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  1. Last week on Tuesday and Wednesday I observed the Washington State Golf Association (WSGA) process for rating golf courses. Why did I do this? Well, I was curious why I could shoot certain scores on some courses, but not fair that well on other courses with similar ratings and slopes. I'm still not sure about that, but at least I now know (sort of) the process used to come up with those ratings. The team was led by the WSGA Director for Handicapping and Course Rating who is a WSGA employee. The five other team members are volunteers that have gone through a training program to learn the process. Each member has a USGA book that provides a number value for different features of the course for the scratch golfer and the 18-handicapper; for both men and women. All the number values for the holes are crunched to come up with the values we see on the scorecards. I didn't get into that, so how that works will be left up to those who want to volunteer and take the ratings course. The team can either break up and rate alternate holes, or they can all stay on the same hole and rate the different teeing grounds. We did the latter; maybe that was for my benefit so we could all be together. The criteria for rating courses assumes a scratch male golfer hits a drive 250 yards and a second shot 220 yards, whereas the bogey golfer hits a drive 200 yards with a 170 yard second shot. For the female scratch golfer, the drive is 210 yards with a 190 yard second shot, and the drive for the bogey female is 150 yards with a 130 yard second shot. These numbers are important because what we did on each hole is drive to the spot in the fairway where the scratch and bogey players would end up and measure fairway width, observe types of hazards and distance to them, and distance to OB is any. If a bunker on the course was not within 20 yards of the landing area, it is not considered for that player. From the tables in their book, a number is assigned for the scratch and bogey players. Also considered are number and coverage of trees and the fairway stance difficulty. Around the greens the team measures the green size, coverage of bunkers and bunker depth with women getting a more difficult value depending on depth. Again, distances to hazards and OB is recorded and the tables in their book assign the number for both scratch and bogey. Of course green speed is measured as is the depth of the fairway rough. The team does these ratings in pairs, and after the hole has been evaluated, the pairs get together and compare numbers and if they don't agree, they resolve it immediately. We did that a couple of times by going back to the spot on the course and re-evaluating the landing zone. The first course that we rated was Horn Rapids GC in Richland, WA. This course is the only all desert course in the state. There are houses on part of the course with more being built every day, but they don't come into play except for the really bad shot. The team is measuring the green on this short par 4 #1 with bunker in front and mounding left and long. These houses are the closest of any on the course. Check out the sagebrush that comes into play on this par 5 #5. The desert also comes across the fairway off the tee that is reachable by the scratch golfers and very close for the bogey golfers. For scratch it is considered a forced layup. The USGA book has a section specific for deserts. From the tips this 220 yard par 3 #8 plays downhill. The team also measures elevation change which also translates into a number from USGA table. The short par 4 #9 is difficult because the water is right next to the green on the left with a drop off on the right about 10 feet to a bunker. That tree comes into play if your are on the left side of the fairway. This course is hilly and quite long between greens to the next tee box, and while walkable, carts are recommended. Rating this course took all day, but after the data was gathered, some of the team members played the course; one of the perks of being on the committee. On day 2 the team went to the West Richland GC in West Richland, WA. This was my very first course that I played in town, and where I learned to play. My teacher is still the pro there. We played the course this last Sunday and with a sore rib muscle, I still managed to shoot 78. It's an easy, flat course in a flood plain, and it floods most every year. The Yakima River borders the right side of the course which is the back nine and a canal runs through the middle of #1, #9, #10, #11, and #12. Since it floods, maintenance is difficult and as such the course is usually pretty rough. This is a picture this winter looking out at the #18 fairway from the clubhouse. The canal is actually above water, about 150 yards from the green. The water is all gone, but the grass has not fully recovered in some spots on the course. Here is the team on the short par 4 #10 green. Standing on the 190 yard #11 tee box looking through the grass bordering the canal. The river is left of the green. After going through the process, I understand what they are looking for to determine difficulty of a course, but that doesn't mean that I necessarily agree with the ratings and slope they come up with. It's not a perfect model, but I think it is at least consistent in the application. The Director said that the USGA course rating system will undergo some changes in 2018 in an effort for the all rating systems worldwide to conform to one process. THAT ought to be interesting. To sum up my experience, I now appreciate what the rating committee goes through to rate our courses. The Director has personally rated every course in Washington State, some many times. But it would not be possible without the help of non-paid volunteers. One of the volunteers was local, but the others all came from the Seattle area which is over 200 miles away. It's a constant process given how many courses there are in the state. Most volunteers are retired, which is how they are able to contribute as much as they do. Do I want to do this? Ahhh, NO!
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