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Standard Scratch Score (SSS) – How is it Calculated?

Standard Scratch Score (SSS) – How is it Calculated?

Have  you ever wondered how the SSS of a golf course is measured? – All is now revealed!

What is the Standard Scratch Score (SSS)?

Firstly let’s cover the basics and define exactly what the SSS means. In its simplest terms the Standard Scratch Score (SSS) is a measure of the difficulty of a golf course.

It is the number of strokes a scratch golfer is expected to score around the course under normal mid-season conditions.

How is the SSS determined?

Each golf course across Scotland is rated using the USGA Course Rating System, which ensures consistency in the measurement of each course’s relative difficulty.

The result of this is that a 9-handicapped golfer who plays their golf, for example at Royal Aberdeen GC, has the same golfing ability as a 9-handicapped golfer who plays at Machrinhanish GC or at Haddington GC.

Why is the SSS at my course different to the Par? Why are handicaps not measured against Par?

Par is decided by Club Committees and is a measure of hole length. To investigate this further, contrast the following two Par-4’s.

(1) A 310 yard hole men, 270 yard hole for ladies – with a 30 yard wide fairway, very short rough on either side of the fairway. No trees in sight, no fairway bunkers and a relatively large flat green (diameter 35 yards) with one bunker at the front left.

(2) A 450 yard hole for men, 400 yards for ladies – with average fairway width of 25 yards, 3-4 inch rough bordering a very narrow cut of semi rough. The hole is dog-legged with trees along both sides of the fairway and 3 fairway bunkers. The green is relatively small (diameter 25 yards), has a tier in it, with a burn running across the front and two bunkers at either side.

Both of the above holes can be determined as Par-4’s by the Committee, however, both holes offer very different golfing challenges.

Would you agree that one is much easier to score a Par on than the other?

Committees have complete discretion to allocate and change the Par of their course(s). Guidance on establishing Par is provided in detail for Committees within Clause 10 of the CONGU Unified Handicapping System. Committees are urged not to increase the Par of a hole unless an extreme challenge is presented to the player e.g. a hole is considerably uphill and, therefore, very difficult to reach in two shots or a dog-leg, as in example 2 above, does not allow a full tee shot to be played and this makes the green very difficult to reach in two shots.

The SSS on the other hand is a standardised and very objective measurement of the difficulty of a golf course, which allows consistent application across all golf courses, of any nature. The SSS is, therefore, widely recognised as the cornerstone of the handicapping system and the accepted basis for calculating the CSS which is used to calculate all player’s handicap adjustments.

Par is allocated to each hole of a golf course, however, the playing difficulty is not assessed on an individual hole basis but collectively over the whole golf course. Any comparison of Par v SSS is, therefore, better to be assessed over 18 holes.

What factors affect the difficulty of a golf course?

When determining the SSS of a golf course various factors are evaluated using the USGA Course Rating System.

Take the above example which illustrates two very different par-4 golf holes, one which is longer in length with multiple golfing challenges and another which is shorter in length and appears relatively straightforward in comparison. The USGA Course Rating System assesses both ‘Obstacle Factors’ and the ‘Effective Playing Length’ when assessing the difficulty of a golf hole. Lets look at both these concepts in more detail.

(1) Obstacle Factors

Now that the scene has been set, the following list details the Ten Obstacle Factors used to determine the playing difficulty of each hole on the golf course:

Topography – An assessment of the nature of the stance and lie within each landing zone and for each approach shot to the green.

Fairway – An evaluation of the difficulty of keeping the ball in the fairway from tee to green, how wide are the fairways, how far away are nearby obstacles – trees, hazards and punishing rough.

Green Target – An evaluation of how difficult the green is to hit with the approach shot – how big the green is and what surrounds it. The distance of the approach shot. How firm/sloped the green is.

Recoverability and Rough – How difficult is it to recover if a player misses the green with their approach shot, or misses the intended fairway from their tee shot.

Bunkers – An evaluation of how bunkers come into play and how difficult they are to recover from.

Out of Bounds / Extreme Rough – An evaluation of how out of bounds and penalising rough come into play for each shot.

Water Hazards – An evaluation of how water hazards come into play for each shot – both crossing and lateral water hazards.

Trees – An evaluation of tree size and density, distance to the trees from the centre of landing zones/greens and how difficult is it to recover if a player hits the ball into the trees.

Green Surface – An evaluation of the difficulty of the green from a putting standpoint – taking into account the green speed and slope/contouring

Psychological – An evaluation is made of the cumulative effect of the nine obstacle factors above

(2) Effective Playing Length of a Course

Secondly an assessment is made of the various factors that can affect the effective playing length of a golf course:

Roll – An assessment of how far a ball will roll on fairways with various surface conditions & contouring. For example, a ball will roll further on links turf on a downhill sloping fairway, than on a parkland uphill sloping fairway.

Wind – An assessment of average wind strength is made for each course. Coastal courses tend to have higher winds than inland courses and can present additional golfing challenges, for example, exaggerating the dispersion of wayward shots and getting the ball to stop on the green.

Dogleg – If a dogleg hole exists the design may not allow a full tee shot to be played, therefore the hole effectively plays longer.

Elevation – Uphill holes play longer than level holes, downhill holes play shorter.

Forced Lay-up – If a player is forced to play short of obstacles that cross the fairway, for example forcing a player to lay up before a water hazard. This affects the playing length of a hole.

How can you standardise the assessment of a golf course when golfers hit the ball different lengths?

Under the USGA Course Rating System, standardised shot lengths are used for both the scratch golfer and the higher handicap golfer.

These standardised shot lengths ensure consistency when rating golf courses across Scotland, and is also applicable in all other countries in the world that adopt the USGA Course Rating System.

Who rates golf courses?

Scottish Golf have a responsibility to ensure all affiliated golf courses are rated within Scotland.

The vast majority of all course ratings are undertaken by course rating volunteers who are fully trained by the Scottish Golf in applying the USGA Course Rating system to all courses in Scotland. Scottish Golf have responsibility to ensure all volunteer raters are fully trained and supported.

If Course Rating is something that may interest you, please email courserating@scottishgolf.org and we will happily discuss any potential opportunities.