With golf’s new World Handicap System set to hit our fairways in 2020, we assess the progress towards its implementation and bust a few myths along the way


World Handicap System In UK Set For November 2020

Wild swings in handicap; no more social golf; possible manipulation of the system; chaos at unprepared clubs… just a few of the scare stories circulating since the announcement of the World Handicap System (WHS) by The R&A and USGA in early 2018.

I must confess to having nodded along to some of these during debates on the shift to an average system of handicap calculation.

I wanted to find out more about how the WHS will affect golf and how things are progressing, so I spoke to Claire Bates, director – handicapping R&A, and Gemma Hunter, head of handicapping and course rating for England Golf and CONGU’s technical committee chairwoman.

I found that the myths are just that and that, despite setting out here with scepticism, I now believe the change, even if significant, will be hugely positive for golf.

The WHS is still set to be ready for implementation on January 1, 2020, but this doesn’t mean it will be rolled out on that date universally.

“We’re on track to be ready by the end of this year,” says Bates.

“Then it will be up to national associations to decide the right time to launch. Some countries will be in a position to do so quickly; others will need more time.

“We’ll support them to make the change when ready.”

So, golfers in this country needn’t worry that we will be making the switch immediately, nor that clubs will be unprepared.

“From an England Golf perspective – and I believe the other unions are on the same page – the date we are looking at is November 1, 2020,” says Hunter.

“We want to make sure we have had enough time to complete all the course ratings and to educate all the clubs and golfers to allay those concerns and myths.”

Perhaps the biggest of those WHS myths is that each round you play will count for handicap.

“I always wonder where that came from,” says Hunter.

“We’ve always said there will be a master list of acceptable scores, and we’ll select from that. The more scores a player submits, the more reflective their handicap will be, but the key thing will be pre-registration. Golfers must pre-register for any counting round so they will not be able to be selective in scores submitted.”

This is very important. There are choices within the WHS and, from the outset, the objective was to enable each national association to ensure the way golf is played in its jurisdiction didn’t alter.

“We didn’t want to force change on the way golf is played,” says Bates.

“We wanted to accommodate different cultures and the different ways golf is enjoyed around the world.”

Another concern has been the possibility of large handicap fluctuations, the fear being that, with the best eight of the last 20 scores used to calculate the average, people playing a lot could have a very different handicap from one month to the next.

This won’t happen, as Bates explains.

“We’ve built in the concept of memory,” she says.

“Your lowest handicap index from the last 12 months will act as a reference point.

“If your current index has moved too far upwards, that reference point will trigger a recalculation.

“A hard cap will be in place in extreme cases.”

And what about the effect of conditions – something that plays a big part in golf in this country in particular?

“The mechanism for this will take account of the entire field playing that day, whatever tees they play off,” says Bates.

“There will be an expectation of how that field will play on a normal day under normal conditions.

“The actual scores will be compared to those expectations and adjustments for abnormal playing conditions will be made via a Playing Conditions Calculation or PCC.”

In essence, then, broadly similar to the current CSS.

I’ve come to realise that golfers in this country shouldn’t fear the WHS.

The governing bodies have been working tirelessly to cover every avenue to ensure it works effectively and the move will not take place until the time is right.

It’s a change, yes, but change is often for the best.

If golf never changed, we’d still be knocking pebbles into rabbit holes.

The WHS offers the chance for a fresh start via a universal system that should be more reflective of current ability for a greater percentage of golfers.

It’s the right track for golf.

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