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A Niwa climate scientist has combined his work and his love of golf to benefit golfers across New Zealand.
Meteorologist Dr Richard Turner has been working with Golf New Zealand in a national reassessment of golf course ratings.
He said wind speed was a key factor in determining the difficulty rating of each course, which was then used when calculating player handicaps.
A higher average wind speed made a course trickier to play.
However, applying consistent daily wind speeds to a huge variety of courses had been a long-term challenge for Golf NZ and widely debated by players, he said.
"The aim with ratings is to make the field as even as possible, but the challenge is to ensure consistent data is used when deciding what those ratings are."
Traditionally, the figures from individual weather stations closest to each course were being used in the calculations, but Dr Turner said using the nearest wind speed recording was not always representative of the course itself, and sometimes quite distant.
"Some courses which are near each other, have similar ratings after accessing data from the same weather station, but due to a range of factors, they are quite different to play and have different wind climates.
"Wind is a crucial component in golf — any shot not hit properly sees the mistake magnified when it’s windy." Dr Turner said using Niwa’s in-house, high resolution weather model, known as the New Zealand Convective Scale Model (NZCSM) could result in a fairer comparison across all golf courses.
"The NZCSM forecasts weather on a 1.5km grid, resulting in a highly detailed forecast that accounts for the interaction of weather systems across New Zealand’s highly varied terrain."
He said NZCSM mean wind speeds from the past four years were applied to the ratings calculation of almost 400 golf courses across the country. Golf NZ Handicapping and Golf Services manager Phil Aickin described the result as a "breakthrough for us".
"Estimating daily wind speeds on our courses has been a difficult exercise for us.
"We want an equitable handicap system for everyone which means the wind speeds need to be as accurate as possible."
The organisation is part way through the process of reassessing the course ratings and aims to have completed the project by the end of this month. Mr Aickin expected the ratings of about two-thirds of courses to change.
Although most were only slight and would not be noticed by the members, some were significant from a handicapping perspective.