Should You Play Against Your Handicap Straight Away On Golf’s Return?

Start as you mean to go on, or warm up first?

Should You Play Against Your Handicap
Should You Play Against Your Handicap?
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

When golf returns after a Covid-enforced winter break, should you start entering General Play scores for WHS on day one? We consider both sides of the argument.

Golf is set to return for many of us on 29th March and when it does, we'll be playing a first full season with the new World Handicap System. General Play scores can be inputted to count towards Handicap Index calculation. Should we all go for it from round one? Here are two different answers to the question:

Should you play against your handicap straight away on golf's return?


One of the principal objectives of the new World Handicap System (WHS) is for golfers’ handicaps to be more representative of current playing ability throughout the season.

This will be achieved by moving from a method of calculation based on aggregate scoring to one based on average scoring.

In order for the new system to be effective, it’s important that players record as many scores as they can for handicap calculations, General Play as well as competition. That way, Handicap Index is as representative as possible.

It’s for this reason that you should start playing against your handicap, returning General Play scores, straight away on golf’s return.

OK you might be a little rusty at first, but that’s ok – If you don’t score so well, your initial handicap will reflect that, perhaps allowing you a shot or two extra as you get your eye in.

As the season progresses, your game will pick up and, if you’re recording every possible round for handicap purposes (as you should,) your Handicap Index will come down accordingly.

What we in the UK have to come to terms with is that our handicaps will be more fluid under WHS than the old system. And that’s a good thing.

When we’re playing well, we’ll be rewarded with a low Index. When we’re struggling, we’ll get more of a helping hand.

If everyone recognises that and puts in General Play scores for handicap whenever it’s feasible to do so, everyone will have a current Handicap Index that is a fair reflection of their current playing standard.

Start as you mean to go on – put as many scores as possible into the WHS calculation system to make sure your handicap is always right for you.

Related: World Handicap System: 6 Things You've Already Forgotten


It’s true that a key motive for the introduction of the WHS has been to make handicaps more consistently reflective of current playing ability, and that can only be viewed as a good thing.

But for most of us, having played no golf for at least three months, our immediate on-course performances on the return to golf will not be reflective of our playing ability.

It won’t take long for us to get back into the groove but, almost all of us, will struggle in the first couple of rounds.

Playing against handicap by submitting General Play scores on these initial forays back onto the fairways could be unfair and unrealistic.

We know we’re going to shoot millions and, if we know we’re going to knock out scores that were previously in our top eight for WHS Handicap Index calculation by posting early General Play scores, we also know that we’re going to send our handicap north.

Is it fair to do that when we also know that we’re going to get back into the swing of things pretty quickly?

Maybe, we might find form, as the first competitions hove into view?

It might raise a few eyebrows when you win the Spring Cup playing off a handicap that’s three strokes higher than where you left off at the end of last year’s competitive season.

If you went on a skiing holiday, would you go straight up on day one and attempt the Olympic downhill run?

Or would you take in a couple of easy blues first to find your legs?


So, leave it a couple of rounds, find your golfing feet again as golf returns.

Simply enjoy playing and reminding yourself how everything works.

Then, after a week or two, when the rust wears off, start entering General Play scores.

That way you will build a handicap index that’s a true and fair reflection of your playing ability.

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?