Golf Course Rater Guide (How to Get Started!)

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If you’ve ever wondered how a golf course is rated, you’ve come to the right place. As we explain in this article, rating a golf course is a highly technical role that needs to be carried out by someone with the required skillset.

It’s also a fairly challenging role to get into, as lots of people want to try their hand at rating and ranking some of the best golf courses in the country.

So, with that in mind, we explain everything you need to know about how a golf course is rated and provide you with the relevant information that will help you get started should you wish to try your hand at this intriguing role.

What is a Golf Course Rater?

The role of a golf course rater is to evaluate the holes on a specific golf course before providing it with an overall rating. It’s a technical role that is best performed by experienced golfers with low handicaps, as it’s not easy to get a course rating right.

After all, a rater needs to look at a huge range of features of the golf course in question, from the contours of the fairways to the run of the greens.

Raters are concerned with evaluating each hole for scratch and bogey golfers, and the scratch rating is given as the official course rating, while the bogey rating is regarded as the ‘slope’ rating.

Below, we explain what the role of a golf course rater looks like in practice and help you decide if you’d be an ideal candidate for this specialist role out on the course.

What Does a Golf Course Rater Do?

A golf course rater is responsible for visiting one or several golf courses on behalf of the USGA. Their job is to review the topography, obstacles, and playing conditions of the course, to essentially express how easy or difficult it is for scratch and bogey golfers to play. Golfers can then refer to the course rating to discern how easy or difficult a specific golf course is.

In most instances, a golf course is rated by a team from the golf association in that region. They come together to assess the layout and difficulty of the course and settle on a rating based on their collective findings.

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The USGA stipulates that golf courses should be rated every ten years, but it’s good practice to do it more frequently than this. A lot can change out on the golf course in a decade, particularly as nascent trees start maturing and the rough becomes thicker and denser.

Still, as long as a golf club hires the services of a course rater once every ten years, it’s enough to ensure that the course rating stays current in the eyes of the USGA.

How Do You Become a Golf Course Rater?

The best way to become a golf course rater is to apply to a golf association in your state. Positions are listed online, as well as details of what each association is looking for in a golf course rater.

As we’ve already mentioned, it’s a technical role, so it’s not something that every golf fan will be able to do.

When you apply to become a course rater, you will be invited to complete training that informs you on how to utilize the USGA course rating system. You can use this training to ascertain how to rate a course in line with USGA expectations, and it also helps you decide if the role is right for you.

If your application for the role of course rater is successful, then you will be asked to rate at least four or five golf courses every year in your state. Be mindful that the role might involve considerable travel, so it’s best to have access to your own vehicle.

How Do You Become a Golf Digest Course Rater?

Becoming a Golf Digest course rater isn’t easy, but there are opportunities for you to join this exclusive club. There are approximately 1,000 active Golf Digest course raters who are known as panelists.

Panelists are required to pay a membership fee and are expected to cover all of their travel and lodgings at the courses that they rate. What’s more, there’s a strict code of conduct that raters must adhere to, and no favoritism is permitted.

The fee to become a panelist with Golf Digest is said to be around $1,000, with a $250 annual dues payment also required. You also need to hold a Handicap Index of 5.0 or less and have enough free time to rate at least 24 golf courses each year.

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In other words, becoming a Golf Digest course rater is far from straightforward, and it’s not something that is accessible to every player!

But if you have the time, money, and inclination, there’s no reason why you can’t submit an application directly to Golf Digest to inform them of your interest in joining the panel.

What is the Golfweek Rater Membership Program?

Golfweek has around 800 dedicated golf course raters at any given time. Raters are drawn from all fifty states and are responsible for establishing Golfweek’s rankings of the top golf courses in two specific eras: those that were opened before 1960 and modern courses opened from 1961 onwards.

The team of raters also contributed to all of Golfweek’s popular features, such as their best resort, campus, and residential golf courses, for instance. To join the Golfweek membership panel, you must be proposed by a current and active member.

Once you have been recommended, you will be invited to complete an application form, provided you meet the eligibility requirements.

As is the case with the Golf Digest panel, the Golfweek rater membership program is highly sought after and provides you with the opportunity to lease with other course raters to sample and rank the finest golf courses in the United States.

What Skills Must a Golf Course Rater Have?

First and foremost, course raters must be highly skilled golfers. Most golf associations require you to play off no more than 5.0, with some even opening their schemes specifically for scratch golfers or better.

This is because rating a golf course is a technical role, and it’s not something that anyone can just do without the required expertise and training.

You need to have a good understanding of the rules of golf before submitting an application, and you will also need to complete the USGA training.

Although not necessarily a skill, you will also need to have enough spare time on your hands, as golf course raters are asked to rank several courses each year.

It also helps to have a decent amount of disposable income, as golf course raters are not permitted to receive free accommodation or travel expenses from the courses that they rate.

How Much Do Golf Course Raters Get Paid?

In spite of the complexity and technicality of the job, golf course raters are actually volunteers. Not only that, many golf associations and publications, including Golf Digest and Golfweek, require you to pay a fee to join the exclusive panel of volunteers.

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As mentioned above, if you would like to join the Golf Digest panel, you’re required to pay $1,000, followed by $250 each year in fees.

On top of this, you need to meet all of your expenses, including green fees, lodgings, meals, and transport, as you rate the different courses in your state.

Some associations allow course raters to accept offers of free green fees, but other than that, you’re required to foot the bill for everything else.

Therefore, the role of a golf course rater is only really suitable for people who can afford to do it for free and have enough disposable income to facilitate their travel and accommodation as they move around to various locations to carry out their work.

Who are the Famous Golf Course Raters?

Rating a golf course is far from straightforward, and there’s no doubt that some people are better at it than others. One of the biggest names in the golf rating world is Hoyt McGarity, who serves as the Chairman of the GOLF rankings panel in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As a stand-out collegiate golfer in his younger years, McGarity has a wealth of experience out on the golf course and lends his expertise to some of the finest golf courses in the American Midwest and even further afield.

In Europe, Frank Casey Jr. is regarded as one of the finest course raters, and he is based in Letterkenny, Ireland.

Ultimately, there are lots of names at the pinnacle of the sport when it comes to golf course rating, and if it’s something that you’re interested in, there’s no reason why you can’t rise to the very top if you meet the eligibility requirements to get started this season.

Conclusion

The art of rating a golf course certainly isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a technical role that requires a specific skill set and a vast amount of experience.

Raters work in teams to determine the difficulty of a specific course before providing it with a rating that is in line with the stipulations set out by the USGA.

If you’re interested in becoming a golf course rater, we’d recommend getting in touch with your local golf association, as they will help you identify any current opportunities in your state.