World Handicap System – 2020

With all the hard work and preparation under way for the introduction of the New Rules of Golf in January 2019, it is also time to give consideration to the World Handicap System to be launched in March 2020.

England really is the only country that has not embraced the use of Course Rating and Slope, unlike Wales, Scotland and Ireland,

Australia introduced it in 2014 and South Africa in September 2018, along similar lines to the USGA system.

It is now time for us to take a look at the System and what it may mean to Golfers in England.

As you may appreciate not all aspects of the System have been decided upon to date but you can get some idea of what we will be looking at by clicking here and visiting my webpage World Handicap System

Have a good weekend and enjoy your golf,


Mixed Golf – Competition Handicap Allowance/Equalising Strokes

I recently received a question by email from one of my readers in which she says:

‘Hi Tony. Hope you can help clear this up. Our club has recently introduced mixed golf comps. The men play of the back tees and ladies off red forward tees. The Ladies SSS 69 and Men’s 67.  Therefore under congu the ladies were given 2 shots off their scores. Recently this has changed, and the ladies are no longer being given shots back as the Pro says this is not a rule but just CONGU guidance, and that as the ladies were coming in with good scores they have decided to trial the comps without any extra shots being given. My argument here is that we are playing off the harder course. It has been allocated a higher SSS. The pro says as we are a short course that this shouldn’t make a difference. Who is right? Can a club ignore Congu…is it a rule or just guidance?’

My initial comment was, ‘The reader is in fact correct and the adjustment is taken as a rule’.

Handicap Allowances, Competition Handicap Allowances or Equalising Strokes are always a source of contention and misunderstanding. In the past there was always talk of ‘Courtesy Strokes’ for the Ladies. The present-day handicap allowance can be seen to be similar but the Strokes are not given as a courtesy but MUST be given as a right, and not just to the Ladies.

The Playing Handicap Allowance was introduced in 2008 to try to encourage clubs to play more Mixed Golf Competitions. In cases where different sets of tees have been allocated different SSSs there had to be a way to determine a winner of a competition and a way to adjust handicaps in a fair and equitable manner. This was not just Mixed gender competitions but competitions between all sections, Ages and Abilities.

In Mixed Competitions, in order to maintain equity, it was decided to adjust playing handicaps for some competitors to provide a A Competition Handicap Allowance for Competitions played from different tees , players playing from the tees with the higher SSS receiving Equalising Strokes as directed by CONGU. Because it is a directive, identified by the word MUST in the instructions, Clubs do not have any choice over this and failure to do so could be seen as going against the wishes of CONGU that all affiliated clubs agree to uphold, discriminatory or even allowing players, playing the lower rated course, to play off a higher handicap than that to which they are entitled.

The reader mentioned that 2 strokes used to be taken off her score. This was usual in the early days of applying the handicap adjustment, today the adjustment, Equalising Strokes, is added to the player’s handicap before play.

If the format of a competition requires a player to play off a percentage of her/his handicap the allowance is added to their handicap before the percentage is calculated.

One other point, you may hear some members say, ‘the ladies do not need extra strokes, their tees are farther forward than the men’s’ or ‘the ladies will receive equalising strokes because the competition is being played off the men’s card’. This is a myth; the allowance is purely a handicap issue and the adjustment must be made regardless of whichever card the competition is being played against.

As a simple example, as to why this should be, in Medal Stroke Play for the purposes of the competition each player playing the course with the higher SSS MUST be awarded a Competition Handicap Allowance equivalent to her/his playing handicap increased by the difference in the two SSSs. (Should your competition have a handicap limit, if by adding the appropriate number of equalising strokes a player’s Competition Handicap Allowance provides her/him with a handicap greater than the limit, that handicap stands, and they play off that higher handicap).

If a handicap adjustment is not made an unfair result could stand. See below

Using the SSSs supplied by the reader:

Ladies Forward Tee, SSS 69, Men’s Backward Tee, SSS 67,

(Men’s SSS – Ladies’ SSS = 2), Ladies MUST receive 2 Equalising Strokes added to their handicap. if the Ladies Handicap is not increased by 2 then:

Handicap Gross Score Returned SSS for course played Nett Score
Man 18 85 67 67
Lady 25 93 69 68


The Man would be declared winner, which would be wrong because the Lady has in fact played to one under her handicap.

A similar adjustment must be made to playing handicaps in Stableford competitions as well, in these competitions the relationship between SSS and Par is used, and the adjustment would be the difference between the scores required to play to par i.e. (Men’s Par – Men’s SSS) and (Ladies’ Par – Ladies’ SSS). For example, if the Men’s Par was 70 and the Ladies’ par was 70

Player S/ford Points


Par for Course SSS for course played Par – SSS S/ford Points

To Play to Par

Man 39 70 67 3 39
Lady 38 70 69 1 37

The Man would be declared winner, which would be wrong because, again, the Lady has in fact played to one under her handicap.

The Ladies MUST have a Handicap adjustment of 2 strokes being added to their handicap to provide a Competition Handicap Allowance

England Golf have produced a Mixed Tee Handicap Calculator which you can download from here –  Mixed-Tee-Handicap-Calculator.

The comment that it is not a CONGU rule is not quite correct, because it is in fact a CONGU Directive that all Clubs MUST ABIDE TO and is explained in Appendix O – Competitions played from different tees 2018 of the CONGU Unified Handicap System Handbook, a copy of which you can read or download here; the comments on the length of the course are also incorrect, firstly because the provision of a Competition Handicap Allowance is a Handicap issue and nothing to do directly with the geography or playing conditions of a course and secondly because the length of the course has already been taken into consideration by the County Course Rating team when they issue the Course Rating (SSS).

On a competition day, the playing conditions of the course, whether favourable or unfavourable, will also be taken into consideration and reflected in the CSS for that competition taken from the scores returned. Tell your members not to worry about the results returned in competitions using Competition Handicap Allowances, those handicaps are for competition purposes only.

Another point that many golfers fail to realise is that although they are playing physically on a course with all its topographical features and other variables, easy and difficult holes, they are actually scoring against the club scorecard as designed by the Golf Club Committee.

But how many times do you hear ‘I played to par today’ not understanding that ‘par’ would in fact be the SSS for the course they played, or ‘I don’t know why this hole is SI 1’ when a Club may have allocated its SIs to holes relevant to Match Play rather than difficulty of play of a hole as originally suggested by CONGU. (CONGU have now suggested that because Clubs are playing more Stableford competitions Stroke Indices may be allocated according to the difficulty of play of holes or Clubs could print separate Scorecards for Stableford Competitions).

If ‘good’ scores are being returned, handicaps will be adjusted where necessary and scoring will level out naturally. Your Club’s ISV Handicap software should take care of this and apply Exceptional Score adjustments if necessary. Also, if your Mixed Competitions are setup on a computer, your handicap software will automatically apply a Competition Handicap Allowance to the relevant players and this will be reflected in the competition results, Remember, that Competition Handicaps are only used for the competition results and do not count in the CSS calculation.

My own experience lately at my own course is that with the current weather conditions and dry, harder courses and occasionally strong winds, the conditions favour our Ladies and they are returning some exceptionally good scores compared to the Men.

To disallow a Competition Handicap allowance to which a player is entitled to is at best unfair and could be seen as making a player play of a handicap lower than that to which s/he is entitled or on the other side it can be seen as allowing a player, playing the course with the lower SSS, to play off a higher handicap than that to which s/he is entitled.

Dispelling Myths – Stroke Index Allocation

Dispelling Myths – Stroke Index Allocation

A conversation in my clubhouse recently, encouraged me to write this post.

How many times have you approached a tee, only to hear your playing partner say “this is Stroke Index 1, it is the most difficult hole on the course” or “I don’t know why this is Stroke Index 1, it is not the most difficult hole”?

I expect quite a few times. Well, though it may apply to one or two courses, it does not apply to the majority and I think it is something that has developed from more and more golfers watching professional tournaments where players play against the par of the course or the Stroke Index Allocation for the competition will have been made on the basis of the difficulty of play of a hole for that particular course or competition, by the competition committee.

In my experience, before competitions are held, National or County, there is an assessment of the course that a competition will be held on and the playing conditions it will present on the competition day.

If the competition committee feels that some aspects of the course need changing, better demarcation or even Stroke Index Allocation for a hole or holes changing, then this is done by producing local rules for the competition.

Any member of a Golf Club that is hosting a competition may take a look at the scorecard and local rules produced for that competition and not recognize it as being played on his home course.

In England the following method of Stroke Index Allocation is adopted by most courses:



Rules of Golf 33-4 requires Committees to ’publish a table indicating the order of holes at which handicap strokes are to be given or received’. To provide consistency at Affiliated Clubs it is recommended that the allocation is made based on the following principles.

1. Of paramount importance for match play competition is the even spread of the strokes to be received at all handicap differences over the 18 holes.

2. This is best achieved by allocating the odd numbered strokes to the more difficult of the two nines, usually the longer nine, and the even numbers to the other nine.

3. The first and second stroke index holes should be placed close to the centre of each nine and the first six strokes should not be allocated to adjacent holes. The 7th to the 10th indices should be allocated so that a player receiving 10 strokes does not receive strokes on three consecutive holes.

4. None of the first eight strokes should be allocated to the first or the last hole, and at clubs where competitive matches may be started at the 10th hole, at the 9th or 10th holes. This avoids a player receiving an undue advantage on the 19th hole should a match continue to sudden death. Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, stroke indices 9, 10, 11 and 12 should be allocated to holes 1, 9, 10 and 18 in such order as shall be considered appropriate.

5. Subject to the foregoing recommendations, when selecting each stroke index in turn holes of varying length should be selected. Index 1 could be a par 5, index 2 a long par 4, index 3 a shorter par 4 and index 4 a par 3. There is no recommended order for this selection, the objective being to select in index sequence holes of varying playing difficulty. Such a selection provides more equal opportunity for all handicaps in match play and Stableford and Par competitions than an order based upon hole length or difficulty to obtain par.

Note 1: Par is not an indicator of hole difficulty. Long par 3 and 4 holes are often selected for low index allocation in preference to par 5 holes on the basis that it is easier to score par on a par 5 hole than 4 on a long par 4. Long par 3 and 4 holes are difficult pars for low handicap players but often relatively easy bogeys for the player with a slightly higher handicap. Difficulty in relation to par is only one of several factors to be taken into account when selecting stroke indices.

Note 2: When allocating a stroke index it should be noted that in the majority of social matches there are small handicap differences thereby making the even distribution of the lower indices of great importance.

The above recommendations for the ‘Handicap Stroke Index’ provision are principally directed at match play and have proved to be suitable for that purpose. The ‘Handicap Stroke Index’, however, is also used widely for Stableford, par and bogey competitions. In these forms of stroke play competition the need to have a uniform and balanced distribution of strokes is less compelling. There is a cogent case for the Index in such competitions to be aligned to the ranking of holes in terms of playing difficulty irrespective of hole number. Such a ranking facility is available through many of the licensed handicap software programs currently used by Affiliated Clubs.
Clubs that conduct a significant number of Stableford, par and bogey competitions may wish to provide separate stroke indices for match play and the listed forms of stroke play. To avoid confusion this would be best done on separate scorecards.
These recommendations supplement those made by the R&A Rules Ltd contained in ’Guidance on Running a Competition- which may be downloaded from the R&A website

However, be mindful that allocating a Stroke Index, based on hole difficulty, can dramatically distort match play situations and produce an uneven spread of strokes given/received.

Clubs are therefore advised to follow the guidelines as set out above.

So, what does allowing 54 handicaps mean?

We have heard so much from CONGU and England Golf about why Clubs should be allowing 54 Handicaps, but they seem reluctant to offer Clubs advice on how they could implement them in their Club Competition Structures, probably because they feel that Clubs differ quite significantly and should not be dictated to as to how they should implement the changes,

However, a little helpful advice would not have hurt. Scottish Golf have done just that and have published some helpful documentation which you can read for yourself by following the links below

Scottish Golf – CONGU Changes for 2018 – Club

Scottish Golf – CONGU Changes 2018 – Players

That having been said, there has been an excellent article in the National Golfer, in which Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s Handicap and Course Rating Officer, provides answers to many questions that have been raised by members and committees throughout England.

A shame that these points had to be answered in an interview with National Golfer and not freely communicated to all clubs.

The full article may be viewed here at the National Golfer but the salient points are:

  • Do Clubs have to allow maximum handicaps in every competition?

It’s totally up to the golf club. What we have to establish is that a player has the right to access competition. What that form of competition may be is up to however that club wants to design it to suit them.

They don’t have to have access to every single event, just as a golfer doesn’t have the right to access every single event that England Golf run.

There are certain events that might have a handicap limit and clubs can do that within their own competition conditions.

That’s where it’s really key that the club highlight in their competition conditions, or their entry criteria, what requirements there are of any given player for each event.

  • So, a club can restrict handicaps in a monthly medal, for example?

They can. We wouldn’t say do it for every single one (competition). The recommendation we have given is that we understand for a club’s major prizes – board competitions, club championships, club trophies – they may want to keep a handicap limit on.

But we would hope that clubs would open up competition to any handicap player. For example, medals might not be suitable for those players with a higher handicap – due to the number of strokes and the time and the fact it can be quite disheartening to hit that many shots.

So, it may be that Stablefords are a better option for that handicap of player. We have seen clubs that have run two competitions on the same day. They’ve had a medal for, let’s say, handicaps 30 and below for men and then, for handicaps 28 and above, they’ve run a Stableford.

Those players who are 28 to 30 can then choose what they play in. There are loads of different ways people are doing it and it purely comes down to the club thinking ‘what’s our membership make up and where do we want to pitch certain competitions?’

I would hope that if a club played a Stableford competition it would be open to everybody, irrespective of what type of event it was. Whereas I can see clubs putting certain restrictions on medal events like board prizes and trophies.

  • Clubs are having their annual handicap review. How will they deal with players at the old maximum marks of 28[36], who can’t play to that and will probably expect an increase?

In the handicap review this year, we have introduced a new element – a report that sits in the back of the handicap software. It’s what we’re calling an ‘all members report’.

You will have some of those players that are currently on 28.0 and 36.0 appear on the annual review, with a recommendation in terms of what that handicap increase would be. It will only go up to two strokes.

What we’ve said is that in the report there is a column, which is a performance against target score, and that’s what the annual review is built upon.

Based on that, if you print off the report and have a quick look at the players on 28.0 and 36.0 you get that performance against target score.

And CONGU in their FAQs have put in a little paragraph to say what to do with those players and whether you should increase them by one, two or three shots.

Whatever those increases there, we would always say to the club ‘keep your eye on the player’ because if they are still not able to play to it you might have to do another review in a couple of months’ time.

Or if you gave them too much back, you might want to drop them back a little bit depending on their performance.

  • So, we’re not going to have a situation then where a player on 28.0 or 36.0 jumps immediately to 54?

Not unless there is an exceptional case to warrant that and I’ve not yet come across one. The biggest increase I have seen so far has been from 36 to 45, for a lady.

I’m looking at between one and three or four shots maximum for the average golfer.

  • So, what exactly will the handicap software propose?

Up to a two shot increase. You might want to look beyond that at anyone who might need a third or a fourth shot, depending on how big that performance against target score is and your knowledge of the player.

There are other reviews in the CONGU system that will flag players if they are outside the buffer zone so we will continually watch these players and it does tend to be the declining golfer.

There’s not going to be a huge number of players in these higher handicap categories this year. Over the year, as players go up .1, you will see a drift where those players on 28.0 could quite easily drift up to 30 or 31 depending on how much they play.

And you have that review that kicks in during the season after seven consecutive .1s…

That’s all part of the process of saying ‘even though we’ve given this player three shots at the annual review, they are still returning scores of seven .1s so do we need to look at it again?’

My advice would be: yes. If they are consistently still outside the buffer zone by a number of strokes then you need to look at them again.

  • A lot of people think higher handicappers will slow the pace of play. If a club has a number of such players wanting to take part in competitions, how can they help them keep up pace of play?

There’s three key points. Firstly, nobody has ever found a link between a player’s handicap and the pace of play. We’re not actually changing the players that are out on the golf course. We’re just changing the number of shots that we are giving them to make it fair and equitable.

The second point is that, as a golf club, be sensible about it. Speak to that group of players who are off 50 and above or, mid 40s and above. They probably don’t want to be playing medals.

They want to be able to enjoy their golf and don’t want to have 11s and 12s. Give them more opportunity to play in Stablefords than medals.

That way, they can’t score, they pick their ball up and move on. It’s not delaying play any longer than anything else that causes a delay in pace of play.

Thirdly, look at 9-hole competitions. It is suited to that type of player because they don’t want to be out there that long. They want to enjoy and measure performance and I know, from when I was starting in the game, that I would quite prefer to play 9-holes because, by the time I got to seven or eight, I’d hit quite a lot of shots and was getting a bit bored.

For ladies that haven’t got massive fields in their monthly medals or competitions, putting a 9-hole competition for those higher handicap players at the back of the field, so they could come in and be at the golf club at the same time for their cup of tea or sandwich after the game, is a really good way of doing it.

And at certain times of the year, whether it’s a Sunday afternoon, put on 9-hole competitions that are open to everybody.

Targeting Stableford as a preferred format is certainly the approach I would recommend clubs take.

  • So, be flexible about your competition structure and when players book their tee times…

We know there’s times where you can’t have a medal and Stableford running on the same day because you are going to have a full field.

But if you run 40 medals a year and only 10 Stablefords – why not run 30 medals and 20 Stablefords? Just think about how you set your competitions up for the year.

We’ve been doing a lot of data collection to show the number of rounds – medal to Stableford – coming through CDH is now almost 50/50. Previously, it used to be very medal predominant. Now that’s starting to level up and certainly the higher handicap players in category 3, 4 and 5 prefer Stableford over medal.

It’s nothing we don’t already know, it’s just getting clubs to see that when they set their competitions up.

  • Should clubs consider expanding the number of divisions in a competition?

Why not? There are many clubs that have done that and put in an extra division. It’s giving those groups of players something to aim for. Eventually, we hope it is a new golfer that comes in and they work their way down.

But we need to remember that this isn’t just about new golfers. It’s about retaining our memberships. If you don’t put anything on for that older member who may not be able to play as much, or has lost the desire to play competitively because they know they can’t compete with the elite golfer, giving them something to play for is likely to keep them involved in the game.

  • Can a competition committee set handicap limits for Matchplay events as well?

You have to play it off full handicap so it’s not about setting a fuzzy limit of the number of strokes. We are not limiting the number of strokes a player can give, what we are saying is ‘set a limit that suits the competition’.

So, if you’ve got a men’s knockout and you want to set a handicap limit of 24 then do that but, if a player is off 25, then they can’t enter. It’s the same with competitions. Set a hard limit. Don’t say ‘you can be off 30 but you have to play off 24’.

That’s against the spirit of the CONGU system. It has to be a handicap limit – just as if you were trying to enter the Brabazon and the handicap limit was two. If you don’t get to two, you can’t play in it.

A handicap limit, set within your competition conditions, is totally fine and acceptable. If a player hasn’t achieved that handicap, they are not eligible to play.

(Extract from the National Golfer, 4 February 2018)

Full article at:

Update to CONGU 2018 Changes 1st January 2018

CONGU have just released an update to their 2018 Changes; in order to prevent players’ handicaps suddenly jumping from 28 or 36 to 54 they have revised section 1.5 which now recommends a Maximum of a 3 Stroke increase on handicaps following the Performance Against Target values reported in an Anual Review of players whoes handicaps were at the 28[36] limits at the year end 2017.

Committees may have an option to increase a player’s handicap by a few more strokes if, knowing the player well and after giving due consideration to the player’s age, ability, mitigating circumstances etc., they feel a greater increase is justified. (This will be explained more fully in the next post).

To see these changes click on the link below:

CONGU-2018-Changes-FAQs 25-1-18

There are problems with using Performance Against Target and a few things to bear in mind are:

  1. It is based on scores entered in ALL competitions by both Men and Ladies. Because there are more Men playing golf than Ladies, this means thet the Traget is mostly based on how a Man is expected to play. This could lead to a target not being correct for the majority of Lady golfers.
  2. The Target is different for each handicap category – a low handicap player is expected to return scores that are closer to her/his handicap more times than a player with a higher handicap.
  3. ISV Handicapping software requires at least 7 qualifying scores to be recorded for the statistics to have any significance.
  4. A committee should not offer a player the option to refuse a handicap adjustment. This particularly applies to handicap increases because in the long term this can affect the CSS for a competition and so affect every other competitor’s handicap.
  5. Bear in mind that if a large number of players have handicaps that are lower than thay can regularly play to the CSS can be affected in such a way that the CONGU handicapping system will not work as it should do; on the other hand if a player’s handicap is too high her/his handicap will naturally come down during competition play and s/he will not affect the CSS.

You may find that some members may not be too happy at having their handicap increased, it will need to be explained to them, as sympathetically as possible, that it is not just a question of their handicap but everyone else’s handicap and the relationship they have with each other that is important.

Handicap Changes from 1st January 2018

Handicap Changes from January 1st, 2018

A Happy New Year to everyone and hope that you can now all enjoy your golf after working hard on implementing the CONGU Changes for 2018.

On 28th November I posted a summary of the changes that CONGU (the body that runs handicapping in England) announced regarding the retirement of Club and Disability Handicaps and the creation of new Category 5 handicaps for men, as well as a new Category 6 handicap for both men and women. These new categories provide a maximum handicap of 54 for both men and women.

Golf Handicap Categories 2018

Exact Handicap
Exact Handicap ladiesPlaying
1Plus to 5.4Plus to 5.4Plus to 5
25.5 to 12.45.5 to 12.46 to 12
312.5 to 20.412.5 to 20.413 to 20
420.5 to 28.420.5 to 28.421 to 28
528.5 to 36.428.5 to 36.429 to 36
636.5 to 5436.5 to 5437 to 54

These changes will become effective on January 1st, 2018. Players will be able to maintain a Competition Handicap in all six categories. Upward adjustment for all categories will remain at 0.1 and downward adjustments for Nett Differentials below Buffer Zones will be 0.5 for Category 5 and 0.6 for Category 6

The changes are mandatory and your club’s handicap system will be updated from 1st Jan 2018 to implement these changes. Therefore, from the 1st January, as members play qualifying rounds, handicaps will change, and some may well increase to handicaps higher than 28.0 for men and 36.0 for women.

For those clubs that introduced Club Handicaps in 2016/7 and decided a policy on implementing them these handicap changes will pose no real problems.

For those who are introducing them for a first time, I would imagine Christmas has been a little fraught. If clubs follow CONGU and England Golf Guidelines i.e. consider all 28 and 36 handicaps following a Continuous assessment Report and Annual Review they will have a lot of data to consider, numerous playing records to go through and face the dilemma of increasing some players’ handicaps by anything from 1 to 26

This immediate increase could demoralise some players and lead to some concerns if they can compete off these handicaps in normal competitions

At this moment in time perhaps clubs should consider giving all Club Handicaps (juniors included) a Competition Handicap status (‘c’), depending upon when these handicaps were allocated (i.e. in 2017 or prior to 2017), leave all 28 and 36 handicaps as they are and let the Handicap Software System look after the handicap adjustments following results from qualifying competitions after 1st January 2018

The club could then concentrate on how to accommodate these category 5 and 6 handicaps into their series of competitions and produce a relevant policy informing members of their decision.