State to state, a slippery slope

A few issues back, I raised some points about the Slope System and handicap indexing. To summarise, I proposed that, instead of using the current (and potentially outdated) American Slope system to determine the relative difficulty of courses here in Australia, we instead turn to the real-world statistical data of rounds played at each course. Basically, I believe we should look at actual posted scores (using MiClub or GolfLink, etc), and compare the results of, say, scratch golfers to those of bogey golfers, and use that data to determine the course’s relative difficulty (and thus handicap stroke allotment) between those two segments.

The responses I’ve received via email and in person would seem to validate that opinion, as nearly everyone I’ve communicated with has an anecdote about how the Slope system doesn’t seem to work here in Australia.

For the record, I’ve stated before that the Slope ratings at many courses never felt quite right. And this is due, I believe, to two main reasons:   

  1. The slope system is, in essence, an opinion-based, theoretical formula devised to rate/rank a course according to a variety of obstacles like course length, hazards, landing areas, etc.  And while it takes many measurements/factors into account, the problem, I believe, is that it essentially boils down to a rater’s “opinion”, formulated by walking the course, not actually playing it. I think it’s safe to say that, until you actually PLAY a golf course, and play it multiple times, you can never really get a feel for how difficult it is, or understand the actual bounces/rolls/breaks throughout the course.
  2. The system is largely based on the difficulty/playability of American courses, which as we all know play far differently (by and large) to Australian courses. A US-style parkland course with ultra-soft greens, fluffy bunkers and lush fairways plays vastly differently to a bump-and-run links-style course here in Oz. As a result, I believe that some of the measurements/factors used in Slope calculations aren’t quite suitable/applicable in Australia.

Following some recent events, I have become more impassioned about this subject, as I believe there is a serious imbalance between courses.

I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of how, say, members from one club will ALWAYS win (or “Clean up every single year”, in their words) when they play inter-club matches at a neighbouring club.  They note that they often feel like they get far too many handicap strokes/shots for the club they are visiting, etc.

And this seems to be reflected even more highly on an interstate level. Personally, I play in many golf events across the country, from Pro-ams to social games, etc., and I have come to notice that players of similar handicaps, from different states, have significantly different playing abilities. In essence, a 12-handicapper from one state may be a significantly better player than a 12-handicapper from another state. Not just in a one-off instance, but on a regular, consistent basis.  I’ve also become more aware of it over the last few years during an annual Ryder Cup-style State vs State competition in which I play. Following many rounds and matches, a common discussion in the 19th hole is “That 12-handicapper was certainly NO 12 handicapper; he is more like a 9.” So it’s become clear to me that one state has a significant edge over the other. And I believe that the edge may be due to an imbalance in how many strokes are allotted to the players of each team, based upon their state’s Slope, which as we know may have been determined by a different set of raters.

(And before you start accusing people of handicap manipulation, etc., keep in mind that this is not an isolated incident.  I have heard dozens upon dozens of similar stories, from various sources, for a number of years.)

So perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of Slope here in Australia.  We have the data, so why not use it? Let’s compare apples to apples and see what turns up!

If you or your club has experienced a similar situation regarding Slope, let me know. I’d love to hear the story

See you on the fairways


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