VGA Sponsors Key Moves Toward Golf Equality

HO CHI MINH CITY – The Vietnam Golf Association has gathered experts from across Southeast Asia this week to inspect and officially "rate" several of the country’s top golf courses according to the U.S. Golf Association Course Rating System, recognized as the world’s de facto handicapping system.

This effort, the first of its kind in Vietnam, is being sponsored by the Vietnam Golf Association (VGA), whose 2009 membership in the International Golf Federation enabled its licensing by the USGA in February.

"This is an essential step in the maturation of the golfing culture in Vietnam," said VGA General Secretary Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu, "and it’s a vital component of the VGA’s overall mission."

Accurate course ratings will allow the VGA to organize a legitimate, working handicap system for Vietnamese golfers – both resident golfers and tourists. Implementation of the system will be facilitated by the VGA in partnership with Saigon-based golf consultants Fore Golf Asia.

Golf’s handicap system is reliant on accurate course ratings and handicaps; it allows golfers of different abilities to enjoyably and fairly compete against one another on relatively equal terms. It is one of the few sports or games that provides this opportunity.

However, this system requires that courses be uniformly rated for difficulty, so that one player’s skill level is assessed along the same criteria as his or her opponent. In this way, course rating is the first step in the handicapping process, and these four Vietnamese golf facilities have been singled out for this initial course-rating effort:

Only qualified USGA-certified raters are equipped to accurately assess the overall difficulty of an 18-hole golf course. Indeed, when rating an 18-hole course, the difficulty of each individual hole is also determined relative to the other 17.

The distinguished rating team assembled by the VGA and Fore Golf Asia (FGA) for this task includes two representatives of the Hong Kong Golf Association, Director Iain Valentine and Handicap Chairman Warwick Guy; Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu of the VGA; noted golf course architect Peter Rousseau with the firm P&Z Design; and FGA principal Jeff Puchalski, an 16-year member of the Professional Golfers Association of America.

"Golf is about enjoyment, but it’s also about fair and equitable competition," said Jeff Puchalski, FGA founder and principal ( "Establishing legitimate USGA-sanctioned course ratings and, in turn, USGA-sanctioned handicaps, are essential to promoting equality amongst golfers. Handicaps allow that equality. Equality encourages more competition, and competition creates better golfers across Vietnam.

"With these ratings in place, Vietnamese courses will also be USGA-recognized – allowing golfers from all over the world to officially post their scores when playing golf here. Once all the courses have been rated, the VGA can provide handicaps to golfers at all VGA-affiliated clubs through a nationwide handicap system. This information will live online, so all clubs will have access to any golfer’s information – to verify Handicap Indexes for tournaments."

The USGA’s method of rating course "slope" provides a better assessment of a golf course’s relative degree of difficulty than mere length. Some of the factors considered in course and slope rating are topography, rough and recoverability, trees, bunkers, and even the psychological obstacles a player may encounter on a hole.

The slope rating adjusts the strokes a golfer receives from an opponent while playing from any set of tees at any course. A course with a higher slope (which means that the spread between scores of scratch and non-scratch golfers will increase) will result in a player receiving more strokes from a more skilled opponent; conversely, a player receives fewer strokes from a more skilled opponent when he plays on a course with a lower slope rating, where the spread decreases.