Which state has the most golf courses? Which state has the most difficult?
After our last article which looked at Golfer Performance by State, we wanted to dig in a little deeper to see what we could learn about the differences in golf courses between states. Weather, availability (quantity), and difficulty vary dramatically from state to state. We hope this information can help you begin to paint a clearer picture of the greater golf course ecosystem, both locally and within the US as a whole.
About the Data
As with the other articles in this series, we used data for TheGrint, a golf handicap and stat tracking service, which contains information on over 34,000 golf courses world-wide. For this study:
•Only US Courses were used (approximately 60% of the total)
•Par 3 Courses (approximately 20% of US courses) were not factored into the results
•Yardages, Course Ratings and Slope Ratings are based on distance as measured from the longest men’s tee on each course
•The average scores listed includes all scores recorded in TheGrint regardless of the tees used or the sex of the player
While you’d think this is the sort of information that would be readily available, it’s not something that’s particularly well-publicized. Keep in mind that this data is for 18 hole course only. It does not include Par 3 courses.
- Not surprisingly Florida occupies the top position boasting over 1000 golf courses within its borders.
- Would you have imagined that Michigan would have more courses than California and Texas.
- Also of note, of the more than 13,000 courses in the USA, 75% of them are located within these top 20 states.
One of the most interesting bits of data is the difference in course difficulty between states. To determine difficulty we start with the USGA’s Course and Slope Rating system. We must assume that there is no bias in the USGA’s system, and that golf courses are rated using standard and equivalent practices.
To calculate which states have the most difficult golf courses,the team at TheGrint used a combination of course rating, slope, and the par of the course as measured from the longest tees.
The formula for TheGrint’s difficult rating is: (Course Rating – Par) + (Slope/113)
- Hawaii has the most difficult courses, followed by Nevada and Florida
- As you may recall from our previous study, Ohio has the best golfers, but since its absence from the Top 20 for difficulty suggests its courses could be of below average difficulty.
The length of a golf course is an important factor in scoring. Course length is also contributes to the par of golf course.
- Nevada and Colorado have the longest courses, averaging more than 6,900 yards each.
- All of these golf courses provide different tee options, so regardless of potential length, golfers are generally able to play courses at similar distances.
- Hawaii, South Carolina, and Georgia were the states with the highest par average (71.8), which suggests the majority of courses within those states are par 72.
Finally, we wanted to use some of the data collected from TheGrint to compare user reviews/ratings to the average scores on a per state basis.
We thought it would be interesting to see if the data would suggest that one was tied to the other.
- Courses in Montana were rated highest, with more than a 2 point difference between it and Vermont (second) and South Dakota (third).
- The data suggests little if any correlation between score and course review.
- Are courses in the top states better, or are users of TheGrint in those states more easy-going and generally happier?
This information should provide a solid introduction to our next set of articles where we will show you the Top 20 ranking of individual golf courses by state based, on the more than 750,000 course reviews in TheGrint’s database.
Michael Lee4 years ago
I think that it would be a fun trip to go to a golf course in every state. I would not have thought that the United States accounted for 60% of golf courses worldwide. It is also interesting that the average difficulty differs by so much by state.
Brian8 years ago
Great article. Maybe a follow up on the par 3 courses. I play several in Minnesota that believe or not are tough courses.
Revkev8 years ago
These conversations are exactly what I would expect from the data provided. For example, golf courses are harder in Florida? I live there and I have libpved in CT, NY, MA, IL, WI too and since my parents retired to AZ I played some gold there. Course rating and slope are course rating and slope and handicap indexes are just that. A course that is 72/135 in Wisconsin is just as difficult as a course that is 72/135 in Colorado or 72/135 in Florida.
I just joined a club that has a great and very difficult gold course. So on my old course that was 70/120 I shot in a certain range and on my new course that is 72.8/139 I shoot another range. My index hasn’t changed.
Alex K8 years ago
I’m a bit surprised that Alabama isn’t on the list in some way, shape, or form. Come on! From the tips, the RTJ Trail has 5 courses over 8000 yards. Those courses aren’t exactly a walk in the park. As for California where I live, most courses really aren’t that hard but are “annoying” in that they are short and take 5 hours to get around. The difficulty comes from all the waiting and not the features.
Jeff8 years ago
I’m curious what the top 20 hardest course in the country are and where they are located. Personally I think most states aren’t going to be able to compete with the stadium course at PGA West by Pete Dye in my hometown of La Quinta. Florida has some awesome courses and I know of one Hawaiian course with a really tough rating. I was just curious if anyone has figured out a top 20 ranking. I could care less about states averages.
Regis8 years ago
A lot has to do with people playing suitable tees but last time I checked Pine Valley in NJ had the highest USGA slope rating (I think its 155 out of a possible 155) as does TPC Sawgrass and Kiawah. Its also consistently rated the best course in most surveys. You have to keep in mind that a lot of the most difficult courses are ones that very few people get to play Secondly there are a lot of courses whose difficulty can change significantly because of the wind.. There are a ton of difficult courses in Florida (Seminole) but there are also a lot of older courses in the Northeast that are just as tough (Oakmont, Winged Foot). The one factor I personally don’t put a lot of stock in is the USGA course rating because it is largely based on distance. By way of example Bethpage Red has always had a higher course rating than Bethpage Black and although the Red is relatively tough, from the back tees its not anywhere as unforgiving as the Black.
Bstone8 years ago
Michigan has some of the toughest courses in the country.
RCGOLFNUT8 years ago
Rancho Park (public course) in Los Angeles may not be in the top ten, but either it’s a difficult track, or my game sucks…(or both)…
Bob Pegram8 years ago
Rancho Park is the former site of the LA Open for many years before it moved back to Riviera around 1970. With the tees all the way back it plays over 7,000 yards. A few of the back tees are rarely used except for top level tournaments.
The eleventh hole (played as number 2 in the LA Open) took most of the pros two wood shots to reach. A few couldn’t reach it even though it is a par 4. Upslope to the front of the green meant you have to fly the ball on the green, usually with a wood back then.
labillyboy8 years ago
Where it’s hot and you have higher altitudes the ball goes a lot farther.
No surprise that CO, NM, AZ, NV and UT have the longest average golf courses.
In Denver, I hit a 7 iron 200 yards… back home in Los Angeles, it only goes 165…. Driver distances are crazy in Denver… Those course HAVE to be longer or they’d be pitch and putts.
cogolfer8 years ago
You are 35 yards longer with your 7-iron in Denver then at Sea Level? I call BS. I live in Denver and play often at sea level – it’s about a club, maybe 1.5 clubs difference. 10-15 yards. But 35? Come on! You aren’t playing on the moon.
Yep8 years ago
i wouldn’t call outright bs unless you know how he swings it. I grew up in MT and have lived in CT and OR. When I go back home I bet most of my mid/long irons are at least 25 yds longer on average than they are at sea level.sometimes more if I swing hard. I’m a high spin player with a natural slight fade so the ball just hangs in the air longer there. Low spin players or those with high-launch /lower spin GI clubs probably don’t notice as big a difference. Last summer I hit my 3-iron off the tee on a level/straight away par 4 normal swing and it went crazy high and ended up 295. Surprised the heck out of me. At sea level, it’s more typically 225 with a max of maybe 240. May have gotten some roll but I doubt much based on the trajectory. I don’t notice but a 20 yd difference with driver but I”d be curious if 2 degrees more loft on my driver in MT could add another 15-20 avg to that.
egger8 years ago
I would agree for the most part. On average there is roughly a 11-12% difference from mile high to comparable benign conditions at sea level. What will be affected is humidity (hardly any in CO) and wind which can cause to be a greater difference. Not saying that a 20% difference is not true but I was just in San Diego and played Torrey and was surprised that the delta (playing for 11-12%) was not near that. I go home to TX and my high ball flight is just killed there with the humidity. Have to go back to playing stingers and the roll.
Jeremy8 years ago
No surprise FL is in the top 3 for hardest courses. Moved to FL 2 years ago and my handicap has tripled. Most of the difficulty is in the grasses used and nature of the soil with the high sand composition.
Man do I miss bent grass.
JLS8 years ago
It’s not really surprising that CO has some of the longest courses. It has to have very long courses. The elevation allows the ball to travel much further with every club as compared to someone who is playing at sealevel.
Captain obvious8 years ago
Thank you for the insight captain obvious.
revkev8 years ago
Sorry guys – I saw this data or something like it elsewhere and I’m not really buying beyond the obvious. I live in Florida, if you’d like to put up a few bucks I’d be happy to take the top 100 golfers living in Florida (all of whom will be tour players) and bring them anywhere in the world to play in matches against the top 100 players in Montana.
For that matter how about course difficulty. Who has the most Difficult Courses? It seems to me that you are looking at California or Michigan or NY based on the number of courses that have hosted or are capable of hosting Major Championships. Who has highest average of course difficulty might be a different matter but who cares really. If I’m playing a course that is rated 76/155 its difficult regardless of where I live. Conversely if I’m playing one that’s 68/109 it won’t be all that tough.
I see this category as you are presenting it as myth building. My course must be more difficult than yours because I live in x and you live in y. Golf already has enough myths.
I love the data, appreciate the willingness to contribute but I’m not sure that I agree with how the data is being interpreted or the presentation of that interpretation.
Dave S8 years ago
Please show me where in the article above the author says that the top 100 players in Montana would beat the top 100 from Florida? Stop creating straw-man arguments. And even if your comment is directed at the previous article about average scores per state (if it is, you should comment over there), the author once again NEVER stated that those rankings are indicative of anything concrete. Obviously one of the reasons Florida has a higher hcp average is bc of all the old retirees that move down there (I believe the author states as much). There were many caveats that were mentioned along with the data so if you’re reading into it too much then that’s on you. Just enjoy looking at cool data that wasn’t available to our fathers. It will get cleaner and more meaningful over time.
revkev8 years ago
I do agree that I should have posted my comment on Montana after the prior article, point well taken. I also saw this data or some like it in another place and so three times was the charm for me in regards to my reaction.
I like cool data. I guess the simple point is that I don’t see much benefit to this data. How is it beneficial to the game of golf or the improvement of the game? I’d like to get back to data within data for players of differing handicaps. Generally speaking what separates scratch from 1-5, 5-10, etc. That is beneficial data.
Whether or not Hawaii has more difficult courses than New Jersey means next to nothing. I can find a difficult course to play in New Jersey if that’s what I want and I can find an easy enough course to play in Hawaii. Whether or not there is a higher percentage of lower handicap players in Montana, New York or Florida isn’t really important either. I can find good players anywhere if I’m looking to play with them.
What’s the point of this data beyond curiosity? It seems to me that it creates more confusion and allows for the perpetuation of myths rather than debunking them.
It’s not really all that cool to me but I’m glad that some are enjoying it. I’m looking forward to a return to data that tells me why certain players shoot the scores that they do and what I need to do to move from the 1-5 group to scratch.