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Are You Ready For The World Handicap System

By: | Thu 18 Jun 2020

With golf now back, a big talking point among everyday golfers remains the World Handicap System (WHS), which is being rolled out across the world in 2020.

Earlier this year we published a survey asking for your thoughts on a range of topics, covering everything from the WHS, high handicaps, senior golfers, green fees and your thoughts have been pretty revealing. Almost 2,000 of you took the time to complete the survey, of which 56% were club golfers and 64% were over 55 years old.

The World Handicap System Is Coming

The WHS will be introduced to the UK in November, so we had better be ready for it.

Nobody pretends that the WHS is a magic bullet, although the R&A and USGA clearly hope that it will be. Many of you don’t understand why the current system had to be changed. And, at first glance, it does seem to be unnecessarily complicated. 20% of you believe that it help to grow the sport, while 23% cannot see any benefit. Tellingly, that means that 57% of respondents at this stage don't have a view on whether it will benefit the game.

It is obvious that there is a lack of clarity. We all know the WHS is coming, but a significant of us don’t understand the implications, with 30% of you saying precisely that. Surprisingly 70% of you told Golfshake that you do understand it. We take our hats off to you. Interestingly, only 50% of under-35s say they understand what is involved, while a staggering 76% of those in 55+ age group tell us that you are au fait with it. This could simply be a case of older golfers having more time on their hands to research what it all means.

However, only 56% of you believe that the WHS should be available to all golfers, with 26% saying that it should be an integral part of golf-club membership. This goes against the entire ethos of the system, which is designed to provide handicaps for all golfers - 11% of our respondents with handicaps over 20 believe handicaps should be part of club membership, 21% of the 14-20 handicap range and 26% for those with a handicap less than 14. 

As we have already reported, the key focus of the WHS is to enable golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a fair and equal basis in any format, on any course, anywhere around the world. It should be easy to understand and implement and meet the varied needs and expectations of golfers, golf clubs and golf authorities around the globe and be adaptable to suit all golfing cultures. That is some target!

So what do the average golfers questioned in our survey think? It is obvious to us that there is still work to do and there are still areas for concern, including:

  • Understanding and calculating slope - this remains a huge area of confusion.
  • Adjustments for weather and playing conditions
  • Maximum handicaps set at 54
  • Starting handicaps & retrospective calculations
  • Ongoing changes and ability to quickly assess your own handicap adjustments

Is It All Still Too Complicated?

Many of you say that it is far too complicated and that you simply don’t understand it. One reader said that when he recently played in the USA, everybody needed an app to work out their handicaps on each of the six different courses they played during a golf holiday together.

Slope Rating - What Does It Actually Mean

Others say that without the relevant software, confusion will run rampant. The most obvious conclusion to draw is that more education is required and, even then, will we understand?

Here are some of the points you make:

"There doesn't appear to be any standard set of instruction that the layman can follow."

"Like everything in golf, it is too complicated and rules can be changed locally."

"I understand the changes, but find it difficult to understand how local weather conditions can affect scoring stats, this is subjective."

"There was nothing wrong with the current system and this one won't be trackable for the ordinary golfer."

"I understand that the handicap will vary depending on the difficulty of the course being played, but I do not know how this is calculated."

“I am not in favour of the change - a lot of terminology and processes that normal club golfers won't understand."

“There has so far been no explanation of how the 'conditions of the day' will be taken into account."

"So I know I will be playing off a handicap 3-4 shots higher than my current 'standard' handicap. Way to go if you want to disincentivise me and my fellow golfers."

"Why your HC would go up or down depending on the course you played? Is that not how a current handicap calculates your score anyway?"

"Not enough has been done to explain exactly how it works and what the impact will be. Will I keep my current handicap as it was and only new scores affect it, or will it be recalculated based on historic handicap scores put in? Will the difficulty of my course be included in this if it is a retrospective change?"

But perhaps the most worrying comment of all is this one:

"I'm a handicap secretary and I can't find anywhere that explains it that I understand."

You have to ask: if a handicap secretary cannot understand the new system, what chance do the rest of us have?

Importance Of A Handicap For All Golfers

The R&A describe the handicap as 'essential to the popularity and prosperity of the game' allowing 'players of all levels of golfing ability to compete against each other equally'. This is clearly something important to a vast array of golfers.

"You shouldn't need to have to be a member of a golf club to have a handicap. It's just a means to see if you are getting any better. Not every golfer plays competitions."

"Some golfers love the game but cannot pay the fees being asked for 12 months and only play for up to 8 months. Some golfers do not play in comps but still have enjoyment in social games between each other and the handicap system works well to make it even."

"If you want to pay green fees only you should still be able to get an official handicap through apps like Golfshake."

"Why should someone be penalised because they either don't want to or cannot afford to pay membership fees, and also dont want to be tied down to one club."

"Many people do not want to be club members and may not be able to afford it - I don’t see why that should prevent them from getting a handicap. I only recently joined a club, prior to that our society use Golfshake to work out our handicaps."

"All golfers should be able to compete and compare themselves to each other without club membership being a requirement. Club membership is often not economical due to work patterns and other demands of life."

"If it excludes golf societies and the pay and play golfer it arguably is less inclusive than the current system."

Finally, there was also a lot of positive feedback in our survey related to the World Handicap System, some of which included:

"It makes a lot of sense to have a fair playing field when it comes to playing different courses, and the slope system does that. Albeit for the lower handicapped golfer being penalized sometimes."

"I think the system could work, if people adhere to it."

"Yes if gets more people playing it's the way forward so we can keep clubs going."

"Good idea to record all games in order to get an accurate handicap."

"Makes for a more level playing field."

"Should improve speed of play."

"I find it is a good move to include especially older and keen golfers in the golf community."

"It'll make the game more inclusive by removing gender from the tee box.”

The World Handicap System - All You Need to Know

So, there you have it, the thoughts and views of everyday golfers. Where do you stand? Do you understand the changes coming or are you none the wiser like many golfers out there? Let us know in the comments below.

And thank you to those who took the time and trouble to take part in our survey.

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