Anyone who has ever played the game of golf has had an opinion on a golf course. Some share those opinions more vociferously than others. Some are more reserved.
But have you ever really taken the time to thoroughly evaluate a Kansas golf course in terms of its “playing difficulty for a scratch golfer under normal course and weather conditions?”
The Kansas Golf Association wants to give you that chance and, under the direction of Director of Member Services and Junior Golf Tyler Cummins, the Association is putting together course rating teams as it undertakes rating more than two dozen courses in the Sunflower State this year.
“Each golf course has a USGA slope index and course rating -- part of the services that we provide to our member clubs is to give each course a new rating or an up-to-date rating,” Cummins says. “We typically do that every seven to 10 years. New courses we do every five years. Basically, before it’s been a one-man shop. But the way the USGA wants us to do it is have course rating teams.”
Cummins says he has already been out on the “recruiting” trail.
“I’ve got 12 guys from all across the state…some out west, some in the central part of the state and then I’ve got a couple guys over here in Council Groves that will be assisting (KGA USGA Boatwright intern Zach Thiesing) and I when we do some course ratings,” Cummins adds. “Basically, I’ve just been working on recruiting them, getting them tuned up to actually go out and help me rate golf courses.
“Because we have 28 to do this year and with all the other stuff I’ve got going on it would basically be impossible for me to do that all by myself. I’d like to have as many teams as possible. I’m looking for another team maybe in the Wichita area or anybody maybe in the Lawrence or Kansas City area that is interested.”
Course rating training
Golfing diversity is a key component as Cummins looks to put together his KGA rating teams.
“I’d like to have people that are diverse in their golfing experience…that have played a lot of golf courses,” says the former Kansas State University player. “Someone that has played the same golf course year after year and hasn’t experienced other golf courses in Kansas might tend to have a different point of view when rating. It’s supposed to be totally objective. It’s based at least 75 percent on measurements and numbers. The other 25 percent is I’m trying to get the teams to be consistent on how they rate certain parts of the golf courses.”
Cummins conducted a training day at Salina Country Club early last month. He says he plans to hold one annually as new raters get involved.
“We sat down and had sort of an indoor training session in the morning and just talked about all the definitions and procedures, everything that was necessary to do that,” he says. “Then we went outside and rated three or four holes to try and get them to understand it a little better. Basically, it’s something that if you are into golf, like numbers and have some time on your hands, it would be a good fit for you.”
Rating teams will not be sent out to courses until they are ready. Cummins stresses the importance of having his teams equipped and properly trained to carry out their important task.
“Each team will be provided, by me, information on the golf course,” he adds. “They’re outfitted with clothing and KGA gear. They’ve got the appropriate manuals and the appropriate forms. We’ll start on hole No. 1 and go through 18. You start from the tee. You go to each landing zone and you rate all of the obstacles at each landing zone. Then once you get to the green, you rate the green, the green surface, and from there you go down the list and you get a number for each obstacle on that hole. So each hole has its own separate actual course rating and slope rating. That is, in turn, tallied up and averaged out to get your total.”
Raters have to be able to put in the time and do some travel. They need to be able to spend long periods of time outdoors, during what can be some severe weather conditions, Cummins adds.
“The rating season is during mid-season conditions, which for us is basically May through August,” Cummins says. “So those four months would be the key months we would be out rating golf courses. It’s not all rosy. As far as downside, it’s just mainly the time that it takes to rate and maybe some of the travel required. The more teams I have, the less travel there will be. I try to keep it where with my teams, the course is an hour or hour and a half away, max. The actual rating will take from three to four hours.
“They basically just have to have knowledge of the game. They have to know how to get around a golf course – so basically your average golfer who is a member of a golf club or whatever, who plays two or three times a week during the golf season. That’s the kind of person I’m looking for -- obviously someone who has time, that can get away from work or who is retired and can get around a little bit because there is some walking involved with it. You’ll be on carts when you are out rating, but there is walking involved.”
One of the perks of the job comes after the course rating is complete. Usually raters eat lunch and then play the golf course to get an even better feel for the layout.
“One thing that really attracts raters, yeah you get to rate some really nice golf courses, but once you rate it is a good idea to play the golf course afterwards,” Cummins says. “That’s a good selling point to get people to sign up. This year we have Prairie Dunes and Flint Hills National, both to be rated. You don’t have to play. Best case scenario is it’s a half day, but you can play the course and make it a full day.”
Ladies first in ratings
Course rating, like golf, has its origin in the British Isles. The first measure of course difficulty was par. The word par is derived from stocks; i.e., "a stock may be above or below its normal or par figure." Another measure for scoring difficulty of golf course was "bogey," which was the expected score of the fictitious Colonel Bogey.
The first course rating system was developed by the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) under the leadership of Miss Issette Pearson in about 1900. Robert Browning in "A History of Golf" says of the LGU, "Their biggest achievement was the gradual establishment of a national system of handicapping. No doubt it was uphill work at the start (1893) but within eight or ten years the LGU had done what the men had signally failed to do - had established a system of handicapping that was reasonably reliable from club to club.”
The first USGA Course Rating System was established in 1911. It was proposed by Leighton Calkins who also proposed the first USGA Handicap Committee. By 1914, the USGA rating concept began to dominate articles in British golf magazines.
Since 1989, the USGA has organized and conducted a national course rating calibration seminar at each USGA annual meeting for course raters from all over the United States, and from foreign countries licensed to use the System. Today every golf association in the United States that rates golf courses is licensed to use the USGA Course Rating System.
“The USGA holds course rating calibration seminars every year, they have three of them,” Cummins explains. “Typically they have one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast and one on the central part of the U.S. Last year, I went to Colorado Springs to a course rating calibration seminar and my hope is to send either one specific team or a member of each of the rating teams to a calibration seminar. Generally, it’s a two-day seminar and they’re always in nice places so it’ an opportunity to maybe stay a couple extra days and play golf or bring the family and make a mini-vacation out of it.”
Cummins says the importance of good course rating is it serves as the foundation for golf’s handicapping system across the state and the country.
“Another service that we provide is GHIN and handicapping to all of our member clubs,” he says. “What course rating allows you to do is take your handicap, from your specific country club or course, and travel to another course. If you have a 9 handicap and your friend at that course has a 10, if we’ve done an accurate job of course rating, you can play head to head and those handicaps will be accurate and each golfer will be on a level playing field.”
Providing course rating services to some 140 courses in the Sunflower State is a monumental task, especially for a golf association with a small staff like that of the Kansas Golf Association. But Cummins says he hopes the endeavor will lead him to contact with each of the member clubs.
“I haven’t seen every golf course in the state…and I hope to get to that point,” he says. “But we have so many, the nine-hole (courses) and those out in the west part of the state, I just haven’t had the opportunity to see yet.”
To get involved with the KGA course rating program, prospective candidates should contact Cummins at (785) 842-4833 or email@example.com.
-- some information for this article was provided by usga.org