The World Handicap System is set to launch in the UK in November 2020. Promising a unified and more inclusive handicapping system, what does it really mean for you?  

Brooke Henderson working out her score at during the final round of the Indy Women In Tech in 2019

The World Handicap System is set to launch in the UK in November 2020. Promising to provide a unified and more inclusive handicapping system for golfers the world over, what does it really mean for you?

By Charlotte Ibbetson

No matter where you play golf in the world, you’ll follow the same set of rules. But until this year, the way our handicaps are calculated varies from country to country. It’s illogical when you think about it, isn’t it?

Enter the World Handicap System or WHS.

What is the World Handicap System?

There are currently six different handicapping systems operating around the world. Developed by The R&A and the USGA, the World Handicap System will unify all of those systems, creating one, inclusive handicapping system for the first time.

It will provide a constant measure of playing ability wherever you are in the world.

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A said, “The game of golf is transforming to meet the needs of the modern-day golfer. Our hope is that the launch of the WHS will be a catalyst for change; signalling the start of a new era of golfer engagement, being inclusive by embracing all golfers, whatever their level of ability, and broadening its appeal to a much wider audience.”

So, what will change?

With the current handicapping system, your handicap will be the same irrespective of the course you play or the tees you play from.

But when WHS comes into place, you’ll be given a Playing Handicap every time you play, depending on the tees you choose to play from, the difficulty of the course and the format you’re playing.

You’ll also be able to submit rounds from competitions and pre-registered social games too.

James Ibbetson, General Manager at Farleigh Golf Club, worked with the USGA handicap system in a former role in the UAE. The system is very similar to WHS, taking into account the Course and Slope rating to create a Playing Handicap. James told us, "I think it’s a really positive step for the game, and it should be a much fairer reflection of golfers’ playing abilities."

"It also makes the game much more accessible by allowing people who don’t play regular competition golf to keep an up-to-date handicap."

"Yes, I think it will take a while to embed into golf clubs, but when the dust has settled and we all understand the system more clearly, it can only be good for the sport."

What happens to my current handicap?

Your handicap will be converted into a Handicap Index. If you don’t have a handicap yet, you’ll need to enter scores from 54 holes – this can be a combination of 18- and 9-hole rounds.

To work out your Handicap Index, instead of taking an aggregate of your competition scores, the World Handicap System will take an average of your eight best scores from your last 20 rounds.

How is my Playing Handicap worked out?

Before your round, you’ll have to decide which tees you’re going to play from. This can be different for each player in your group. Every set of tees will have a course and slope rating, based on how difficult the course is. These will be available close to the first tee, or through an app.

Then you’ll have to choose the format you’ll play. This will determine your handicap allowance.

The course rating, slope rating and handicap allowance combine to give you a Playing Handicap – the number of shots you’ll receive.

Course and Slope Rating

The World Handicap System takes into account the Course Rating – the difficulty of the course for scratch golfers – and the Bogey Rating – the difficulty of the course for golfers with a handicap of around 20 or above – and uses them to work out the Slope Rating.

The Slope Rating indicates the relative difficulty of a course for bogey golfers, compared to scratch golfers.

What scores do I have to record for my handicap?

You’ll still enter your scores from competition rounds as usual. But with the new system, you’ll also be able to submit scores from pre-registered social games too. Just make sure that these games are still played by the rules – no gimmes allowed!

Will I go up 0.1 if I have a bad round?

No! This is one of the most significant changes to the new system; you won’t have to worry about your handicap going up after just one bad round. Now every time you play, you can just relax, knowing that your worst round won’t be counted towards your handicap.

With the countdown on to November, we’re sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about WHS over the coming months. We’ll keep you updated with the latest developments. You can tell us what you think by emailing [email protected].  

Image credit: Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Teeing up a golf ball