How can courses please golfers? We looked at what golfers told us in their reviews to find answers.  (Oleg Volovik/Golf Advisor)

What drives bad golf course reviews?



What ruins a round of golf?

It can be as simple as a chatty or slow partner. Sometimes the course experience itself doesn't deliver.

With more than 500,000 total reviews, Golf Advisor has the largest collection of course reviews from golfers. The main difference between our site compared to other media outlets' rankings is that while theirs are predominantly focused on the course design, your review data allows us to see a larger snapshot that factors in how the paying golfer feels about the total experience, from check-in at the bag drop to the 19th hole.

Analyzing this data, we continue to learn what golfers -- who not only paid to play but found the time to get away -- find most important.

Some courses seem to have figured out golfers better than others. By reading our best-of lists, and particularly our Top 50 of 2015, we can see which courses are most consistently meeting and exceeding golfer expectations.

We often highlight the best golf courses around the world, according to your reviews. But for this article, we thought we'd look at what you don't like as a way of providing a glimpse into what courses should focus on.

In the following charts, we want to answer a few questions:

Which subcategory is the toughest to receive a good rating?

Which part of the golf course experience is most important?

Can one element single-handedly drag down the total experience?

I pulled ratings details for all reviews in 2016 up to Aug. 16 (just shy of 60,000 reviews) to see if we can identify some answers to these questions.

* Editor's note: We began charting "Course Layout" at the beginning of 2016. Also, while subcategory ratings are optional, the vast majority of raters fill them all out. (Off-course amenities is the least-used, appearing in 91 percent of reviews.)

For starters, I wanted to find out which of our six subcategories golfers score the toughest. Here is each subcategory's average star rating, followed by a breakdown of their star ratings details:



The lowest average score is for Off-course amenities, while Pace of play has the highest percentage of 1-star reviews, but Course conditions receive the most 1- and 2-star ratings of any subcategory. But, as we'll see later, these subcategories impact the Overall score differently.

Now, let's see which subcategory is most likely to cause poor Overall rating. Filtering for 1- and 2-star overall ratings only, we can see a hint of which subcategories are dragging down a review's overall score:


Course conditions and Value are the two greatest indicators of a low Overall score. This makes sense, as it seems the strong majority of underwhelmed golfers in our reviews tend to call out bad course conditions or felt like they didn't get their money's worth. As you'd expect, these two categories follow each other pretty closely. 61 percent of poor course condition reviews also scored poor value.

How poor subcategories affect the overall rating

Another way of looking at this data is to apply the inverse to determine how a bad subcategory rating can affect the review's overall rating. So in these pie charts, we filtered out our subcategory 1- and 2-star reviews to determine its impact on its overall scores:


When looking at the data from this angle, subpar value ratings make it extremely difficult for a course to receive a decent overall rating. Over 73 percent of reviews with poor value ratings lead to a 1- or 2-star overall star rating. Course Layout is next with 71 percent and then conditions at 66 percent. Compare that to Off-course amenities (46 percent) and Pace of play (50 percent).

It's also worth mentioning to the folks running the golf shop that if their friendliness isn't acceptable, there is just a 2-percent chance of receiving a 5-star overall review.

The verdict: What drives bad reviews?

Based on the data, we can answer the three questions asked at the top of the article as such:

Which subcategory is the toughest to receive a good rating?

The lowest average rating is Off-course amenities among all reviews. But more golfers rate Course conditions 1- or 2-stars than any other subcategory. Off-course amenities are more likely to be rated a 3-star (average) than conditions, which drags down its total average below conditions. But while Off-course amenities are scored the lowest on average, courses shouldn't worry too much, because its impact on the overall rating is very low. Nearly 25 percent of poor Off-course amenities ratings still gave the Overall experience 4 or 5 stars.

Which part of the golf course experience is most important?

Course conditions drag down the overall score more than any other subcategory. But course conditions and value correlate pretty closely. If a golfer is unhappy with either, the course has just a 5 percent chance to receive 4- or 5-stars Overall.

The Pace of play results are interesting: While we see no shortage of complaints about slow play at Golf Advisor, receiving more 1-star reviews than anything else, golfers appear to be willing to give the course a pass on the Overall more than conditions or value. A course still has a 28 percent chance of receiving a 4- or 5-star review in spite of slow play, which is far greater than conditions, value and layout.

Can an element single-handily drag down the total experience?

While Course layout is the easiest subcategory in which to receive a good score, if the layout receives a poor rating, the Overall will almost certainly follow suit. But Course conditions can drag the layout score down. Only 12 percent of reviews with poor layout scores had 4- or 5-star conditioning scores. (Inversely, 44 percent of reviews with poor condition ratings still managed 4- or 5-star course layout ratings.)

What can golf courses do?

Course layout, while a strong indicator of whether the golfer will be happy or not, is a much less flexible category that normally requires a pretty heavy investment to improve. But courses should focus on conditions, or, if that doesn't work, find a price point that provides golfers a feeling of receiving great value.

But if course management provides added attention to staff friendliness, they may be able to nudge some poor or average reviews up to good or excellent. It may be that simple.

We're curious which subcategories you find most important during your round, and if there are any "deal breakers" in particular that can ruin the experience overall. You can tweet us @GolfAdvisor, or tell us in the comments below.

Aug 26, 2016



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Brandon Tucker

Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.