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What The World Handicap System Gets Right

By: Golfshake Editor | Tue 02 May 2023

Since its introduction in 2020, the World Handicap System, or WHS for short, has been a contentious issue amongst many golfers. Indeed the implementation of the system itself has been tweaked by the various governing bodies since it was first rolled out, notably with changes to the application of the Playing Conditions Calculator (which sort of replaced the previous ‘standard scratch’). If all this sounds a bit confusing, check out our Q&A on all things WHS here.

We could spend a while in a social media echo chamber, regurgitating the various frustrations that golfers may have with WHS, however, we’re positive people here at Golfshake, and so instead please enjoy some of the things that we think the WHS gets right!

Index vs Course Handicap

This is one of the main gripes people have had with the system, namely a complaint that they no longer just have one handicap number - at least in their minds. In actual fact, the opposite is true, and your actual handicap (in the traditional sense) is still your Index, likely to be a number followed by a decimal point. This has mostly caused confusion amongst club golfers who may have seen their old 12 handicap reduced to a 10 Index under the new system; leading to bemusement as to how they have lost shots at a course where they’ve played for a long time. 

However, their Course Handicap will often add additional shots, giving a Course Handicap that may even be higher than their old handicap. This is because the new system better reflects the difficult of courses, and indeed the tee boxes you’ve chosen to play from.

It’s logical that playing off the back tees at Royal St George's may be slightly more difficult than playing the forward tees at your local pay and play course, and your Course Handicap will reflect this. Overall, we think this is a good step, even if there is some debate about the difficulty of certain courses. 

World Handicap System

Playing Handicap

To further the perceived confusion of some, WHS also introduced another number, which is your Playing Handicap. This is the number that you should reference as your handicap for each individual competition and will be a whole number. 

Oftentimes this will be the same as your Course Handicap, but the reason we applaud its introduction is that it has made it much easier to play mixed tee, and indeed mixed gender competitions. Under the previous system, it was particularly difficult to separate groups playing off different tee boxes in the same competition - WHS aids this by allowing the Playing Handicap to be adjusted based on the needs of the competition, which we think is a good thing.

Ability For Movement

Another great thing about WHS is the ability for bigger movements in handicaps. This is particularly useful for quickly-improving golfers, or conversely, those that are struggling with their games. Under the old system of 0.1 increases, it could take several seasons to get back to a competitive handicap following a loss of form. WHS has seen bigger swings here, which should in theory see handicaps more accurately reflect your current ability.

Keeping Score Outside Of Competitions

Speaking of handicaps reflecting ability … one of the main benefits we see of WHS is the ability to keep a scorecard from every round. Indeed, it is suggested by the governing bodies that golfers do indeed keep a score from most of their rounds. This will result in the majority of golfers having an Index that is indicative of their current levels of play.

One of the best cases for this is to allow for golfers that may be unable to play weekend competitions, or perhaps have played a lot of good golf over the winter period to maintain a handicap that allows them to compete fairly. An issue of WHS has been golfers not doing this, playing many rounds and improving vastly without submitting General Play scores. It’s then no surprise when these types of golfers clean up in club competitions. However, for us, the onus should now be on clubs to encourage their golfers to submit scores more regularly, to avoid this scenario-– it’s certainly not the fault of WHS (at least, we don’t think so!).

9-Hole Score Entry

Similarly, many golfers struggle for time - but would like to maintain a Playing Handicap. WHS allows for scores to be submitted over just 9-holes, with competitions also able to be played over this length, making it much more inclusive for all. Under the previous system, 9-hole general play cards were allowed, however, golfers holding a handicap of less than 5.0 were unable to take advantage of this, creating a confusing split for clubs to manage following any 9-hole outings.

Playing Overseas

And finally … the thing that perhaps started this whole movement! WHS better allows golfers from across the world to compete on a more level playing field, and aids golfers in playing to an accurate handicap when taking on courses abroad.

Under the previous system, it was generally accepted that the CONGU method used across the UK (amongst other countries) gave players a slightly lower overall handicap when compared with those using the system implemented by the USGA (which was more similar to the current version). Whilst golfers who only head out to the course in their own country may not feel this benefit, we can assure you (as Brits!) that games against those from across the pond are now a lot more competitive! 

Related Content

The World Handicap System - The Debate Rages On

The World Handicap System Continues to Divide Golfers

Golfshake Podcast: WHS Debate

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

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