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In Praise of the New World Handicap System

By: | Thu 22 Feb 2018 | Comments

THE R&A and the USGA have finally decided to tackle golf’s handicap system – a source of more debate than even slow play and the distance the ball travels. As is the way of things with our sport, however, we are going to have to wait until 2020 before the changes are implemented. But they are coming.

Golf does things at its own funereal pace, but the powers-that-be finally seem to be getting their act together. Next year we will also see a raft of new rule changes designed to make the game easier to both play and to understand.

The sport’s governing bodies are introducing something called the World Handicap System, and the aim is that it will be simple and will encourage more people to play. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and Mike Davis, his opposite number at the USGA, are confident that the new system will work, especially as it will be coupled with a new maximum handicap of 54 for both men and women. A lot of traditionalists are sniffy about the idea of anybody being given a 54 handicap, but you have to ask yourself: what is the point of a 28 handicap for somebody who consistently takes 120 blows to complete 18 holes? It is hardly going to encourage them, is it?

Golf magazines are full of articles telling us how we can break 100, 90, 80, but lots of people only play the game on an occasional basis and have no chance of ever breaking 100. So why not give them a higher handicap and offer them an opportunity to be competitive? Bring it on, I say.

“We are working with our partners and national associations to make golf more?modern, more accessible and more enjoyable as a sport and the new World Handicap System represents a huge opportunity in this regard,” said Slumbers. “We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers. Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”

Modern, accessible, enjoyable and attractive are not necessarily words that many people would apply to golf.

The new system is designed to offer flexibility across all formats of the game, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a handicap reflects the player’s ability. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but that seems like an eminently common-sense approach. For far too long, the handicap system has been utterly unfathomable – even for people who play golf to a decent standard.

Instead of three 18-hole rounds at present in some countries, though not in the UK, a player will be able to make up the 54-hole requirement to obtain a handicap from any combination of 18-hole and nine-hole rounds. Discretion will also be allowed for national and regional associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.

The best news of all is that new system is designed to achieve a handicap that is “portable from course to course and country to country” through worldwide use of the USGA Course and Slope Rating System, while that handicap will become an average-based calculation. It will be taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores.

And here’s a revolutionary new idea - course and weather conditions will be taken into account with the new calculations. It seems that the R&A and the USGA have been taken over by sensible-thinking aliens because all of this just makes so much sense.

The governing bodies are to be commended. This wasn’t a group of old cronies sitting in a darkened room together. There was some proper research, involving 52,000 people – and 76% of them back the new proposals. In the past, whenever the handicap system has been changed the average club golfer has had little or no say. This all feels different.

Focus groups around the globe were encouraged to provide feedback - and it has been taken on board. The best news of all is surely the fact that the powers-that-be have finally accepted it is time to introduce higher handicaps.  “For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap.’ We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game,” said Davis. “We’re excited to be taking another important step - along with modernising golf’s Rules - to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

Of course there will be those who turn up their noses at the very thought of a 54-handicap golfer, but surely it is better to have more high handicappers taking up the game and enjoying it – and having a real chance of beating low-handicappers – than for us all to stand back, twiddle our thumbs and look on as golf gradually dies a death. Participation numbers in the UK fell again in 2017 – this could actually be something that brings new enthusiasts to the game. And that has got to be a good thing.

Find out more on how to get a golf handicap and how to calculate your golf handicap:

Get a Golf Handicap Online


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