World Handicap System: 6 Things You’ve Already Forgotten

A refresher on the key features of the World Handicap System

World Handicap System
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Golf’s return will be to a first full playing season under the World Handicap System – Here’s a refresher on some key features you may have forgotten.

World Handicap System: 6 Things You’ve Already Forgotten

With golf back up and running, we all have more to get to grips with than the challenge of remembering how to hit a ball. We’ll also have a completely new handicapping system to come to terms with.

Last November, the new World Handicap System (WHS) was implemented in the UK and Ireland but few of us had the chance to experience the changes it will make as winter and COVID regulations took us off course.

Now, as we've all returned to the game, we’re going to play a first full season under WHS, and it will be interesting to see the effects.

With the adoption of the WHS all golfers across the globe will be using the same handicapping system.

The principal aim is to make handicapping easier to understand and transferable to any course anywhere in the world.

Another principal objective of the WHS is for golfers’ handicaps to be more representative of current playing ability, as the system allows handicaps to be more fluid with its calculation based on average scoring rather than aggregate scoring, as per the old system.

Here below is a recap on the fundamentals of the WHS, to give you the info you need at the start of the 2021 playing season.

World Handicap System: 6 things you’ve already forgotten.

1 – Handicap Index

This is, effectively, your new handicap that will be used as the basis for determining how many shots you receive on a given course, playing a given format.

It’s calculated from an average of the best eight of your last 20 returned scores.

When a new score is submitted, the Handicap Index is automatically recalculated and updated at the end of the day’s play, ready for use the following day.

Players new to golf or looking to obtain a first handicap will need to submit scorecards amounting to 54 holes.

From those, an initial Handicap Index will be provided.

This will be altered when 20 scores have been submitted to deliver a fully developed Handicap Index.

To prevent wild swings in handicap, the WHS provides caps – soft and hard – based on a player’s lowest Handicap Index in a one-year period.

If a player’s handicap goes three shots above the low index, further rises are reduced by 50%. (Soft cap.)

If a player’s handicap moves 5.0 strokes above the low index in a 12-month period, it cannot rise any further. (Hard cap.)

Max handicap is 54 but that's not quite the full story, you could play off a Course Handicap that is higher than that!

2 – Course Handicap

The Handicap Index, in conjunction with the difficulty of a course, gives a player their Course Handicap.

This is how many shots you will actually receive playing any given course. This may vary depending on the tees you choose to play from.

The difficulty of a course (off each teeing option) is calculated using Course Rating, Bogey Rating and Slope Rating – see below.

3 – Course Rating, Bogey Rating and Slope Rating

Course Rating is how many strokes a scratch golfer (someone with a Course Handicap of 0) should take on a course, off each sets of tees.

Bogey Rating measures playing difficulty for a bogey golfer (someone with a handicap of roughly 20 for a man and 24 for a women).

Knowing these two ratings allows WHS to determine the difficulty of the course and to produce a Slope Rating for each set of tees.

Slope Rating is calculated by subtracting Course Rating from Bogey Rating and multiplying by 5.381 for men and 4.240 for women.

Minimum Slope Rating is 55 for the easiest course up to 155 for the hardest courses.

At a course where all players compete from their Handicap Index, Slope Rating is 113.

The Course Handicap calculation is: Slope Rating divided by 113, multiplied by Handicap Index.

4 – General Play is important but optional

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

A General Play score is a pre-registered social score from a course and tee that has a Course and Slope Rating for your gender, played to singles medal, Stableford, Par or Bogey format.

But not every round needs to be counting. You have to select to pre-register before teeing off if you want it to count.

If you haven’t pre-registered, a score cannot be submitted.

5 – Conditions can still make a difference

The system includes a “Playing Conditions Calculation” that looks at how all players who have entered a score on a course have performed on that day, off all tees, compared to their expected performance.

At the end of each day’s play a Playing Conditions Calculation will be made by the system.

6 – You don’t need to carry a calculator with you

Although, on paper the system looks rather complicated with various calculations throughout; in reality, the golfer needn’t feel overwhelmed.

The system will carry out the calculations for you.

All you need to do is enter a competition or pre-register for General Play on a particular course, noting which tees you’re playing on, enter your scores, confirm and have them confirmed by a playing partner and submit – The system will update accordingly with any changes made ready for golf the following day.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus 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 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?