A few notes about this rating scale:
–The goal is to identify (or create) a way to evaluate golf courses that is broad enough yet substantial enough to delineate between a wide array of courses located primarily in the Southeast. Attaching a numerical value to each course gives the reader a context and concrete evaluation of the course, as well as an idea of how it relates to other courses.
–The ratings are for the golf courses. I’m interested in the course on the ground and its architecture, not the clubhouse, food, service or conditioning, although in some instances it may be pertinent to address issues like the overall financial health of the course or if persistent conditioning issues chronically affect play (drainage, irrigation, tree overgrowth, etc).
–The scale is not formulaic—I’m not a rater for a magazine and I do not apply individual scores to routing, green complexes, conditioning, etc. and then tabulate the results. All these things have to be considered in sum, but the end result is an evaluation based on experience and having a sense of where any one particular course fits in. Ultimately, in other words, it’s my opinion!
–I chose the 100-point scale due to a background in wine and it’s a system (used prominently by, particularly, Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator) I’m comfortable with. Any kind of star-based system was quickly disregarded: to me a star system is vague and too limiting, grouping too many dissimilar courses together, and I also didn’t want the SPG to be compared to Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” listings, which are reader-based, and, in my opinion, unreliable. To me, saying something is a “4-star” golf course doesn’t convey the essence of a course that a numerical 85 or 90 rating does.
I also considered a 7-point and 10-point scale, but didn’t want to invite comparisons to Tom Doak’s better known “Doak Scale.” Doak’s The Confidential Guide is certainly an influence, especially the candidness of his writing, and I think the 10-point scale is a great way to quantify the quality of a golf course. But I also like how the 100-point scale can delineate two courses that are close in quality. It’s hard to clearly explain what separates an 86 and an 87, but often there is a difference and the number can cleave it. [The 100-point scale is actually a 50-point scale as the lowest score generally possible is a 50.]
–I have played virtually all of the courses reviewed at least once. There are several that I did not play and only walked or saw from a golf cart, and those I will note.
99-100—Sacred ground. These courses are golf temples, and there are only so many in the world. Most have importance beyond their architectural pedigree and settings. When alien civilizations invade Earth, these are where we will stand our ground in defense.
95-98—Elite golf, one of the best in the world. If you traveled overseas to play one of these courses you would not be disappointed. There’s something of rare value about the architecture, the topography, the landscape, or all of the above.
91-94—Top 100-type course, depending on whose list you’re reading. If you traveled from another state to play one of these courses you would not be disappointed. Expect architectural excellence, an exhilarating property or something else that will make you want to tell your friends about it, unless all you play are 6’s and 7’s. In which case, what are you slumming here?
87-90—A very fine golf course, indeed. You’re not expecting a masterpiece at this level—something (housing development, compromised property) is getting in the way of pure excellence—but these are the best courses in their region. If you’re in the area (and can’t get on the 5’s, 6’s and 7’s), this is something you’ll want to see. Often creative architectural features carry the course beyond any inherent handicaps.
82-86—Solid golf. Some are over-achievers or hidden gems—there’s something interesting happening here in spite of its limitations—and others are under-achievers, like courses with big budgets and high ambition that lack variety or creativity.
70-81—Neighborhood golf, not that there’s anything wrong with that (we all need places to play). The course is solid, or maybe not, and does a fine job of supporting local and residential play, or maybe not. But enter at your own risk. (70-79)
69 and below—Rudimentary golf. 18 holes, some grass, not much more. If there’s anything of mild interest here, we’ll let you know, but otherwise don’t count on it.