Written By: Greg Johnson
It was a warming early fall day with sunshine at beautiful Lochenheath Golf Club in Williamsburg, just outside of Traverse City and perched beside Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.
Golf course raters from the Golf Association of Michigan were moving about from tees to greens, using range finders to measure from penalty areas to fairways, bunkers, trees and more.
Then they would write things down on clipboards, gather and discuss, measure more and move on through all 18 holes.
One crew worked the front nine, the other the back nine of the exclusive private golf club’s course, an award-winning design by architect Steve Smyers.
The GAM and its group of volunteer raters work on 50-70 courses each year – this year it was over 60 – as an official arm of the United States Golf Association. An official Course Rating allows golfers interested in maintaining a Handicap Index as part of the World Handicap System (WHS) the ability to post scores for rounds played at the facility.
A course rating keeps a course in compliance with the Rules of Handicapping for 10 years, and Lochenheath was due for a new rating.
The GAM raters gather raw data to verify yardage measurements for each tee, determine Course Rating and Slope Rating for each tee and other specifics that go with the formula for the WHS.
What it all means is that any visitor to Lochenheath or any other rated course in Michigan can turn his or her score in via WHS and have an up-to-date index for events, tournaments and more anywhere else they play golf.
In addition Lochenheath can host tournaments and events using a golfer’s Handicap Index and the many groups who come to play can adjust their handicaps to the course for events and simple fun, fair competitions.
Hunter Koch, the director of course rating for the GAM, said Lochenheath was one of the remaining four or five rates the GAM volunteers had leftnin October before shutting down the service for the year. He said what looked like a season with lower than average the number of ratings turned into a season with more than the average number of ratings.
“We had several rates of new GAM member courses, which is a good thing and we really enjoyed the experiences of working with those facilities,” he said.
It was a perfect golf day at Lochenheath. The raters work in all types of weather because the days are scheduled ahead of time and a full morning of work is followed by a round of golf.
“Everybody likes the play part, but the people who really make good raters enjoy the work part, too,” Koch said.
“I think the things that make a good rater are being willing to learn and it helps if someone is objective and analytical, those are two big things in what we do,” he said. “There is quite a bit to learn while going through the process, so it also helps to have a great attitude while also being willing to learn. If a person has the great attitude and wants to learn, we will get them there.”
The GAM has over 100 volunteer raters, including some who only do a few rates in the region of the state where they live, and others who do 30 or more rates for the year. Among the group are Region Captains who helped direct the day’s work. New raters work with more experience raters. Some also compete in tournaments as GAM members and some serve in GAM leadership roles once they are exposed to the organization. Often though, raters are only involved in the GAM as raters and members who love and play golf at their home courses.
The GAM had what Koch described as a big class of rookie raters in 2022 and a more average size group in 2023.
“Some people find it’s not for them, others thrive because they enjoy it,” he said. “Everybody likes the playing part, that’s the perk, but you have to be able to enjoy the work part, too. That’s really why we are here.”
Lochenheath, a Scottish style links course on rolling Northern Michigan topography, tested everyone’s skills in both the work and play part.
“That style of golf course is unique in Michigan, even in Northern Michigan with slopes and other design things that challenged us in different ways than most of the courses we rate,” he said. “We encouraged our top raters to be a part of that day and we had a good team to handle those challenges. Rates like that teach us all things. Even the most experienced raters learn on that type of course rating.”
Koch said the GAM is always recruiting more raters, especially in regions of the state where they have just a few. He can be reached at [email protected].
“We try not to make everyone travel around the entire state, they are volunteers,” he said. “Of course, some of our raters like that part. We have something for everyone.”