I have been part of a team that has been rating golf courses in Kenya in preparation for the World Handicap System. The course rating exercise has taken us to different parts of the country. The experience in some clubs has been delightful while in others it has been unpleasant.
The team has spent nights in five-star hotels when visiting some courses and others have offered some homely accommodation. In one, the night was spent in bitterly cold rooms with doors that the big bad wolf in my children’s storybooks could huff and puff and blow down. Despite all the challenges, the exercise is almost finished.
The most important aspect of course rating is to measure the key aspects of a course. The length from tee to green, the sizes of the greens, the bunkers and many other attributes of the course are all collated and entered into a system. There are hundreds of measurements taken on each course after determining where the scratch and bogey players will play their shots while playing. The team then sits down to work out the various values and agree on how to treat various aspects of the course. This is then put into the United States Golf Association (USGA) course rating system that then gives the course rating, the bogey rating and slope rating.
This course rating is what we have been referring to as the Standard Scratch Score (SSS) when using the CONGU Handicap System. This is the score that the scratch or zero handicap player is expected to play on the course. The course rating is also a measure of how difficult the course is. The bogey rating is what a handicap 20 man or 24 woman is expected to play on the same course. The difference between the bogey and scratch is then used to work out the slope rating. This is the number that will be used to work out the playing handicap when we move to the World Handicap System in January 2021.
The one thing that will end with the World Handicap System is the classification of a set of tees as typically for men of women. With the ongoing rating exercise, the team is following the recommendation by the World Handicap System to have all tees rated for both men and women. We shall therefore have a course rating for both men and women on the registered tees at all the golf clubs in Kenya.
Take an example of the Magical Kenya Ladies Open that took place at Vipingo Ridge last year; I was approached by some of the Kenyan amateur ladies asking if their scores would count towards their handicap. The answer was ‘no’. The competition was played off the men white tees which at the time did not have a rating for women. Now that the Vipingo Ridge Course is rated for both genders, Naomi Wafula or the other Kenyan ladies will be able to use the scores for handicapping no matter which tees they play from.
I pray and hope that the tradition of captains or golf committees constantly making changes to golf courses will change. With the way piecemeal changes are made every year on some courses, one would almost feel that they are required to leave an indelible mark by adding a bunker here, a water hazard there and the common theme has been to make the course harder. The result is often a disaster and there have been cases where subsequent committees have had to undo the changes made.
There is nothing wrong with making improvements on the course. However, it is almost criminal to make a round of golf more difficult or scary. I have seen recent additions on some courses that would make it impossible for bogey golfers to complete the hole. This will definitely discourage many golfers from playing such courses.
Wang’ombe is the General Manager of Kenya Open Golf Limited and Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Golf Union. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kenya Open Golf Limited or the Kenya Golf Union.