World Handicap System: Everything You Need To Know

The World Handicap System (WHS) was launched in January 2020, providing golfers across the world with a unified and inclusive handicapping system for the first time. Many countries adopted the new system in January, while other nations will follow suit throughout the year.

Developed by The R&A and USGA, in collaboration with national and regional golf associations, the WHS will provide all golfers with a consistent measure of playing ability, with handicaps calculated in the same way across the world. Up to now there have been six different handicap systems, the WHS will unify these into a single one.

World Handicap System: Q & A

What is the key objective of the WHS?

To enable golfers to obtain and maintain a Handicap Index. Golfers will be able to transport their Handicap Index globally and compete or play a casual round with players from other regions on a fair basis. It will also indicate the score a golfer is reasonably capable of achieving the next time they play.

What are the main components of the WHS?

The Rules of Handicapping and the Course Rating System. The Rules of Handicapping inform administrators and golfers on how an official Handicap Index is calculated and administered. The Course Rating System sets out a consistent method of determining a golf course’s difficulty. Together, these components determine a golfer’s Handicap Index.

What is a Handicap Index?

Whereas a handicap is a golfer’s general expected score above par, Handicap Index is an official term and is your score set against the official difficulty rating of the golf course you played. This index makes sure golfers around the world compete equally across different golf courses. The index is not used directly for playing purposes, but used to calculate a course handicap and a playing handicap. More on those later.

How is the difficulty of a golf course measured under the WHS?

In two ways: Course Rating and Slope Rating. Course Rating is the difficulty of a course for a 0-handicap golfer. Slope Rating is relative to course rating – providing extra strokes needed to play at the same level as a 0-handicap golfer, and this rating will differ depending on the tee played from. At a course where all players compete from their Handicap Index, the Slope Rating is 113.

How is my Handicap Index calculated?

Firstly, every score in a player’s handicap record will be converted to a score differential. This is calculated by multiplying the difference between your gross score and the course rating by 113, and dividing by the slope rating of the tees that were played.

(Equitable Gross Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Course Slope.

Your score differentials are grouped together and the best 8 from the last 20 are then averaged and rounded to one decimal place to produce the Handicap Index. Luckily, the WHS will do all the calculations for you.

What are ‘course handicap’ and ‘playing handicap’?

Course handicap represents the number of strokes a player receives from any given set of tees. If a handicap allowance is applied (a handicap allowance is the percentage of the Course Handicap recommended for a handicap competition – percentages will vary with the type of golf competition format used), the adjusted course handicap is defined as a playing handicap.

How do I calculate my course handicap?

Your Handicap Index is used to provide you with your course handicap. Every club should have clear signage displaying the Course Rating and its Slope Rating for every set of tees. A player will then cross reference their Handicap Index with the table to find what their Course Handicap will be. 

Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating / 113) + (Course Rating – Par)

How do I calculate my playing handicap?

Playing Handicap = Course Handicap x Handicap Allowance

If I already have a handicap, do I need to do anything?

If you have a current handicap, you won’t need to do anything. WHS software will provide your new Handicap Index by calculating the average of the best eight scores from your last 20 rounds.

What if I don’t have a handicap?

If you don’t have a handicap, you 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.

Will my current handicap change?

Existing scoring records will be retained and, where possible, be used to calculate an initial Handicap Index under the WHS. For many players, their handicap will change only slightly as they will be coming from systems which are generally similar to the WHS.

Will every round count for my handicap?

No. Although a recreational round can count, you will have to select to pre-register before teeing off if you want it to. If you haven’t pre-registered, a score cannot be submitted.

What scores/formats are acceptable for submission?

A singles competition score or 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/Bogey format.

Can I submit scores playing by myself?

No. Counting scores must be completed with at least one other person.

Will playing conditions be taken into consideration?

Yes. 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, compared to their expected performance. At the end of each day’s play a Playing Conditions Calculation will be made by the system.

Any other new features that I should know about?

The new system has new cap features that will prevent a player’s handicap from rising or falling too quickly. Also, under the new system the maximum handicap for both men and women will be raised to 54.0. The maximum hole score for handicap purposes will be a net double bogey.

Which countries are already using the WHS?

Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, India, Mexico, Panama, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and Portugal.

Which countries are due to join the WHS?

UK & Ireland are due to implement the WHS between September and December 2020. Germany and Luxembourg are due to adopt the system through 2021 and 2022.

Will the WHS impact the way the game is played in my country or region?

Through collaboration with National Associations, the WHS accommodates different formats of play and degrees of competitiveness across countries within a single system, maintaining golf’s cultural diversity.

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