Dan Box
By Dan Box

The World Handicap System was first introduced in 2020 in an attempt to provide a more consistent and inclusive handicapping system for golfers regardless of where they play.

World Handicap System 2024 Updates

Whilst there were definitely a few teething problems when this was first introduced, most of us have now learned how most of it works.

For 2024, the R&A and USGA have announced an update to WHS as part of an ongoing review of the Rules of Handicapping and Course Rating System, with a number of changes set to come into effect from 1st April.

So if you're getting ready to play golf over the next couple of weeks and you want to make sure you're up to date with all of the new rules, you can read our five most important updates here:

Playing less than 18 holes

Did you miss a hole during your round? Is your course less than 18 holes?

Improvements have been made to the method used when golfers are unable to complete every hole during their round, or the total score given to a golfer who elects only to play 9 holes, which will now be based on a golfer's Expected Score rather than the score of net par +1 that is currently used.

This new method will produce a 9 hole or 18 hole Score Differential which more accurately reflects a player's ability, and also in some countries it means that 9 hole scores will be considered as part of a golfer's Handicap Index straight after the day of play, rather than having to combine it with another 9 hole score.

What it means: This means that handicap-qualifying competitions can now also be played over any number of holes between 10 and 17, and still count towards your overall Handicap Index, using this new Expected Score function. It should mean that more of your rounds will go towards your handicap, which can only make it more accurate.

This is great for courses that may have a couple of holes shut due to bad weather or for maintenance, but the rest of the course is still in good condition, or for courses that are 13 holes, for example, which saves you having to play 5 holes again to make up the 18.

Four Ball Better Ball (4BBB) scores can now be qualifying

Across GB&I, four ball better ball scores will be added to the list of mandatory scores to be returned for handicapping purposes, provided that they are run and submitted through competition softrware.

In order to be included into the handicap calculation, scores must total 42 points or more, and the golfer must have featured on the card 9 times or more - essentially so that they have completed a 9 hole round. The golfer's individual score must also be equal to, or better than, 36 holes.

On holes where the golfer didn't score, they will be allocated an expected score relative to the score recorded on the card.

What it means: This is quite a big one for club golfers in GB&I, and may be a little bit controversial too. In theory, the use of 4BBB should really only reduce your handicap rather than increase it, because it's likely that you're going to record a higher score in a better-ball format than you would do on your own - unless your playing partner really lets you down!

One of the ideas behind this change is that it should stop those golfers who play in lots of Open competitions or events which use the 4BBB format whilst playing off a high handicap, as have previously not counted towards their handicap, and ended up sweeping up prizes. Receiving a handicap adjustment based on the performance of your playing partner of a number of holes may divide opinion though.

Playing Handicap changes

From April, the Course Handicap calculation will also take into account any difference between Course Rating and par (whether it be higher or lower), which aligns it better with other countries and produces a more accurate target score for golfers to aim for when they 'play to their handicap' at a given course.

The new calculation will be Handicap Index x (Slope/113) + (Course Rating - Par).

What it means: Essentially, if you are playing on a golf course which indicates the rating is 'harder' than it's actual par, you'll get more shots added to your Course Handicap, and vice versa.

The way this calculation is made should also provide a benefit to lower handicappers, as the difference between the course rating and the par will have more weight when the handicap is lower compared to when it is higher.

Shorter golf courses are now available for Course Rating

The overall length requirements for Course Rating will now be significantly reduced. A set of tees for an 18 hole course may be as short as 1,500 yards, while for a 9 hole course they may be as short as 750 yards, and will still be eligible for Slope Rating and Course Rating.

What it means: In terms of inclusivity, this is great. Lots of golfers will start off by going to the driving range, and then transition to par 3 courses or shorter 9 holers before they get their first proper golf club membership, so this is a great way to get beginners used to carding and submitting a score. It's sometimes easy to forget how daunting it can be to join a new golf club, particularly if you're new to the game, and so breaking down some of these barriers can only be a good thing.

On the other hand, it could be argued that courses of this length are not a true indication of a golfer's ability and so any handicap earned on this type of course would not translate to a full-length, 18 hole course.

PCC Adjustments made more frequent

The Playing Conditions Calculation has been adjusted, to make it more likely that you'll see an PCC adjustment in the event of abnormal playing conditions.

What it means: We've all had those rounds where you play in 30+ mph winds and sideways rain, shoot 3 or 4 shots over your handicap, and then check back the next day to see that the PCC is still zero and you've not been given any leeway on your score!

It's pretty frustrating, so this latest update should make sure that you see an adjustment to the PCC more often, as you would've done with the old CSS back in the day.

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