For those who’ve never quite understood golf's Standard and Competition Scratch Scores (SSS and CSS), Jeremy Ellwood sums it up
Golf SSS And CSS Explained
SSS and CSS - where do we start?
Well, the first thing to stress is that SSS rather than par is the measurement against which handicaps are assessed, and even some golfers who have been playing for many years don’t understand this.
The reason for this is quite straightforward – some courses with the same overall par are simply much harder than others because of the make up of the individual holes or the difficulty of the terrain over which they play.
CONGU – the body who control the handicap system in the UK – describe SSS as “a measure of the playing difficulty of a golf course for a scratch golfer under normal mid-season course and weather conditions.”
A number of factors come into play over and above course length when the SSS of a course is evaluated, though length is a major factor.
Other things taken into consideration include 10 ‘obstacle factors’ – topography, fairways, green target recoverability and rough, bunkers, out of bounds, extreme rough, water hazards, trees, green surface and psychological elements.
And four factors that can affect course playing length from day to day are also considered – amount of roll, wind, any forced lay-ups, and the number of doglegs and changes in elevation.
You may be thinking, why isn’t par good enough?
But if you think about it logically, par 3s can be anything from 90 to 249 yards, and par 4s anything from 250 to 500 yards.
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The upper end of those extremes is clearly a considerably harder hole than the lower, so the relative difficulty must be taken into account via means other than par.
Taking an extreme example, let’s say Course A is made up of 18 300-yard par 4s and Course B 18 465-yard par 4s.
The player who shoots level par around the former won’t be as good a golfer as someone who shoots level par around the latter.
Some question the need for it; others just don’t understand how it works.
There isn’t space to go into the full details here, but CSS is a day-to-day variation in SSS against which handicap changes are based.
It ranges from one below SSS to three above according to the handicap make-up of the field and the scores returned.
This, in turn, should be a function of the difficulty or otherwise of playing conditions on the day.
As one golf club’s website sums it up: “The logic is simple. If scores on the day are generally very good you can assume that playing conditions were good. In that case it would be unfair to cut a player's handicap too much as some of the success was probably down to conditions.”
In other words it wasn’t a change in ability that allowed you to score well or forced you to struggle, but a variation in course conditions and difficulty. So it is only right that this is factored into the figure against which handicaps are assessed.
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Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft
Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)
Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response
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