Ever since Golf Australia announced changes to our local handicapping system, including the implementation of the United States slope rating system for golf courses, I have feared for what might happen to some of our great layouts once their slope numbers were computed and announced. It was during a recent conversation with the President of a prominent metropolitan golf club that I realised my fears about the introduction of the US slope rating system here were well founded.

This particular President was boasting that his course had received the highest slope rating in its region, and that the club was preparing to use these results in their marketing. Aside from how proud this President was of the achievement, what was most striking about our conversation was learning of the steps taken by the club to ensure it received a healthy (read high) slope number. In some places the fairways were narrowed and in others the roughs were increased, while an emphasis was placed across the course on ensuring the greens were running as quickly as possible.

Things clearly went well, because although this is not a course that I would have described as overly difficult, according to Golf Australia it is now officially the toughest in the city. And clearly for some this is a good thing.

According to the President, the reason for the celebration was that his had always been a ‘players club…that prides itself on providing good golfers with a stern test of their skills’. In his words, ‘the last thing they wanted were good golfers breaking par.’

What’s odd about this particular course, however, is that it has two short par fives in its closing run, and simply reducing the par from 72 to 70 would have toughened it significantly for better players anyway, and not made it more difficult for everyone else. I guess at the end of the day being able to boast a high slope rating, as well as a par of 72, is pretty appealing.

Having seen how many American clubs exploit a high slope rating to promote the virtues of their course over a less difficult neighbour, my fear has always been that by following the US slope system our clubs would fall into the same trap and unnecessarily toughen up their layouts. As someone without a handicap, and who doesn’t play competitive golf, it’s always felt somewhat hypocritical to pass judgement on a handicapping system that I don’t even use, but there is no doubt that these changes imposed by Golf Australia will affect Australian golf course setup. I just hope Aussie golfers have enough sense to recognise that a course with a high slope rating isn’t necessarily a great course, it’s simply a hard one.