World Handicap System – 2020

World Handicap System


The new World Handicap System, scheduled for introduction in March 2020, follows an in-depth review by the existing six handicapping authorities including CONGU and will mean the adoption of Slope and the USGA Course Rating System.

It will mean a move to the calculation of handicaps based on averages and the encouragement of recording recreational (bounce) rounds so that they will count in handicap calculations.

It will be quite a change from the CONGU UHS (Unified Handicap System) that we have all become used to over the years.

The system will be closely allied to the current USGA Rating and Slope System, with a few changes and the opportunity for some authorities to adapt some rules to suit their own particular requirements.

The reasons for the introduction of a World Handicap System offered by the R&A and USGA are listed below:

  •  Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.
  • A consistent handicap that is portable from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA Course and Slope Rating System, already successfully used in more than 80 countries.
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness.
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The biggest changes will be going from a 0.1 with Buffer Zones and from and aggregate system to an averaging system together with the incorporation of Slope, (a term I will explain later). Otherwise to all intents and purposes key issues, such as what type of competitions you can use for handicap purposes, will not change dramatically.

It is important to point out at this stage that a lot of detail still has to be finalised and what follows may be supposition, but it looks as if not too much will change from the current USGA Course Rating, Slope and Handicapping System in place at the moment in many countries. Golf Australia have been using the system since 2014 and Golf South Africa introduced it in September this year.

The average-based calculations will be taken from the best 8 scores, (remember that these are score differentials after Nett Double-Bogey adjustments, the new term will be ‘Equitable Stroke Control’, i.e., in present day terms, Course SSS minus Your Nett Double-Bogey adjusted score), from the most recent 20 scores recorded. The reason that 8 out of 20 scores is being used, rather than the current USGA selection of the best 10 from 20 scores, is that by using 8 it ensures a more accurate figure is calculated and one which does not require any further calculations, which is something that the USGA System does; it is therefore simpler to employ.

With only 8 of the most recent 20 rounds counting, a bad round may not necessarily lead to a handicap increase.

A feature we’ve yet to know the detail on is the calculation to allow for abnormal course and weather conditions which is a significant one in this country.

The calculation should be straightforward in competition golf, with the scoring through the day giving clear indication of the conditions, to be known as a Course Condition Adjustment (CCA), per the current CSS calculation.

But how will it work in counting bounce rounds? If just two of you are heading out and playing against handicap, what or who defines the impact of the conditions? The suggestion is that in allowing scores to be entered up to midnight on each day a Course Condition Adjustment can be made every day for each Golf Course and calculated into your score when returned by the Club you played your round at.

In the list above, you will notice the phrase, ’factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness’. I suppose it was inevitable that somewhere along the line there must be some ‘Rule-Speak’

What it means is that the ISV Handicap Software will have built into it a feature that will recognise a pattern in your previous sores and remember what you have done previously and so not only preventing ‘bandits’ putting in a run of poor scores it will also recognise genuine players who are going through a temporary bad-patch and not excessively increase their handicap.

If a player does not have 20 scores recorded to work from then it appears that the following rates will apply:

  • For Allocating an Initial Handicap after 3 Rounds have been entered – Calculated by using the Lowest Differential -2,
  • After 9 rounds entered – average of the best 3 rounds is used,
  • After 15 rounds entered – average of the best 5 rounds is used,
  • After 20 rounds entered – average of the best 8 rounds is used.

The World Handicap System will be encouraging the recording of recreational (bounce) rounds for handicap purposes. How these will be managed is yet to be decided upon but because CONGU is still heavily involved, and will remain so, the scores that will be acceptable for handicap purposes will be a CONGU decision.

Policing counting bounce rounds could be difficult. Players will have to announce a round as counting before they play, (Pre-registered Round)); but who will note this and what will the repercussions be if that person then doesn’t turn in a card?

England Golf are looking for a technological solution where you would register online to say you are going to play and, on your return, you would post the score at the venue you had been playing at.

There will also have to be careful monitoring of handicap manipulation.

Will people be selective with the bounce scores they turn in if their objective is to either raise or lower their handicap?

When England Golf asked Clubs to monitor non-qualifying rounds many Clubs refused to follow the guidelines, so we will have to wait and see how these will be handled and if introduced shouldn’t they apply to everyone?

At the moment, the thought seems to be that the only Acceptable Rounds, (new term for Qualifying Rounds), will be singles competitions, Medal, Stableford or Par – in which it will be mandatory that a single player will be playing his/her own ball and this will also apply to recreational (bounce) rounds, similar to our present Supplementary Scores, (which will become known as Pre-registered Rounds). The USGA will continue with their allowing 4 Ball Better Ball and Team Format score to be registered.

With new handicap limits of 54, will we see more competitions being won with very low nett scores as improving players find good rounds at the right time?

The R&A say it will be possible for clubs to set handicap limits in competitions, but what happens when someone who has a legitimate handicap of 50, calculated by the new WHS, complains they are being discriminated against? It could be a tough one for clubs to deal with.

The hidden agenda in introducing a World Handicap System is to encourage people to play golf more often and be able to put a card in for handicap purposes wherever they are in the world and regardless of whether they are a member or not of that Club. By putting in more scores a player’s handicap will better reflect their playing ability.

What else do you need to know about?

1. Course Rating

In simple terms Course Rating is the number that indicates the difficulty of a golf course when played by a Scratch Golfer under normal, mid-season weather conditions. It is determined by a Rating Team and is based on the USGA guidelines of yardage and other objects which may affect how difficult scoring may be for a Scratch Player; it is what we know, at the moment, as Standard Scratch Score (SSS).

The rating process is done by a team of people from England Golf or your relevant County, (and you may have recently had your Golf Course re-rated.), who consider many factors in determining what a scratch golfer would typically shoot on each hole. In addition to the raw length of the hole, the USGA rating system considers other factors that might affect the “true” playing length of a hole, including the amount of roll, elevation, doglegs or forced lay-ups, prevailing wind direction and altitude. The team also considers a number of potential obstacles, such as sidehill lies, width of fairways, difficulty of hitting the green, difficulty of the rough, bunkers, out-of-bounds areas, water hazards, green speed and the number of obstacles close to a landing area, which the USGA labels the “psychological” factor.

The team arrive at an Evaluation Number which is either added to or subtracted from the par for the course. The Course Rating is a number with a single decimal. For example, if an extremely difficult par-72 golf course is a plus 3.0, the Course Rating would be 75.0. If an easy par-70 layout was rated a minus 2.0, the Course Rating would be 68.0. A typical scratch golfer should therefore shoot 75 on the difficult course and 68 on the easy course under good playing conditions.

2. Scratch Golfer

The USGA define a Scratch Golfer as:

Male: Hits a drive 250yds. and reaches a 470yds hole in 2 strokes

Female: Hits a drive 210yds. and reaches a 400yds. hole in 2 strokes

3. Slope (Bogey Rating)

This is the number that indicates the difficulty of a golf course when played by a Bogey Golfer under normal weather conditions; as with Course Rating it is based on the USGA guidelines of yardage and other objects which may affect how difficult scoring may be for a Bogey Player. It is the responsibility of each Golf Club to have each tee/course rated for both Men and Ladies.

This will bring into being the existence of non-gender-based tees, allowing golfers to play from tees on courses best suited to their golfing ability.

It may become common place that we will no longer have gender-based tees such as the seniors’ or ladies’ tees. Instead there will be courses, for example, the Yellow, White, Blue and Red course. Players may elect which course they would like to play, dependent on their course handicap. The yellow course being for golfers with a lower course handicap whilst the white course is for your low to medium (4 – 15) course handicap golfers. The purpose of giving players the option of choosing which course to play will improve the level of enjoyment. For club competitions, players may be required to play from a specific course.

Statistics have determined that the difficulty of a course will impact bogey golfers more than scratch golfers, and the Slope Rating is a measure of this difference. It is expressed by a number from 55 to 155, with 113 being the average Slope Rating. A course that poses difficulty and leads to higher scores by bogey golfers will have a higher Slope Rating than a course that is less challenging. The USGA calculates Slope Rating with the following formula: Bogey Course rating minus Course Rating, with the result multiplied by 5.381 for men or 4.24 for women.

4. Roles of Slope Rating

The most important role of a slope is levelling the playing field for players of different skill levels. For example, let’s say Player A and Player B average 85 strokes each for 18 holes. But Player A’s average is established on a very difficult course (say, a slope rating of 150), while Player B’s average is established on a much easier course (say, a slope rating of 105). If handicaps were simply estimates of golfers’ average scores, then these two players would have the same handicap index. But Player A is clearly the better golfer, and in a match between the two Player B would clearly need some strokes.

Slope rating allows the handicap index to reflect these factors. Because he plays on a course with a higher slope rating, Player A’s handicap index will be lower than Player B’s (when it is calculated using the slope ratings), despite the fact that they both average scores of 85. So when A and B get together to play, B will get those extra strokes he needs.

Slope rating also allows golfers to go to different golf courses and adjust their handicap index up or down depending on how difficult each course plays (this is the “course handicap” mentioned above).

5. Minimum and Maximum Slope Ratings

The minimum slope rating is 55 and the maximum is 155 (slope does not relate specifically to strokes played as course rating does). When the slope rating system was first put into effect, the USGA set the slope for an “average” golf course at 113; however, not many 18-hole golf courses have slope ratings that low. Some do, but the real-world average is higher than 113. (However, a slope of 113 is still used in certain calculations within the handicap system.)

Like course rating, slope rating is calculated for each set of tees on a course, and a course may have a separate slope rating on certain tees for women golfers.

Slope rating is a factor in the calculation of handicap index and is also used to determine the course handicap.

6. Bogey Golfer

The USGA define a Bogey Golfer as:

Male: Handicap between 17.5 and 22.4. Hits drive 200yds. and reaches a 370yds. hole in 2 strokes

Female: Handicap between 21.5 and 26.4. Hits drive 150yds. and reaches a 280yds. hole in 2 strokes.

7. Handicap Index

This will be the new term for ‘Handicap’ and it will be your mobile Handicap and the Handicap you use to enter all competitions.

All golfers will be provided with a HANDICAP INDEX (HI) when the WHS comes into operation. This handicap index (HI) will be calculated from the player’s best 8 differentials of his/her last 20 rounds multiplied by 96%, (Golf Australia use 93%) and will be shown to one decimal point. For the mathematicians amongst you, the official explanation for the percentage multiplier is, ‘the Multiplier is a mathematical balancing factor, the purpose of which is to help to achieve national results patterns for net competitions that are as equitable as possible. Its necessity is the result of the different standard deviations of net scores exhibited by players on different handicap levels’. Your ISV Handicap Software system will calculate the HI using the new slope and course rating for each course registered under each players profile.

The HI is calculated using the following formula:

(Equitable Gross Score – Course Rating) x 113/Course Slope. i.e. (84 – 72.3) X 113/142 = 9.3

8. Course Handicap

A player will be allocated a course handicap which is dependent on the golf course being played and tee markers s/he opts to play from. Each course will offer a different slope and course rating which will affect a player’s course handicap.

It is envisaged that Golf committees may elect a specific tee for both male and females to participate from during club competitions. Course handicaps will be obtained when players check-in, alternatively can be obtained a course handicap conversion chart that will be made available for golfers.

9. Course handicap is calculated using the following formula:

Course Handicap = Handicap Index x Slope Rating / 113 + (Course Rating – Par). (Please Note that the USGA do not add the (CR-Par) to their Course Handicap calculation)
i.e. 12.6(HI) x 144(Slope Rating) / 113 + (72.4 – 72) = 16.45. Course Handicap is 16

Whilst registering for golf, players may be asked to inform the check-in staff which course they have selected to play from. The staff member will then input this information into the system which will calculate each player’s course handicap. It is also envisaged that a course handicap conversion table will also be provided at the golf club to look-up the course handicaps.

10. Change in Scorecards

With the change from tees to courses and the implementation of the slope and course rating,  clubs will most likely be releasing a new look scorecard. The scorecards will provide updated information pertaining to the course distances, course colours, slope and course rating and space for including both the handicap index and course handicap. The scorecard will provide tee options for men (e.g. Yellow, White, Blue and Red) whilst the ladies may only have two tee options (e.g. Yellow and Red). The slope and course rating will be provided per course. The new scorecards should be available from the introduction of the WHS in March 2020.