George Stead
By George Stead

Change has arrived for amateur golfers around the globe. After over five years of hard work from the R&A and USGA in conjunction with the existing handicapping authorities, the time has come for the new World Handicap System (WHS) to be put into practice. Although originally launched in January 2020 in many countries, the new WHS will be in place for golfers in GB&I from November 2nd 2020.

World Handicap System

In the build up to this date, there have been a lot of rumours circulating about why these governing bodies have decided to adopt a new World Handicap System, what it will entail, how it will work, and most of all how it will affect golfers' handicaps.

To put a stop to this uncertainty and ease the process from old to new, we wanted to give you, the golfer, some answers to these questions as well as the right tools and information on WHS so that come November 2nd, you know exactly what the changes to your handicap are and how the handicap system will work for the foreseeable future.

To do this, a month or so ago we partnered up with HowDidiDo, Europe's largest online golfing community and headed to Woodhall Spa, the home of England Golf to hear directly from an expert - Gemma Hunter, the Head of Handicapping and Course Rating at England Golf. Although we have spoken to the England Golf representative here, everything is applicable to the whole of GB&I, Gemma is also a board member of CONGU.

We can't promise to improve your handicap but we can promise that if you stick to the information in this article, come November 2nd, you'll at least understand it.

1. An introduction to World Handicap System - Why WHS?

The new World Handicap System is designed to grow the game of golf. Hence the clear use of the word 'world'. The new system will hopefully attract more new players to the game, whilst also making the game more enjoyable and (eventually) make handicapping easier to understand for all of us.

One of the main ways the World Handicap System is looking to do this is by giving golfers a 'Handicap Index' which is portable to use from course to course. Theoretically, with globalisation and travel in mind, golfers will now be able to transport their Handicap Index globally and compete or play a casual round with players from other regions on a much fairer basis. Gone are the days of your handicap not travelling very well when you go on your yearly golf trip with your mates!

Gemma says... The six handicapping systems were all calculated differently. The USGA and Golf Australia were averaging systems, but then the CONGU and EGA systems were incremental. So one takes your best eight scores over a defined period of time, whereas with the others, every time you play it effects your handicap. This led to a difference in systems and the difference in playing ability for golfers from different countries. So the idea is to bring together the good bits of all of those systems and come up with a system that can be applied in the same way all around the world.

2. Handicap Index

The first main change that golfers need to be aware of is the change from a handicap to a 'Handicap Index'. This is calculated by taking the best eight out of your last 20 scores.

The main difference here is that because it's averaging, not every score that you enter towards your handicap will affect it, whereas at the moment it obviously does. For example if you have a complete nightmare and shoot way above your handicap, don't worry - if it doesn't happen to be one of your best eight, forget about it and move on.

Your scores over the last three years going back to January 2018 will be converted into a score differential and from there your new Handicap Index will be calculated.

It's worth noting that thanks to each golfer now having low Handicap Index or what can also be referred to as an anchor point, your handicap will not drastically change.

Gemma says... With WHS, it's a new start on the 2nd November and everyone calculates indexes in the same way. We're relying more on technology but the handicap committee will still be a vital part of the system.

3. Course and Slope Rating

The Course Rating is equivalent to what we currently know as the standard scratch score. In basic terms - the number of shots that we expect based on the rating process a scratch golfer to play a golf course in. This is used to calculate the difficulty of a golf course.

Every course, apart from a few exceptions due to COVID-19, have been rated taking into account how a male and female scratch golfer would play the course and then the same for a male and female bogey golfer which is considered to be between 20-24 handicap. This then gives you a Course Rating value.

You may be forgiven for thinking that Slope Rating is how hard a particular golf course plays. This isn't necessarily true. Again in basic terms, a Slope Rating for a course is how much harder it is for a bogey golfer to play a course compared to the scratch golfer. Golfers need to remember that Slope Rating isn't about the golf course - it's about the ability of the golfer playing a particular course.

Your Handicap Index is now transferrable across any golf course in the world, provided that you know your Handicap Index and the Slope Rating of the course.

Finding the Course and Slope Rating of a particular golf course will be something that we will now all have to get used to. It will either be displayed on a board, or even on the back of a scorecard for example. It is a simple chart that you can use to find how many shots you will getting that day, also known as your Course Handicap...

4. Course Handicap and Playing Handicap

We're now getting to the part that really affects you as the golfer when you turn up to play a round of golf. Theoretically this is all you really need to worry about.

A Course Handicap remains the same, it is defined as the number of strokes a player will receive for a specific set of tees on the golf course being played. To find this out for the golf course you are playing, check the aforementioned course and Slope Rating chart before you play.

The formula used to work out your Course Handicap is the following:

Handicap Index X (Slope Rating / 113) = Course Handicap

Not that golfers really need to know, but 113 is known as 'perfect valley' - a course that is equally as difficult for a scratch golfer and bogey golfer to play.

Playing Handicap is the bit that's important for playing in competitions. Playing Handicap is basically 95% of your Course Handicap. For example if your Course Handicap was 18, your Playing Handicap for competition would be 17. This may seem a little strange, however this has been implemented to give every golfer playing in a competition an equal chance of having success and if it wasn't done, the higher handicapped golfer would have more chance of success.

Gemma says... You just want to worry about recording your gross scores, getting them down and into the computer and then let the computer do the work. That's what the system is all about, to try and make it as easy as possible.

5. The change from CSS to PCC

PCC stands for Playing Conditions Calculation and is replacing what we know in GB&I as CSS - Competition Scratch Score.

The big difference here under WHS is that a PCC is calculated every day at a golf club as long as there have been a minimum of eight golfers playing the course on that day. In the old incremental system, CSS was only calculated if and when a competition was played.

In theory, that is the only real difference between CSS and PCC - it is still there to measure the difficulty of a golf course on a particular day due to changeable factors like weather conditions.

One of the positives of this is, as long as eight people have played the course on any given day, you can enter a card towards your Handicap Index that will take into account PCC, not just the Course Rating as would have done before, meaning your Handicap Index will be adjusted more accurately.

Gemma says... If everybody struggled on a day and everybody playing says "It's really tough today because of the wind and rain", then you're now going to see an increase in that value. But also, you're not going to get a change if one player has a good day because there is always that one player that has a good day and then the CSS comes down. Now you're going to need a lot more good scores for PCC to change. It's a lot more conservative and will be more friendly for the golfer.

6. FAQs and Myth-busting

Even though we've tried to make it as simple as possible, when there is change, there is always going to come questions.

Around a month ago as rumours around WHS were beginning to circulate at golf clubs we asked the HowDidiDo community to send us their questions. Watch the video below to see them answered by Gemma herself.

Other common questions...

Q: How will WHS prevent handicap manipulation?

A: Event organisers still have responsibilities to manage and administer events which are fair to all competitors. Under WHS, if a player fails to submit a score the handicap committee will investigate and take appropriate action. The committee has the option to apply penalty scores, reset a Handicap Index, consider disciplinary procedures, or withdraw a Handicap Index for an agreed period (following relevant processes and procedures).

Q: What is the range of the Slope Rating values?

A: Slope Rating values range from 55 through to 155

Q: What is the maximum Course Handicap if the maximum Handicap Index is 54?

A: The Course Handicap will likely exceed 54.0 if playing a course with a slope rating of 114 or higher. There is no maximum Course Handicap.

Q: For how long are my last 20 scores valid? And what happens if I have a break in membership?

A: Scores will not expire. Your Handicap Index will only be valid if you are a member of an affiliated golf club.

7. What are England Golf doing to get the word out there?

Gemma says... We've been running a golf club campaign through what we call the England Golf toolkit which is an educational resource for golf clubs, a lot of that has included distribution of posters with 'Know The Score' and 'Bring Your 8 Game'. As a golfer, if you have a query the first person you should go and speak to is your golf club handicap secretary. If they can't answer it, they should then go to their County Handicap Advisor.

For golfers and golf clubs in England, the first point of reference should be their website – and then via workshops, club resource packs and social media.

Watch the full video series by visiting our YouTube Channel here.

Whilst this may all seem a little confusing to begin with, this is a change that will hopefully streamline the way that golfers' handicaps are processed and recorded around the world and it is hoped that the result will be fairer and more accurate for all.

For golfers, the key is to keep playing and enjoying your golf as much as possible, let the system take care of everything else, and hopefully you'll see your Handicap Index dropping very soon!


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