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My Big Complaint About The World Handicap System

By: | Tue 02 Apr 2024

Changes have been made to the World Handicap System process, and for this week's View From The Fairway, Golfshake's Derek Clements describes the frustrating impact it has made to him.

If you are new to golf or want to take it rather more seriously, everybody will be telling you that you need a handicap.

No subject sparks greater debate than this one

Here is the dictionary definition of the word "handicap": a circumstance that makes progress or success difficult. Ha! To be brutally honest, that sums it up perfectly.

I have played golf for many, many years and no subject has caused more controversy over the years than this one.

So what is a golf handicap? In theory it is the number of shots over par that you would normally expect to take over the course of 18 holes. Put simply, if you have an 18 handicap and play a par 72 course then you would expect to tackle those 18 holes in 90 blows.

Well, that’s the theory anyway. 

It stands to reason that a par 72 that measures 7,400 yards and features plenty of rough, gorse and water is going to be a damn sight more difficult than a par 72 measuring 6,100 yards, with wide open fairways and few hazards. But for years, an 18-handicap golfer who played on a relatively short and easy golf course would be utterly out of his depth on more challenging layouts.

Over the decades, many attempts were made to come up with some sort of system that was fair to everybody. They all failed. Walk into any clubhouse bar and one of the most common themes up for debate would be the handicap system. 

The World Handicap System was first introduced in England in November 2020. It was the latest attempt to square things up.

In a nutshell, it was designed to "welcome more players, to make golf easier to understand and to give all golfers a handicap which is portable all around the globe".

World Handicap System

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

One of the key elements in all of this was the introduction of something called a slope system that applies to every course in the world. In simple terms, it allows a golfer to turn up at any course and adjust his handicap based on the difficulty of that course. There may be many faults with the WHS but this was one thing that they got right.

Further changes have been introduced this year.

And that brings me to the point. Regular readers will know that I have recently returned to the game after a long break. I was fairly sure that I would not have a handicap and would have to submit cards to get one but I sent my Golf England number to my club’s handicap secretary. 

I hadn’t played golf for years and had suffered horribly with pain in both shoulders. Steroid injections gave me some relief so I decided to get back out on the course. 

When I had last played my handicap was 7.1. My new handicap secretary contacted me to inform me that Golf England had decided in its wisdom that I was being given a handicap of 9.8. 

Where they plucked that figure from I have absolutely no clue. I am still experiencing severe pain in my right shoulder and am on an NHS waiting list for surgery that should finally put things right. In the meantime I can no longer hit the ball as far as I used to - I would guess that I have lost around 30 yards from the tee, which is a lot to have to make up. 

Thankfully, I am still able to count on my trusty old putter, which was always the strength of my game. Because we have been playing in winter conditions with preferred lies, none of the rounds I have played to date have qualified for any handicap change. My game is still in there somewhere but I have managed only one round that comes anywhere close to 9.8.

But check this out.

The major change for ALL golfers for 2024 is the addition to the playing handicap calculation of course rating to par. 

COURSE HANDICAP = Handicap Index X (slope rating/113) + (course rating - par) 

I am a member at Dunston Hall on the outskirts of Norwich. The scorecard tells me it is a par 71. It measures "just" 6,179 yards from the white tees. But the fairways are narrow, water comes into play on nine holes, there is plenty of clever fairway bunkering and the greens are undulating and difficult to read. In my book, this is one tricky course, and would have been so even when I was in prime health.

However, from the yellow tees the latest course rating (CR) is 67.7 so 71 par = 71-67.7. In other words, I will now have to take 3.3 off my handicap, which reduces it to 6.5. From the white tees the CR is now 70, cutting my handicap to 8.8. It is a joke, but I am not laughing.

I would remind you that the WGH system was designed to "welcome more players, to make golf easier to understand and to give all golfers a handicap which is portable all around the globe".

I am here to tell you that right now I feel that this system has made an already difficult game well-nigh impossible for me to enjoy right now. I am sure that as the weeks and months ahead unfold that my game will improve to some extent and that my handicap will eventually find its right level. But right now that seems a long, long way off.

I would be interested to know if anybody else feels they have been given a raw deal by the current handicap system.

Related Content

What You Need to Know About 2024 World Handicap System Changes

What The World Handicap System Gets Right

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

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