Understanding the World Handicap System

We’ve all got lots of queries around the World Handicap System and how it will work in practice. We put some of the questions to England Golf’s handicap and course rating manager, and CONGU board member, Gemma Hunter

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 10.20.51The new World Handicap System, set to be introduced in 2020, caused quite a stir when the principles were announced. The adoption of slope and the USGA course rating system, moving to a calculation of handicaps based on averages and allowing recreational rounds to count – it all seemed to be a massive change from the CONGU system we’ve all been used to.

Since that announcement, social media has been awash with golfers trying to work out how the new scheme will work in practice. It’s important to say a lot of the detail hasn’t yet been finalised, and it’s hard to estimate how the system will be different without knowing the USGA course ratings for individual layouts as well as the slope. But we asked Gemma Hunter, a CONGU board member and England Golf’s handicap and course rating manager, what she could tell us about the World Handicap System and how it might affect day-to-day golf at our clubs…

The outline principles of the World Handicap System have been revealed. For those of us used to CONGU, this is going to be quite a big change isn’t it?

People will think there’s a big change but, when you look at the components of the system, there is a lot that is very similar. There are some things that will be fundamentally different – like going from a .1 and aggregate system to an averaging system. That’s the biggest change, along with the incorporation of slope. Everything else is something that we have seen or used before. Other key things, such as what types of competition you can use for handicap purposes, are not going to change dramatically. People get a bit excited that it is going to make a massive difference and, personally, I don’t think it will.

CONGU is not going to disappear when the new system comes in either…
CONGU is playing a really central role in helping develop this system and helping make sure that it stays relevant for our golfers. People think CONGU is not going to have anything to do with it but, actually, that’s not the case.
The average-based calculation of handicaps will be taken from the best eight of the last 20 scores. Why eight?

They (The R&A and USGA) have looked at the systems that are currently in place at the moment – Golf Australia and the USGA are the prime two for using this. Golf Australia use eight, the USGA use 10. They include additional calculations but, when you strip them back, using eight of 20 give you the most responsive index, which will improve equity. So they have done work looking at the systems and have said ‘actually, if we take the average of 10 and the average of eight, which one gives us the most accurate figure?’ Eight gave that without the need to add anything else into it. It’s going back to that idea of trying to keep it simple. A straight half – 10 out of 20 – would have been easier for people to get their heads around but the numbers didn’t quite match up. Eight was deemed to be the way forward.

That calculation will also factor in “memory of demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control”. What does that mean? Does it remember good scores from the past, or stop you going up in a period of bad form?

We haven’t actually nailed this down yet – it hasn’t been finalised. It’s the idea of taking the scores that might have dropped out of your last 20 and the system remembering what happened. There are still discussions and trying to work out the best way to build this into the system. Until we actually know what it is going to look like, it’s very difficult to say ‘this is exactly what it will do’. There will be memory and that’s really key.

Will this also stop a ‘bandit’ putting in 20 bad scores over a short period to get a big increase – using recreational rounds as part of that – because the system will remember what that player has done in the past?

Correct. Within it, there will be an anchor to stop the handicap rising too quickly – this is part of the detail that is still being finalised.

It will also protect players who are having a bad run from going up massively?

Yes. Otherwise you are in an averaging system and a handicap could bounce quite dramatically. People will still fluctuate but it just won’t be as dramatic.

Recreational rounds may be allowed to count for handicap ability. How will that work in practice?

People have got very excited about this. What people need to understand is that, because CONGU are so heavily involved in this, the scores we choose to accept for handicap purposes is going to be a CONGU decision. Over the next two to three months, we will be having those discussions to say what we believe to be acceptable. Our current view is that we do this a little bit at a time.

We’re not going to change everything on day one. Initially, we hope that it will be no different than where we are today.

It will be any singles competition – par, medal, Stableford – played on your own, with your own ball, that will be mandatory.

Social rounds will be singles again and they will be, as we have with the Supplementary Scores, opted into. It’s not a case of submitting a score every time you go out.

It’s a case of you and me deciding we are going to play and we are going to put a card in for our handicap. We sign in to play, to say that’s what happening, we play golf, come in and post our score.

It’s effectively Supplementary Scores under a different name. We’re changing the name because it’s a global system and we need to come into line with everyone else.

Fundamentally, we are sticking with what we know now – because we don’t want to scare golfers into going ‘hold on, I don’t want to put recreational scores in. If we can’t go out for a quick 9 holes and just throw balls down because we’re worried about putting a score in, we’re not going to play’.

The whole idea is to encourage people to play golf more often. It is saying ‘if you are playing in America or Australia and you want to put a card in for your handicap – even though you are not a member at that club – you can do that and this is the way you go about doing it’.

There are procedures that you have to follow but you can do it and you can choose not to do it. It’s up to you.

The key with the world system is that if you put enough scores in, your handicap will be more reflective of your ability. The more scores you put in, the more often, the more accurate your index reflects your potential ability.


What is the World Handicap System?
Developed by The R&A and the USGA, the World Handicap System will transform the way golfers around the globe calculate their handicaps.

What are the key features?
The USGA Course and slope rating system will be implemented, handicaps will be average-based, taken using the best eight of the last 20 scores and both competitive and recreational rounds will be able to count for handicap purposes. A new calculation will assess the impact of abnormal course and weather conditions on a player’s performance each day.

What is going to happen now?
Handicap administrators around the world have embarked on a two-year transition period, targeting implementation in 2020. The new system will be governed by The R&A and USGA and administered by national and regional associations.


By Marie J. Taylor

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