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The World Handicap System Continues to Cause Controversy

By: | Sun 07 Apr 2024

When I shared my struggles with the golf handicap that I have been given after a long injury lay-off I rather suspected that it might get a response. 

Before I go on I want to make it clear that I welcome debate. I do not pretend to know it all and I am happy to be challenged over my views. 

However, what I am not prepared to do is to respond to abuse on social media. And I received plenty after my article was widely shared. 

I simply do not understand why so many individuals believe that it is okay to hurl abuse at somebody they have never met. And I know for certain that some of the comments that have been aimed in my direction would never have been said to my face. 

Even more frustrating was the fact that so much of it was utterly ill-informed - had those who decided to launch vitriol in my direction read my article properly then they may have actually refrained from doing so in the first place.

I have no intention of giving these people the oxygen of publicity. Instead I will focus on a few of the constructive responses we received via the Golfshake Forum.

World Handicap System

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Derek Responds to Feedback Submitted Into Golfshake

"I totally agree with you. The system doesn't work.

"Here's my story. I started golf at 26 in the UK. I got to a high level of golf very quickly. Within one year I was playing off 12. I won the NAPGC four years running up at St Andrews. At the age of 40 I emigrated to Australia. I continued playing twice a week on a nine-hole course and every other week on an 18-hole course but not with a world handicap.

"At 60 years old I have returned to the UK for good. I have joined Northwood Golf Club in Middlesex. I put in three cards initially. They were 19, 22, and 28 over the par, which is a par 72 for ladies. They sent me my handicap of 15.5. How can that be? There were no high numbers on the cards like 10s or anything ?! 

"Surely they should be adding them together and dividing them by three like the old days? The course is hilly and all up and down lies so compared to Australia where it's all flat this course is very challenging at 60 years old.

"There's no way I can play to a 15.5. I'm now putting in as many cards as I possibly can, as quick as I can, so I can get the eight from 20 cards in so I can get a "true” handicap.   

"Golf isn't enjoyable when you have no chance of playing to the stupid unreachable handicap they work out for you now.”

I was under the impression that the WHS was introduced to stamp out this sort of thing, but what do I know? I have to say that a 15.5 handicap based on the scores you submitted does seem harsh - and I know exactly how you feel.

"WHS is brilliant yet flawed. We can all find a reason to criticise WHS. All the detractors who say CONGU was better, I ask you to show me the calculations by category that were used to calculate Competition Standard Scratch! 

"Yes I know Course rating minus Par has always been part of WHS and the Home Golf Unions decided not to adopt this in 2020. Huge mistake. It has given the detractors a second chance. Those that say we are getting less shots in the latest changes need to realise two things. 1. We have been kidding ourselves for 3.5 years by playing against Par rather than Course Rating. This calculation has always been used to calculate score differential and therefore our HI. Reality hurts. 2. Members of courses like Hollinwell know that courses that are significantly harder with both a high course rating and Slope rating will be playing off the back tees with approx six more shots than their HI. Let’s embrace change and make it better. The change to unrounded Course Handicaps and betterball scores potentially counting is a significant step forward. I applaud the endeavour. No system is perfect and there will always be handicap manipulation both up and down. Enjoy your golf.”

Trust me, I am trying to enjoy my golf.

"I agree the system is certainly flawed. I’m recently returned to golf after a three-year layoff through health issues. My original handicap was 5.5 but the new system generated me a new handicap of 2.6. How does that work? Then the course rating knocks me down again - talk about kicking a man while he’s down. 

"I am still seeing winning scores well under par every week. When did 36 points not become a good score? I play a lot of open competitions BB and Am Am and most of the winning scores are unbelievably well under par. In my opinion the system penalises the consistent better players, the ones who are trying to get their handicaps down, whilst the bandits who play every medal poorly until it comes to something they want to win are manipulating the system. All clubs know who the bandits are, but this system neglects to allow clubs to address the issue. I’m still seeing at most clubs nothing in golf for the truly best player or team on the day. Enjoy your golf, it’s a great game.”

Yes, it is a great game and when I finally end up with a handicap that reflects my current ability I promise you that I will start to enjoy it again. At the moment, I can only dream of scoring 36 points in a stableford competition.

"I have been playing golf for a long time but struggling to improve. I have been self taught in the main with only a few pointers and a few lessons as I have been focusing on trying to enjoy the game and didn’t want to rebuild my game in every way. To this end at 54 (just over two years ago) I joined a club at a course I had played a couple of times and found to be interesting and challenging. My handicap was set after submitting an appropriate number of cards but is higher than I would like and higher than I have managed to attain on previous rounds.

"The constant debate in the clubhouse is always around how certain people allegedly ‘manipulate’ the system; as a high handicapper (23.2) who wants to get below 18 (which has been my goal since joining) the WHS system is a relatively clear system and does appear to level the playing field. However, I have always contended that a high handicapper will always be more inconsistent than a lower handicapper and that is the only reason that the debate keeps on raging on. This fact is recognised as most competitions are played off 75% handicap; that means that a four handicapper loses one shot, where-as a 20 handicapper would lose five shots. The WHS merely resets the starting point."

There will always be people who try to manipulate things but I honestly believe that the vast majority of golfers simply want to achieve the lowest handicap they can - and know that they can play to it! 

"I’m Handicap Secretary at my club and I’m not replying because I’m a supporter of WHS but more because there is so much disinformation written about it.

"The OP [I am guessing that is me] returns to golf after a break and 'has no idea how he has been allocated his new handicap index'. Had the OP gone on to explain what scores he had submitted since his return to golf to get that index I might have been able to explain. Even better, had he asked his handicap secretary or committee they could have done so.

"The WHS like Congu handicap system, doesn’t just allocate a random handicap index. Until there are 20 scores on your handicap record it can fluctuate wildly. Post three scores and it will be your lowest adjusted score differential minus two. If you ended up with a low handicap you obviously weren’t too far off.

"WHS is like any other handicap system, not perfect. It can’t stop sandbaggers or in another word, cheats. What it can do however, is to provide a huge range of readily available reports/data to allow handicap committees to make informed decisions when reviewing handicaps.

"My experience thus far is that the majority of people manipulating WHS are golfers keen to reduce their handicaps who download their scores on the app after a good round and without pre-registering the intent beforehand as required. They cheat only themselves but 'vanity handicaps' are more common than people might think.

"Whether these are the folk that later complain about WHS because they can’t win anything or even get close to playing to their new handicaps, I don’t know.

"What I do know is that millions of General Play Scores have been submitted since WHS was introduced. Players’ handicaps are coming down much quicker than they did under Congu because there are more opportunities for improving golfers to submit scores.

"The downside of WHS is that the maximum handicap was set so high (54). An improving golfer off 54 is going to return some ridiculous scores until he has 20 scores on his WHS record.

"The upside? A friend with Parkinson’s can still play and compete off his 39 handicap. His physical health is deteriorating but his mental health is nurtured by our great sport and the comradery he enjoys by still being able to compete."

There are a number of points to follow up on this.

1. I was given a 9.8 handicap before I had struck a golf ball on my return;

2. I have been unable to submit any cards for handicap purposes because we have been playing to winter rules;

3. The response from my handicap secretary to the handicap I have been given was, and I quote: "That’s brutal."  

I know that I now have to get 20 cards submitted as soon as possible and that after that has been achieved I will have a handicap that reflects my ability.

And I rejoice in the fact that this wonderful game of ours allows people with all sorts of health issues to keep enjoying it. It is one of the many things that makes golf such a very special sport.

Related Content

My Big Complaint About The World Handicap System

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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