The first USGA Course Rating System was established in 1911. It was proposed by Leighton Calkins who also proposed the first USGA Handicap Committee. Calkins' proposal was that par ratings be based on the play of the U.S. Amateur champion, Jerome Travers. Rating courses according to the "expected" score of the national amateur champion became accepted, and course rating was born in America.
Two course rating methods were used until April 1960 when a new single approach was introduced. It involved a "preliminary yardage rating" for each hole which was "modified, if necessary, in the light of significant course conditions, called Rating Factors."
In 1971, William Wehnes of the Southern California Golf Association developed the first "obstacle rating" procedure using plus and minus adjustements by nines, for a number of course obstacles. However, most of today’s rating system can be attributed to Dean Knuth. He proposed a rating procedure that provided a numerical rating of 10 characteristics for each hole. These ratings, along with the weighted factors for each characteristic, provided an adjustment to the distance and rating of the course. The basis of this system was used to create the current USGA Course Rating System.
In 1982, the Colorado Golf Association rated all of its courses using the new procedure, under the leadership of Dr. Byron Williamson. In 1983, Colorado tested the Slope System with positive results. Five other states joined Colorado in the test during 1984, and others followed in subsequent years.
The USGA established a USGA Course Rating Subcommittee in 1987, which includes golf association staff and volunteers interested in the policies of the USGA Course Rating System. The committee meets annually to discuss modifications to the system and since 1989 conducts national course rating calibration seminars for all associations and foreign countries licensed to use the system.
Today every golf association in the United States that rates golf courses is licensed to use the USGA Course Rating System.