The World Handicap System: Everything you need to know

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A new universal system for calculating club golfers' handicaps is about to come into effect.

The World Handicap System (WHS) has been years in the development and finally 'goes live', so to speak, on November 2, 2020. 

But why is it happening? Who is behind it? And how will it work?

These are just some of the questions you are no doubt asking. We've done our best to come up with answers.

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Why are we getting a new handicap system?

Broadly speaking, there are three main reasons for the introduction of the World Handicap System: to encourage more people to take up the game, to make golf easier to understand, and to give all golfers a handicap that can be used worldwide. At present, there are six different systems currently used by over 15 million golfers in more than 80 countries. They will all be replaced by the new WHS.

• How to tell what year your Pro V1 is from...

Who has developed the WHS?

The game’s two main administrative bodies – The R&A and The United States Golf Association (USGA) – have been behind the WHS, supported by the world’s handicapping authorities, including The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU), which represents the four home countries of Great Britain and Ireland. During the The Open at Royal St George's in July 2011, The R&A and USGA met informally with the other handicap authorities to put forward an embryonic idea of a world handicap system and to ascertain whether there was any interest in pursuing this initiative. That meeting marked the inception of the project. The first formal meeting took place the following May.

What have the R&A and USGA said about the WHS?

In a statement, they said: “It is not our intention to try to force a change on the way that golf is played around the world or to try and remove the variations. The cultural diversity that exists within the game, including different formats of play and degrees of competitiveness, is what makes the sport so universally popular. Through collaboration with National Associations, the goal has been to try to accommodate those cultural differences within a single WHS.”

When does the new system come into effect?

Any golfer with a current CONGU handicap will be given a World Handicap System index on Monday, November 2, 2020.

How will my new handicap be calculated?

That depends on whether you are already a regular golfer or a new golfer. For regular golfers, the system will use the average of the eight best scores from their last 20 rounds.

New golfers, meanwhile, will have to submit scorecards totalling 54 holes (3×18 holes, 6×9 holes or any combination of 9 and 18 holes) to their club’s handicap committee. 

From here, all players will be provided an initial Handicap Index. After a player has returned 20 scores, a ‘fully developed’ Handicap Index can be calculated to provide the most accurate representation of their ability. That will take into account: the adjusted Gross Score (Score Differential); the Course Rating (or SSS); any Playing Conditions Calculation (or Competition Scratch Score) adjustments; the Slope Rating of the tees played.

• What is COR and what does it stand for?

‘Course Rating’ and ‘Slope Rating’ – what are they?

A Course Rating indicates the difficulty of a golf course for a scratch golfer. Slope Rating is relative to the Course Rating, providing strokes needed to play at the same level as the scratch golfer for a specific set of tees.

And the ‘Playing Conditions Calculation’ – what is that?

As we know, golf is an outdoor sport and not always played in ideal conditions. The new WHS will consider the impact of daily course or weather conditions on each golfer’s performance. Such adjustments will be conservative and made only when there is clear evidence that an adjustment is warranted.

Can I submit a score for nine holes?

Assuming your national association allows it, yes.

What if I’m a member of more than one club?

To ensure that you have only one Handicap Index, you will need to nominate a home club. Which one you choose is up to you but it’s recommended you pick the club where you typically submit most of your scores.

• What is bounce on a golf club?

Should I expect my handicap to change much with the new WHS?

Not particularly. During testing, for example, England Golf discovered that the handicap index of most golfers stayed within one stroke of their existing CONGU handicap.

Will I need to play a minimum number of rounds per year to maintain my handicap?

No, not as such. Your scores will not expire but, in order to maintain an accurate handicap, it is recommended that players return at least 20 scores over a two-year period.

• What is Smash Factor?

What about 0.1 increases if I NR?

Good news – there are no 0.1 increases with the new WHS. Any hole that is started but not played to a finish will be recorded as a nett double-bogey. In fact, players are encouraged to pick up, when the format allows, once they have reached their maximum hole score, which is nett double-bogey. This should, in turn, have the added benefit of speeding up play. 

What is the maximum handicap I can be given?

Under the new system, the maximum handicap that can be issued to a player of any gender is 54.0.

I’ve still got questions. Where do I go?

The R&A has made a handy set of videos that you might want to have a look at. Click here to check them out.

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