Masters – How Hard?


Part One of Three

Thursday week, the 11th of April, sees the start of this year’s first major – the Masters. As the only major played at the same venue year in rear out, at the famed Augusta National Golf Club, it is not surprising that pre-tournament discussion inevitably centres on the course itself. This, the first of a three-part series featuring Augusta National, will focus on the question of course difficulty. And what, given your handicap, would you shoot if ever you were to play on this most revered of courses? How hard is it, really?

Speaking of hard, please forgive the bad formatting of tables used in this post. I struggle to convince this programme to copy my Word draft exactly how I want it, and its editing programme is often at odds with what shows up in the final copy. Maybe its me.

Those of you familiar with the USGA Course Rating and Slope System as used by PSC outlets, along with most courses in Asia, Australasia, Continental Europe and North America could well state, “How hard? Simple. Just compare its course and slope rating to other top courses.”

It’s not that straightforward as Augusta National Golf Club doesn’t have an official USGA rating. Since inception the club has maintained its own handicap system for the use of its members. It doesn’t want nor need any alternative. Indeed, it has steadfastly refused USGA requests to subject its course to rating.

How are its members handicapped? No doubt the majority of the 300-odd members have USGA-based handicaps from other venues, but as far as their Augusta handicap is concerned, it would be based on co-founder Clifford Roberts “Par System”. Apparently, this takes the number of pars you score in an average round, and deducts that figure from 18. If a golfer averaged four pars per round, he would be allocated a handicap of 14 (18 – 4). Some minor adjustment is made for birdies and for those who struggle to make a par, but that is essentially it. So why bother with any other system?

Under the guidance of the USGA, the various state golf associations send teams of qualified personnel to rate courses. In spite of requests over the years, Augusta National has continually prohibited the rating of its course. Notwithstanding, some experts undertook to rate the course during the playing of the 1990 Masters. Operating in a covert manner, this rating team came up with an unofficial Course Rating of 76.2. At the time, this would have placed Augusta National among the toughest ten courses in the US.

IPGC readers not familiar with the USGA Handicapping system are encouraged to hang in here, as an IPGC CONGU-based handicap conversion follows. This will allow you to assess the score you will likely shoot at Augusta National.

Rating and Slope:

Rating and Slope are fundamental to the USGA Handicapping System. In its most basic guise, Course Rating is a measure of course difficulty for a player with a handicap of zero – a scratch golfer. Slope is a measure of course difficulty for golfers of varying abilities. Slope is based around the notional performance of the US Bogey Golfer (male), who has an approximate handicap of 20 from a course of Standard Playing Difficulty.

The scratch golfer, when playing a short and hazard-free par-72, would be expected to score lower than par compared to the same golfer’s score when confronted with a long, narrow, hazard-ridden monster. A short par-72 course, therefore, may have a Course Rating circa mid-60s. A monster, such as Medinah 3 (host to the 2012 Ryder Cup), a par-72 of 7,561 yards has a Course Rating of 78.1.

Slope Rating, a mechanism giving golfers portability of handicap from one course to another, focuses on relative difficulty of courses for Bogey Golfers. Unlike Course Rating, Slope Ratings range from 55 to 155. The term Standard Playing Difficulty applies to a Slope of 113 – the average course. The Slope of Medinah 3 is assessed at 151.

Augusta National’s Rating:

Some four years ago, Dean Knuth, architect of the USGA rating system, was asked by Golf Digest to provide his rating assessment of Augusta National. This was after the course had undergone various changes, most notably an additional 500 yards in length. Unbeknown to the authorities, Knuth furtively applied his various measurements while watching the three days of practise plus the four days of tournament play during the 2009 Masters. He needed to assess many factors based upon information that Augusta keeps confidential,  namely the width and depth of the greens, their undulations relative to pin placements and critically, their putting speed – Stimpmeter readings.

The measure of green speed is determined by a device known as the Stimpmeter. It measures the distance a golf ball roles when released down its shaft. Stimpmeter readings are taken on each green, with the end figure being the result of the average of two roles in opposite directions. Augusta prides itself on having minimal difference in Stimpmeter readings between greens.

Without access to this well-guarded secret, the highly experienced Knuth estimated the Stimpmeter readings on day one of the 2009 Masters to be 12 feet. He also noted that this speed was likely to increase later in the tournament. During the playing of the Masters the course measured 7,435 yards. It has no rough.

The most difficult holes he assessed, in order, were the 11th, 12th, 10th and the 18th.

All this lead him to give an unofficial Course Rating of 78.1 and Slope of 137. How does this compare to some of the toughest in the US?

COURSE             YARDS           RATING        SLOPE
Medinah (3)         7561              78.1            151
Oakmont             7255              77.5            147
Kiawah (Ocean)    7356              77.3            144
Oakland Hills       7445              76.9             145
TPC Sawgrass      7215              76.8             155
Whistling Str.      7362              76.7             151
Bethpage (Black) 7386               76.6             144
PGA West           7266               76.1             150
Winged Foot        7258               76.1             145
Pine Valley          7047               75.6             155

Note: These ratings are for non-major championship conditions, whereas Augusta’s unofficial ratings were made during the Masters week. Should any of these courses be rated having been set to host a US Open, for example, their ratings would increase.

Augusta’s Slope Rating of 137, relatively low when compared to its high Course Rating of 78.1, would see the bogey golfer receive less of a course handicap than he would be given at any of the above courses – a reflection of the absence of rough. The scratch golfer, relative to handicap, would receive even less.

What could you expect to shoot, based on your USGA Handicap Index? For those of you with an IPGC CONGU-based handicap only, I suggest you use the relative figure shown below, in the USGA Index column, after making the following adjustments:

IPGC Handicap between         0 – 4  add 1.0
                                          5 – 11 add 1.5
                                        12 – 19 add 2.0
                                        20 – 30 add 3.0
                                        31 plus add 4.0

So, if your IPGC Handicap is 14.7, add 2. This would give you 16.7 which, when applied to the chart below, equates to a Masters Course Handicap of 20. Your expected average score would be 101.

Note: This conversion from IPGC Handicaps to USGA Handicap Index is to give you a more accurate idea of what you would likely shoot at Augusta National during Masters week. The conversion method used above is not based upon any accepted formulae or proven research. It is simply my estimate of the difference between USGA Handicap Index figures and their CONGU-based counterparts. If you don’t believe a conversion factor is warranted, then simply apply a one-to-one ratio. If you want to read more on this issue, go here.

Having established your course handicap, add it to the 78.1 Course Rating, then add three further strokes to your gross score under the Equitable Stroke Control Rule (because golfers average three strokes over their course handicap). The result is your average score, thus:

             USGA INDEX            COURSE H’CAP         YOUR AVG SCORE

+3.5 to +2.9                     +4                                 77

+2.8 to +2.1                     +3                                 78

+2.0 to +1.3                     +2                                79

+1.2 to +0.5                     +1                                80

         +0.4 to  0.4                        0                                 81

0.5 to  1.2                         1                                 82

1.3 to  2.0                         2                                 83

2.1 to  2.8                         3                                 84

2.9 to  3.7                         4                                 85

3.8 to  4.5                         5                                 86

4.6 to  5.3                         6                                 87

5.4 to  6.1                         7                                 88

6.2 to  7.0                         8                                 89

7.1 to  7.8                         9                                 90

7.9 to  8.6                        10                                91

8.7 to  9.4                        11                                92

9.5 to 10.3                       12                                93

10.4 to 11.1                       13                                94

11.2 to 11.9                       14                                95

12.0 to 12.7                       15                                96

12.8 to 13.6                       16                                97

13.7 to 14.4                       17                                98

14.5 to 15.2                       18                                99

15.3 to 16.0                       19                               100

16.1 to 16.9                       20                               101

17.0 to 17.7                       21                               102

17.8 to 18.5                       22                               103

18.6 to 19.3                       23                               104

19.4 to 20.2                       24                               105

20.3 to 21.0                       25                               106

21.1 to 21.8                       26                               107

21.9 to 22.6                       27                               108

22.7 to 23.5                       28                               109

23.6 to 24.3                       29                               110

24.4 to 25.1                       30                               111

25.2 to 25.9                       31                               112

26.0 to 26.8                       32                               113

26.9 to 27.6                       33                               114

27.7 to 28.4                       34                               115

28.5 to 29.2                       35                               116

29.3 to 30.1                       36                               117

30.2 to 30.9                       37                               118

31.0 to 31.7                       38                               119

31.8 to 32.5                       39                               120

32.6 to 33.4                       40                               121

33.5 to 34.2                       41                               122

34.3 to 35.0                       42                               123

35.1 to 35.8                       43                               124

35.9 to 36.4                       44                               125

Today’s amateurs hit the golf ball a lot further than they did yesteryear. The best of them have, in USGA terms, Handicap Indexes of plus 3 or 4. That is 3 or 4 shots better than scratch. Tour professionals, the ones that make money regularly, would be at least +5. The very top players such as Woods, McIlroy (when he’s feeling good), and co would probably be +10.

Now to this blog’s notional golfer – Freddie the Farang and his average handicap of 18.6. Let’s assume he plays Augusta National under Masters conditions. A par-72 course in pristine state, with little wind and no rough, yet he will likely shoot 104 – a mammoth 32 shots over par.


Here’s a clue – neither length nor hazards are likely to be the main reason.

Happy golfing,


About golfnutter

Born in Wellington, New Zealand over 60 years ago. Introduced to golf - Thailand style - in 2004 and never recovered. I believe Thailand, Pattaya particularly, offers a unique and wonderful golfing experience for all golfers, whatever their handicap. If I can help embellish that experience, I will.
This entry was posted in Masters - How Hard?. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Masters – How Hard?

  1. Adrian says:

    I would say that as a 22ish handicapper if I went round Augusta in under 130 shots I would be amazed and happy, for a start I would probably 3 putt every green thats 36 shots already!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s