And Now For Something Completely Different
Almost every other sport has set guidelines for the field, court, or rink. Basketball courts in the NBA are 94 by 50 feet. Football fields are 100 (+20 for both end zones) by 53 1/3 yards. Tennis courts are 78 by 27 feet. Even a table tennis/ping pong table is 9 x 5 feet. When it comes to golf, every course is different.
Imagine playing basketball against an NBA player. There would be no chance of being competitive. But think what would happen if you get to play to an 8 foot hoop instead of his 10 foot hoop. That evens the field a little.
USGA has developed an amazing method that pairs the Course Rating System with the USGA Handicap System to allow people to play and post scores and earn a Handicap Index that is able to adjust to any tee on any course. This way, people of different abilities can play together, or against each other, to a relatively similar level, even if they are playing different tees.
The Course Rating System is built on accuracy and consistency. Courses are first precisely measured from the center of each teeing area to the center of each green. Any factors that affect playing length are then adjusted (roll, elevation, doglegs, etc.). Landing zones for scratch and bogey players are then evaluated for difficulty. A trained team of raters evaluates the difficulty and distance of bunkers, fairways, topography, water, trees, out of bounds and more, from each tee, for men and women, for the scratch and bogey player. For more detailed information on what goes into course rating, click here.
For all of the very specific and detailed information that we assess, we find something different on every course. The team needs to assess how multiple situations work together. Maybe there is extreme rough 20 yards before OB. Which one should take precedence? What is the difference between carry over a 150 yard pond versus a three yard wide stream at the same distance? Is there a dogleg that creates different fairway widths because tees are at different angles (#13 at Tokatee)? Crooked River Ranch’s 5th hole is a sharp dogleg left, where the longer hitters could cut the corner and go over the canyon to reach the green. Will they lay up or ‘go for it’?
These situations all require conversations between the Course Rating team, sometimes bringing in USGA for answers. Luckily, I am on the USGA Course Rating Committee and have access to some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the field!
The USGA Course Rating System also has to account for non-traditional courses. For instance, we have a 6-hole course called Kinzua Hills GC in Fossil, OR. In order to post an 18-hole score, you’d play the course 3 times around. For 9 holes, one and half times.
Non-traditional courses are becoming a more practical option these days. Water is in short supply. Land use might be heavily regulated. Densely populated areas need open spaces, but have to balance that with housing. One way to economize land while still having access to two courses is to build “reversible” courses, such as the Tom Doak design The Loop in Roscommon, MI.
This summer, OGA’s Course Rating team was privileged to visit a new facility in Eastern Oregon. Silvies Valley Ranch has two 18-hole regulation golf courses, currently named Grant and Harney, which partially overlay each other. If you don’t know where Silvies Valley is, you are not alone! It is smack dab between John Day and Burns. That’s about a 5 ½ hour drive from Portland.
Oregon native Dan Hixson designed this amazing golf complex to utilize and enhance the natural topography and beauty of the landscape. "The Reversible Golf Courses at Silvies Valley Ranch are a distinctive concept in design with two 18 holes courses built on the same ground. Named after the famous war Generals and the Counties the ranch is located in, the Grant and Harney courses are reversible each day."
The distance alone created some issues. As stated previously, new courses have to be properly measured. With the laser equipment currently on hand, that usually takes three or four people about four hours to measure one course. Those measurements then need to be processed and calculated. Paperwork for the rating is then put together and printed. The rating phase alone takes one day on the course.
I worked with the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Course Rating team responsible for rating The Loop in Michigan to try and more efficiently measure and rate the special circumstances at these two courses.
OGA and GAM both ended up taking an extra-large group to help measure so that we could finish in one day. The process included several people placing reflective measuring targets on each tee box while using spray paint to mark where the permanent marker should be placed. More people held targets in the fairways and at appropriate doglegs. One person helped me with taking notes while I measured. We also had the people on the green mark the front and back of the green as well as take all measurements important to green calculations (effective green size, bunkers, OB, etc.). We wrote on color coordinated paper to that matched the targets to indicate which course was being measured and avoid any confusion.
Here’s where the similarity ended. GAM measured both courses in one day. They came back at a later date to take care of the Course Rating procedure. With the five to six hour drive, one way, OGA needed our team to work our ‘magic’ and get it all done in three days. We measured both courses in one day. The team went out for the golfing assessment of one of the course while I sat in the well-appointed maintenance building and worked out the yardages for the Grant course and got the forms ready and printed for rating the next day. On day two, we rated Grant and then played Harney. After a wonderful cookout on the Ranch hosted by the Campbell family, we returned to the hotel in Burns so that I could run the yardage and get paperwork ready for Harney. On day three, we rated Harney and then hitched up our wagons and moseyed on home.
In addition to the fact that the two courses overlay each other on several holes, there were a few additional challenges. Course Rating bases obstacle factors on the measured distance from the center of the fairway to where trouble lies. This is difficult to measure when fairways are incredibly wide and the Extreme Rough (sagebrush, rocks and general unpleasantness) was sometimes 150+ yards away. Topography, stance and lie of the ball, is the main challenge of both courses. The added factor of elevation of both courses being between 4,650 and 4,850 feet, meant for considerable up or downhill holes, affecting many shot lengths. It is hard to believe that two courses that intertwine, sharing several fairways and greens, could be as different as they are.
If you’ve played a Hixson designed course, (Bandon Crossings, Wine Valley, and many remodels also to his credit) you can see how he uses the contours and topography of fairways and greens, along with some innovative bunkering to create interest and difficulty.
I’ll admit, this trip was exhausting. But it was also an amazing experience. Dr. Scott and Sandra Campbell, the Owners, and the whole Ranch family were the most gracious hosts and treated our team of volunteers and myself like gold. Silvies Valley Ranch is scheduled to open their courses in 2017 after taking an extended period of time to build and grow their course as naturally as possible.