular day.

Initially, the team of officials will determine the course rating, or scratch rating, an evaluation of how difficult the course plays for a golfer off of scratch.

Things like water hazards are factored into a course’s slope rating.

If a course has a par of 72 and a scratch rating of 73 it means a scratch golfer is expected to shoot 1 over par on a normal day.

Something called a bogey rating is also determined – an expected score for a golfer who plays off a handicap of between 20 and 24.

Given these golfers generally have less distance off the tee and poorer overall accuracy, they will usually shoot a score further from their handicap than a scratch golfer would on the same course.

To determine the slope rating, the scratch rating is subtracted from the bogey rating, then multiplied by a constant: 5.381.

What does a higher slope rating mean in golf?

A higher slope rating indicates how a golf course becomes increasingly challenging for the higher handicap golfer. Slope rating is determined using calculations derived from the scratch rating, a rating set taking into account overall meterage, factors that effect playing length (including roll, elevation and doglegs) and obstacles like rough and bunkers.

If a course has a higher slope rating, it will usually have been reached on the back of a few different things:

Playing length

Not all 370-yard par fours are made equally, and slope rating takes this into account. If a hole plays uphill, that will make it feel longer and negate any roll you might get from your drive.

Additionally, courses with higher slope rating are likely to play into wind more often and have winding dog legs that force you to be more accurate and play to position, or take on large amounts of risk if trying to cut corners.

Obstacle factors

Harder courses will likely have a combination of challenging factors such as deep rough, water hazards or a large amount of challenging bunkers.

The greater the likelihood a course provides of losing balls in water or out of bounds, the higher the slope rating will probably be.

What is the lowest golf slope rating?

The lowest slope rating a golf course can have is 55, usually reserved for the shortest and easiest of par three layouts. For full 18 hole layouts, it can be quite hard to find anything out there below 113, with courses down closer to 100 usually having a range of very short par fours and minimal hazards or bunkering, if any.

So long as a course is relatively ‘normal’ in that it has some bunkering, par threes over 100m and par fours in the high 200 or lower 300 yard range, then it will likely sit around the 113 slope rating mark.

YouTuber Golf Mates conducted an interesting experiment to show just how hard it can be to play to your handicap, despite slope rating, by playing one of the easiest courses in the UK.  

I PLAY THE EASIEST COURSE IN THE UK - with the lowest slope rating

Despite the slope scale going all the way down to 55, this course came in at a slope rating of 105, proving that courses are considered to be very simple layouts even if they are only slightly below that 113 standard.

For the record, he was able to shoot 4 over par, one better than his handicap around that course.

What is Augusta National’s slope rating?

Although Augusta National does not have an official slope rating, many well-informed pundits have made efforts to place a number on the most prestigious course in golf. Generally, people place the slope rating at about 130 off the members tees, and a confronting 140+ from the Masters tips.

As a comparison, previous US Open host course Winged Foot possessed a slope rating of 140 from the championship tees, while Pebble beach comes in at 145 and TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players, an eye-watering 155.

Final message

While slope ratings of different courses will always be heavily debated – there is an amount of subjectivity to them, after all – thankfully they do exist, in order to provide a more forgiving and fairer experience for most who play the game.

In most cases, you won’t ever have to think about slope rating, with many courses these days having mobile scoring apps that figure out how it impacts your daily handicap without you needing to do the maths yourself.

Lewis Carhart
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