Rating Golf Courses A Science Of Sorts For BC Golf’s Kwadwo Frempong

Image Courtesy Golden Eagle Golf Course

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

Kwadwo 'Kojo' Frempong spends a lot of his working day on the golf course and it seems many people are a little jealous about that. “I get asked a lot, how did you get that job, and how do I get a job like you,” Frempong says with a chuckle. “And I say, 'You have to wait until I die.' Then I add that it’s very stressful.”

Frempong’s job is to do the course and slope ratings for golf courses in the province for British Columbia Golf. And that entails spending a lot of time on the course. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.

The truth is, Frempong doesn’t get to play as much golf as you’d think. Instead, the job requires spending a lot of time making measurements and recording details like green speed, length of rough, location of bunkers and lots more.

Frempong’s golf clubs always accompany him on his visits to courses, but he usually only ends up hitting a handful of shots and a few putts. Still, as offices go, golf courses aren’t a bad spot to spend your work day. And each one is a little different than the other.

On this sunny August morning, Frempong is at Golden Eagle Golf Club in Pitt Meadows to rate the North Course. More precisely, he is there to re-rate it. Courses are generally rated before they open and then British Columbia Golf tries to re-rate them about every eight years after that to make sure nothing has changed.

With very few new courses opening in recent years, most of Frempong’s work is of the re-rating variety. Such was the case at Golden Eagle. “There are two parts to the course rating,” Frempong says before we hop in his cart for his look at Golden Eagle. “There is the course rating and there is the slope. The course rating measures the difficulty for the scratch player. The slope is for the bogey player.”

Two courses could have the same course rating -- say 71.5 from the blue tees -- but different slope ratings. One might be 120, the other 132. The higher the slope rating, the tougher the course is going to play for a bogey golfer. Frempong relies on a thick course rating manual from the United States Golf Association to assess each course he visits. The USGA has very much reduced course rating to a science.

image courtesy golden eagle golf course

Golden Eagle's North Course

They assign numbers to things like length of rough, green speed and slope, fairway width, bunkers, trees and other obstacles and hazards. Those numbers are punched into a computer to produce the course and slope ratings.

On his visits to B.C. courses, Frempong generally finds that not a lot has changed. At Golden Eagle’s North Course, the biggest change is that some of the fairway bunkers are being allowed to grow back in. But that won’t affect the rating too much because Frempong says it’s greenside bunkers that have a much bigger effect on course ratings.

“Fairway bunkers get a value but very minimal unless they are pot bunkers,” he says. “Greenside bunkers make access to the green more difficult. We also look at the depth of the bunkers. When it is more than three feet we have to make an adjustment.”

Frempong’s work begins on each tee. He uses a range-finder to measure out the landing areas from each tee. The USGA has determined that the average male scratch player hits the ball 250 yards off the tee. The average bogey player hits it 200 yards. He uses those numbers from each tee to determine landing areas. Then he carefully examines those landing areas to see what obstacles might affect play.

“So, if there is water but the water is 50 yards from the tee, technically it doesn’t come into play although we know that some balls will end up in there. We just recognize it’s there, it just doesn’t come into play. . .the USGA says any obstacle that is more than 50 yards away (from a landing area) doesn’t come into play.”

The first thing Frempong does is measure the width of the fairway at each landing zone. If there’s water on one side of the landing area, the width of the fairway is reduced as players will be trying to avoid the water and hitting left or right of it, thereby narrowing the fairway.

He also notes changes in elevation and whether the landing area is level or if players will be hitting their second shots from uphill, downhill or sidehill lies. The rough is examined to see how hard it will be to hit out of. If the rough exceeds two inches in length an adjustment is made. “We also look at trees,” he says. “When you play into the trees how easy is it to recover out of the trees.”

The difficulty of the approach shot to the green is judged by things like green size and whether bunkers guard the entrance to the green or are instead located beside or behind the green. “Finally, we look at the green surface, the shape of the green surface. Is it relatively flat, is it moderately sloped or is it severely sloped?”

Frempong says par 3s are the easiest holes to rate because there are no fairways. Overall, yardage is the biggest predictor of a course rating. In general, the longer the course, the higher the rating.

After his tour of Golden Eagle, Frempong didn’t think the present rating -- 69.4 from the blue tees with a slope of 123 -- would change much. “They have fewer bunkers now, but on some holes I have increased the tree value so I do expect there will be a change, but not a significant one.”

Members of clubs can get passionate about course and slope ratings and Frempong acknowledges he sometimes gets lobbied by courses who want higher or lower ratings. “Maybe a member here goes to play Swaneset or Pitt Meadows and says, ‘Our golf course is much harder than Pitt Meadows, yet our slope is lower.’ I tell them, ‘you need to give me much more scientific basis than simply saying one person thinks this, one person thinks that.’ A lot of it is based on subjectiveness and I try to say we can not base it on one person’s play.”

He used to send his ratings to courses before they were officially released, but ended that practice. “I don’t do that anymore,” he says. “I would get comments like ‘our match committee is going to meet’ and then the match committee would come back with complaints. Ultimately I have to stand my ground and I have to be satisfied it is done correctly.”