Is The World Handicap System Causing Slow Play?

General Play is a great element of the World Handicap System, but it can currently mean slow going out on course.

General Play
It can be slow going
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Under the World Handicap System (WHS), we are all encouraged to submit as many "General Play" scores as possible. The more scores we post for handicap, the more reflective our WHS handicap will be of our current playing ability and WHS will work effectively for all. That makes a good deal of sense.

But there is a small problem – General Play currently seems to equal slow play and I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing this. I’ve become very aware of when groups on course are doing General Play scores. There are a few tell-tale signs. Firstly, the General Play group will putt out on every green (probably even when they’ve had too many shots for it to matter anyway.) Then they will reach into their bag to find a smartphone to input their score from the hole – this can take some time as they struggle to relaunch the app before pressing the wrong button and asking their playing partner for advice on how to rectify the mistake. It’s slow going. 

The problem is that, in this country, we have all spent years playing two very different types of golf – The “Bounce” round, where there will be gimmies, un-finished holes… just a more relaxed approach to the game, more of a practice round really. Then we had (still have) – competition rounds that count for handicap – full concentration, everything played by The Rules of Golf, walking back to play a provisional when a ball is lost, finishing every hole and so forth. The competitive round is proper golf of course, but it inevitably takes a little longer.

Getting Used to a New Option

General Play

Lining up every putt...

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Now we have the option of General Play – A “Bounce” round played with many of the requirements of a competitive round that counts for handicap… With such a historic emphasis on handicaps under the old handicapping system, it’s understandable that many people treat the General Play like a competitive round outside a competition. They want to post as good a score as they can so line up every putt, consider each shot more carefully and generally take longer.

It's true that if we’re heading for more than nett double in General Play, we can pick up. But for most competent amateurs this won’t happen too often, and many don’t seem aware of this aspect of the system. Basically, a General Play round – if it’s done correctly – will require completion of every hole played. Accepted, you needn’t finish 18 holes (in fact it’s only 10 for an 18-hole score.) But you can’t be missing out the holes you don’t fancy for no good reason so mostly, General Play scores will be the full 18, played to The Rules of Golf. 

A Changing Dynamic In the Regular Fourball

General Play

Will they all be doing General Play?

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Think of this - A fourball, teeing off at a regular slot in the middle of a day’s play has always played a fourball match. They played gimmies and players picked up if their partner had the hole under control. They now also all do General Play scores – They all putt out, they all play provisional balls and they all try on every shot… Their round could take 10s of minutes longer. Now, every group behind them on the course will take 10s of minutes longer.

General Play is a great addition that we can all make the most of to ensure our handicaps are as accurate and current as they can be. But we should all be aware there are instances when General Play might not be appropriate and that doing a General Play score is not a reason to become Keegan Bradley. In fact, we should use General Play rounds to work on completing full rounds by The Rules of Golf as effectively and expeditiously as possible. By being a little more decisive and direct on course, many amateurs would find scores improving. As such, General Play rounds can, and should, improve your game – When we all get used to the new system, we will hopefully be saying that General Play equals better play rather than slow play!

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?