Course Rating – Part 1

Course ratings – what do they mean and how can we use them?

Understanding how a golf course is rated and the meaning of that rating may very well help you to understand what makes a golf course easy  or difficult and how your game might match up to a given course.  Briefly, a course is rated on its length and the obstacles it has which create added difficulty.  Course ratings are comprised of two parts, the USGA course rating and the slope rating, when they appear on a score card: 72.5/128 for example.  The course rating is basically a yardage rating, and the slope rating is generally an obstacle rating.

The yardage rating reflects how many strokes a scratch (0 handicap) player will take to play a given course.  The USGA states that a scratch player will hit her driver 210 yards and can hit the green on a 400 yard hole in two shots.  Thus, a scratch player plays a course rated at 72.5 in 72.5 strokes regardless of par.  A higher handicap golfer does not have the luxury of that kind of shot length.  The USGA estimates a bogey player to be about a 24 handicap.  She hits her drives 150 yards, and she can hit the green on a 280 yard hole in two shots.  Obviously, she will take many more shots than a scratch player.  She also will encounter more obstacles; consequently, the slope (or obstacle) rating is more applicable to her game.

Your handicap calculation is derived from both yardage and slope.  If you are lucky enough to be able to choose which tee you will play on a course, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which yardage rating is closest to par?
  • Which slope reflects the difficulty that suits my game?
  • Can I reach the par 3’s from this tee?

Perhaps using the rating to choose a tee that suits your abilities will make your round more enjoyable.

Masters Sunday 2017

Augusta National.  Sunday at the Masters.  Golf’s high holy day.  We admit it; we are “Masters Maniacs.”  From the par 3 contest on Wednesday to the two days leading to the cut to “moving day” Saturday, we are glued to our HD, 4G Ready TV that we bought when we saw how much better it picked up every magical moment of golf’s own heaven, Augusta.

This year six of us gathered at our home on Sunday as we do every year.  Our group, almost homogeneous with five women and one man, sat on the edge of our seats watching the drama unfold while munching on the requisite pimiento sandwiches, a tradition at the Masters.  How peaceful it is to watch a tournament where you do not hear “You the man” or “Baba-loo-ie” or “In the hole” shouted out after every shot!  You are watching a tournament so well run that even the galleries must obey certain rules.

As the tension mounted as much in our living room as on the golf course, we suddenly became aware of a puzzling yet intriguing phenomenon: all of the women in the room were rooting for Sergio Garcia, and our lone male companion definitely had very different feelings.  He had never forgiven Sergio for spitting in a hole after missing a putt and for slowing his pre-shot routine down to interminable. We women admired his new maturity and his perseverance. Why had all of us women gotten over Sergio’s early, immature behavior in order to cheer him on to his first Masters win (and his first major) and our lone male had not?

His opinion did not dampen our Sergio enthusiasm.  Our disagreement was much more congenial and light-hearted than a discussion about current politics.  The Masters allowed us to escape from all that.  We returned to the Sergio/Justin Rose showdown and found ourselves happily mesmerized by the superb exhibition of skill and sportsmanship they gifted to us at another magical Masters.

Haggin Oaks Revisited


We teed it up on the McKenzie course at Haggin Oaks not having played it since before the renovations that it underwent about 17 years ago. We wondered how architects could improve on the design by Alister McKenzie who was also responsible for such iconic courses as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo. Would the “turn of the new century” course modernization produce changes that would be positive for our games and the games of women in general? We came away with mixed feelings.

Historically, Haggin Oaks has always been a friend of women golfers. It promoted golf for junior girls as well as junior boys by creating what is now the First Tee program. We have fond memories of Haggin-sponsored junior girls’ tournaments and of the kind mentorship of pros Tommy LoPresti and Ken Morton. As we grew older, we could choose among three well-established and well-organized women’s golf clubs that call Haggin Oaks home, and we could handicap out of those clubs. (Blog alert: we have learned a lot more about Haggin’s many programs for women. Look for a new Haggin blog in the near future.)

However, we are not sure if the new “modernized” version of the McKenzie course does women any favors.   Modernization at this time seems to have its basis in the USGA’s current preference for perfect grass at the expense of lots of shade-producing trees. The result is a wide open, at times forgettable golf course that favors long-hitting men who may or may not hit the ball where they intend. It is difficult to believe that there are eight holes that have not been rerouted. Numbers 1, 16, 17, and 18 retain their original design, but without the number of trees that used to line 17 and 18, there is no consequence for spraying the ball. The ten newly designed holes are wide open, having lost many trees. Men will love them while women who rely more on accuracy may be at a disadvantage. Thus, we wonder if the current course reflects the original intentions of the architect who was not anticipating the distances that men hit the ball today.

The new design does validate the USGA emphasis on turf. Haggin Oaks is in beautiful condition especially for this time of year. We found the course in excellent condition, with very few bad lies and very smooth greens, and it was very walkable. Women have a choice from among three sets of tees playing at very different yardages: Three Oaks at 6,006 yards, Two Oaks at 5,368, and One Oak at 4,552. While the 6,000-yard length probably will appeal to only the very lowest-handicap player, if you can hit a 150-yard drive, you can reach all but one green in regulation from the One Oak tees. Wouldn’t that be fun?

The Haggin Oaks property has developed over its many years into a premier golf complex where women can find everything they need to improve their golf life: great clothes, equipment, lessons, the works. The pro shop is most accommodating – even coming out to the putting green to make sure we were aware of our tee time and the first tee procedure. They gave us a lovely course guide, but we were unable to use the tips it gave us as they were aimed at long hitting men. Finally, be sure to take bottled water and sun protection with you when you venture out; you will need them on hot summer days when you can’t find enough shade out on the course. (Note: head pro Mike Woods told me that they have planted 300 new trees since the renovation. He also mentioned that they had lost 42 trees to storms over the winter months. Perhaps we should blame mother nature rather than the course architects.)


Sunrise Golf and Disc Golf Course


Sunrise GC

A well-kept secret in Citrus Heights, Sunrise Golf Course is a nine-hole layout that women will appreciate for its unique length, tree-lined beauty, and friendly atmosphere.

Why not play a short course once in a while?   What better way to practice your short game? Sunrise allows you to choose among three sets of tees, the whites at 1965 yards, greens at 1765, and yellows at 1565. Par is 31 from all tees. A lower handicap player will face four challenging par 4’s and par 3’s all longer than 130 yards from the white tees. A higher handicap player has the possibility of hitting all but two of the greens in regulation from the blue tees (how fun!). Finally, a beginner should feel very comfortable starting out on the short yellow tees even when facing all those towering oak trees.

Once a pristine private course, Sunrise is justly proud of its magnificent oak trees, rumored to be 2,500 in number. After a very wet winter in which the entire course was flooded, the water at times lapping against the Sticks Restaurant that sits behind the first tee, Sunrise is slowly greening up. The greens will be the last to recover. The oak trees, however, are leafing out quickly. Combined with the meandering creek that runs through the property, they form the biggest obstacles for players. But we women hit the ball straight; we should have no problem!

We love the good practice that Sunrise affords us. We don’t even mind the disc golf players who share the course with us when we play; they are polite and enjoying their walk as much as we are. We look forward to playing this summer when the course has recovered from the hard winter and when its fairways will provide plenty of shady relief from the hot sun. (Unlike many local courses that have sacrificed their trees for the new modern USGA look – but more on that subject in future blogs.) The owners, employees, and fellow players at Sunrise are all relaxed and welcoming.


Green fees:       $10.00 for 9 holes, $16.00 for 18.   Carts extra.

Address:           7925 Arcadia Drive, Citrus Heights

(Located behind Mike Grigg’s Driving Range just off Sunrise Blvd.)


Mike Griggs’ Driving Range

Mike Griggs Range

Yesterday I had my own “Tin Cup” experience at the Mike Griggs Driving Range, and I mean that in a very positive way. You remember the well-worn driving range and the fun-loving characters in the movie.   This establishment is much the same.   Mike is a personable owner here, likely to throw a few extra golf balls in your bucket, and the mostly male clientele welcomed us warmly to their territory with golf pleasantries and even a story or two. The range itself, slightly worn around the edges, has a very laid back atmosphere.   Yes, you are hitting off mats, but if you are interested in working the kinks out of a rusty swing – who cares?   The range is lacking in grass, but it has clear yardage markers, mounded targets, and even a net with a target to practice pitch shots. Also, importantly, the Sticks Bar and Grill gladly sold me a cold one to help me finish up my bucket. The day was productive for me; I felt I learned a little something about my wedge even though I was hitting off a mat, a good feeling. Mike Griggs’ range is a welcoming place for women players, and you might even catch a glimpse of a Kevin Costner look-alike out on the range picking up range balls with a very definitely homemade rig built for the purpose.

Location: nestled between Staples and an abandoned miniature golf course on Arcadia Drive across from Sunrise Mall.

Prices: $6, $9, $12, and $20 (family sized) buckets

(Atmosphere – priceless)