ROSCOMMON – The Golf Association of Michigan golf course rating team likes it when couples join as volunteers to help serve the game.
“We welcome any and all golfers, and we like getting two for one in a way, not to mention they have someone to learn, travel around the state and golf with and they bring two different handicaps and perspectives,” said Mark Bultema of Grand Rapids, chairman of the course rating committee for the GAM.
“Interested people can just contact us. We can always use more raters, and typically the best raters are between 10 and 30 handicaps. They see all the places where they might hit golf balls. The elite player, for instance, might miss some things that he or she would usually play over or past because they hit the ball well consistently.”
Melissa Middleton of Oxford was playing in a Michigan Women’s Golf Association event and heard about course rating with the GAM from another volunteer. She went home and talked her husband Rob into giving it a try, too.
The two school teachers were rookies being trained recently when a group of 12 raters, including Bultema, did an update rating on The Loop, a celebrated course at Forest Dunes in Roscommon that plays two ways over the same 18 greens (clockwise one day and counter-clockwise the next) and was designed by Michigan architect Tom Doak.
The GAM course rating team will rate or rerate up to 75 courses in a typical summer. COVID-19 precautions led to a late start this year, but the team has about 25 rated so far this summer and more happening each week.
Rob called the experience eye-opening.
“It’s an interesting way to learn so much more about the game and the whole handicap system in golf,” he said.
Melissa said early indications are that rating involved more than she expected, but not in a daunting way.
“I didn’t realize all the math that was involved,” she said. “I kind of assumed you just king of figured it out for yourself. I didn’t realize how objectivity is involved. It’s really interesting and you can see how it comes together even though everybody has their own ideas of what a golf course should or shouldn’t be. You see how it becomes a rating through the math and measuring, and that it is a method and not just someone’s opinion.”
Training Melissa was Dee Piccard, the 2019 GAM Course Rater of the Year. She noted that she had been in on the original rating of The Loop a few years ago.
“It’s a unique course because it doesn’t have the traditional fairway and rough areas, but it does have a lot of things you have to consider,” he said.
Dee said the original rating was when The Loop was a walking only course at the time. Last year The Loop started allowing carts. Dee didn’t think it would change the rating significantly though.
“The measurements are still the same, and the hazard areas are still in the same places,” she said. “It will just be more accurate for the course at this time and the tees they are using each day.”
With the group of 12 doing the rating it took a few hours for each nine. The Loop plays two ways, so it took two days for that rating. The fun part is that the raters play the course, and Piccard and Bultema said that is also an essential part of the process.
“It’s key for us to get an accurate rate,” she said. “When we go out to play there are things we thought we saw that really are not there. It’s really a benefit to the club for us to be able to play afterward and then make any adjustments that we feel we need to make.”
Dee said you feel better after measuring and then playing.
“We measure with a laser because everyone’s stride is different, and we all have a Garmin so we know the yardage where we are on the course itself and we can be accurate from the landing zones,” she said. “Then playing just gives you that assurance that you are correct.”
Dee said Melissa and Rob look like they will become successful raters.
“Melissa worked with me today and she was awesome,” she said. “Some people are lost the first time, but she was filling out her own sheets right away. I’m looking forward to having both of them on our team.”
Bultema said beyond the service provided for the courses and the handicap system, course rating is some club’s exposure to all the things the GAM can do to help them with their business.
“We’re ambassadors of the GAM, sometimes their only connection to the GAM and not all of our ratings are at places like The Loop, which has quite a bit of notoriety,” he said. “We serve all the member courses. Most people understand the game either through a handicap or through a tournament. They don't realize courses are actually rated, but the courses realize to accurately use the handicap system and to have accurate measurements for their customers, they need to get rated.”
Bultema, who started rating for the GAM in 1998 and has been part of an estimated 600 ratings, said the crew at The Loop was perfect.
“We had 10 experienced raters and two training,” he said. “That gives us one rater for each of the tees on a nine and time to train the new raters. This is a unique course but everybody seemed to adjust just fine.”