Jonathan Ward is England Golf’s course rating coordinator. We asked him to explain if and when more tees will be rated for women players


At the very heart of the World Handicap System are golf course ratings. It’s the metric that forms the basis for everything else – from difficulty to our own WHS indexes.

All across the Home Unions, teams of experienced volunteers have spent countless hours, despite the pandemic, visiting thousands of courses to deliver course and slope ratings and give us the basis for measuring our own ability as golfers.

Late last year, England Golf appointed Jonathan Ward as course rating coordinator. His role is to oversee the entire rating programme in the country and to support county and regional advisors to ensure that all of the 1,800 clubs have a course that’s rated to WHS requirements.

A former county development officer for the governing body, and the county secretary at the Durham Golf Union for nearly seven years before taking up his new role at England Golf, Jonathan is steeped in the game.

We sat down with him for a lengthy chat which we will release in four parts.

In this part, we explained that when WHS was announced, a lot was made of the ability of tees to be gender neutral, but has that really happened? While a variety of tees seem to have been rated for men, that may not have been the case for women up and down the country. Are England Golf going to encourage clubs to rate a wider range of tees for women?

Golf course rating

“As part of the ongoing development process, clubs have the option to ask for longer tee sets to be rated for women if they can demonstrate a need,” Jonathan explained.

“In advance of WHS starting, it was a very big task to get all the courses rated. We had to rate courses at around 1,800 golf clubs in quite a short space of time.

“Initially, the priority for us and the counties was to rate the traditional tee sets – red, yellow, white. That was the best approach to make sure most, if not all, courses had these tees rated by the time WHS was introduced in November 2020. Any clubs that weren’t rated by this date were then prioritised and very quickly brought into line.

“Since the start of WHS, a lot has been made about the fact that we want to encourage clubs to have tee sets that were suitable for all golfers. Certainly, shorter tee sets have been popular and a lot of Counties have been going back out to rate them

“There are no standard tee colours now. Whites, reds, and yellows are still around in many clubs but some are starting to choose different tee sets.

“With regards to rating the traditional yellows and whites for women, it is true to say that in the initial phase of course rating this wasn’t our main focus.

“We had to be pragmatic and concentrate on what would benefit the vast majority of golfers in this country.

“For example, we had to weigh up if it was the best use of our resources in this initial phase to rate courses over 6,100 yards in length for women.

“As an example, we’ve been setting up a composite course for this year’s women’s English Amateur and it is 6,167 yards.

“If that is the length of course we would use for the English Women’s Amateur, is there a demand for a course playing 6,500 yards to be rated for regular women members?

“As I say we had to be pragmatic. That said, if a club makes that request, can demonstrate a need for the rating – perhaps they host a scratch event for women – and a county has the time to go and rate it, then the raters will carry out the rating.

“I think this is a sensible approach.

“Obviously, clubs don’t have to show a need to rate reds for gents as it’s far more likely they will get a lot more use. Again, it’s the common sense approach when balanced against need and cost.

“In the short term, the club can be issued a provisional rating which is based upon yardage and the obstacle values on one of the other rated sets of courses. That would be for two years, by which time the county would have to find time to come and formally rate. So there is a quick fix if you feel like it is needed in the short term.

“Within those two years, that tee would have to see some usage. If a club was given a provisional rating and then, in two years’ time, there’s only been a dozen rounds of golf played on that course, it’s probably very unlikely the county would see fit to formally rate a course that’s seen so little use.

“So we have relaxed our thoughts on it. We don’t want to say no to clubs, that’s for sure. But, really, the clubs need to think long and hard about whether there is a need.”

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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