Jonathan Ward is England Golf’s course rating coordinator. We asked him to explain all about this pivotal aspect of the World Handicap System


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, Jonathan explains the correlation between golf course ratings and slope rating…  

Golf course rating

“The biggest misconception is that people use the slope rating from course to course and it’s just not that simple at all,” Jonathan explains.

“With regards to judging the difficulty of the course, the easiest – and best – way to do it is by looking at the course rating against the par of the course.

“If a course is a par 71, and the course rating is 68, or you’ve got another par 71 and the course rating is 72, that will tell you straight away which is a more difficult course and by how many shots.

“At one course, it’s three less than par and now we know why par doesn’t come into handicapping too much. You can have courses of the same par with very different yardages.

“There are quite wide parameters within which courses need to set their par and, in most cases it’s up to them to set that – and their stroke indexes – within certain boundaries.

“For the average golfer, slope is obviously part of the calculation of the course handicap the player ends up with and I think they just need to trust the rating process.

“I think we’ve had three out of 200 appeals in the last year so it’s proven the rating system is quite accurate and most clubs are happy with what they’ve been given.

“There are some clubs that have come back and asked why their rating is quite a bit different to their par and, in most cases, the club are asked to have another look at the par – because there are some that might not really be right for a particular hole.

“We’re talking more about those shorter courses that traditionally might have been for ladies and are now being rated for gents.

“For example, a lot of clubs assume that a red set of tees for gents would automatically just have the same par as the ladies. When, in some cases, some of these holes that will play as a par-5 for ladies, don’t really come within those parameters of a par-5 for gents. It should be a par 4.

“Those tend to be the occasions when the par is quite different to course rating. But that’s up to the club. The par only really affects those competition scores. They don’t form the basis for handicap scores because everyone’s up against the course rating rather than par.”

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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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