5 Changes to Know for Golf’s New Handicapping System

The start of a New Year, and a new decade, brings major changes in the golf handicapping space. If you haven’t yet heard about the World Handicap System (WHS), which has been freshly rolled out in the U.S. at the start of 2020, it’s time to familiarize yourself with this global initiative that took about eight years to develop.

But first, why is it changing?

World Handicapping Systems
(Photo by Getty Images)

The WHS is a joint effort between the game’s two primary governing bodies, the USGA and The R&A, that unites six existing handicapping systems into one. Collectively, those systems represented almost 15 million golfers in 80 countries who maintain a golf handicap. The intent is to develop a modern system that provides a more consistent measure of playing ability, with handicaps calculated the same way everywhere in the world.

Whether you’re looking to qualify for your club championship, play in a member-guest tournament, get more strokes in your weekly Nassau, or just track your performance, here are five of the most noteworthy changes to know about the new handicapping system:

World Handicapping System
(Infographic courtesy of the USGA and The R&A)

Daily Updates

Golfers will now get a revision of their handicap index the day after they play and post their scores, instead of twice per month under the USGA’s GHIN handicapping system. This more modern approach provides a fairer indication of a player’s improvement (or regression). On days a player doesn’t submit a score, no update takes place.

Establishing a Handicap

Currently, less than nine percent of the roughly 24 million golfers in the U.S. carry an official handicap. The new system seeks to make it easier for everyday golfers to establish a handicap index, requiring scores from just 54 holes of golf—in any combination of nine or 18-hole rounds.

Factoring the Handicap

In the past, handicap index in the U.S. was based on the 10 best scores out a player’s most recent 20, with a .96 multiplier. Now, it will be more responsive to good scores—averaging your eight best scores among your most recent 20. The intent is to create a global standard that factors in demonstrated ability for a more consistent measure.

New Maximums

Equitable stroke control is out, net double bogey is in. Many golfers may have already been using this simple calculation already, limiting their maximum score on any given hole to par, plus two strokes and any handicap strokes they receive. Under this rule, a bogey golfer getting one stroke per hole could score no worse than an eight on a par five for handicap purposes, for example. In addition, the maximum handicap limit was increased to 54.0, regardless of gender. This change was made to encourage more golfers to track their performance and increase their enjoyment of the game.

Safeguards in the System

When abnormal course or weather conditions cause scores to be unusually high or low on a particular day, a “Playing Conditions Calculation” will automatically take that into consideration to better reflect a player’s actual performance. An 80 on a wet, windy day might be better than a 79 under perfect playing conditions, so the service will compare scores submitted at a given course against expected scoring patterns and adjust scoring differentials accordingly. Adjustments will be identified in a player’s scoring record. Also in place—perhaps for the golfer at your club who always seems to play well during net competitions—is an “Exceptional Score Reduction” safeguard that reduces a player’s handicap index each time they submit a score differential at least seven strokes below their index.


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