The R&A - Working for Golf

Q&As

What is the World Handicap System (WHS) all about?

  • Golf already has a single set of playing Rules, a single set of equipment Rules and a single set of Rules of Amateur Status overseen by the USGA and The R&A. The WHS, launched in January 2020, now also provides a single set of Rules of Handicapping, unifying the six different handicap systems, previously used around the world, into a single handicap system that :enables golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a fair and equitable basis, in any format, on any course, anywhere around the world.
  • is easy to understand and implement, without sacrificing accuracy; and
  • meets the varied needs and expectations of golfers, golf clubs and golf authorities all around the world and be adaptable to suit all golfing cultures.

After significant engagement and collaboration with the existing handicapping authorities and other National Associations, it  was agreed that this is the right timeto bring the different handicapping systems together as a fourth set of Rules, in support of the global game.

In addition, this project has provided an opportunity for the previous handicapping authorities to come together and share their combined experiences to produce a system which is modern and relevant for the way the game is played today around the world.

The WHS will encompass both the Rules of Handicapping and the Course Rating System (formerly the USGA Course Rating and Slope System).

What does this mean for the sport?

The WHS initiative  provided an opportunity for all existing handicapping authorities to collaborate; to consider the best features within each of the previous systems and create a system which is modern and relevant for both the way the sport is played today around the world and how it may be developed in the future.

The WHS is designed to be inclusive, easy to understand and implement, without sacrificing accuracy or integrity.  Ultimately, this should help provide a solid foundation to the sport, for everyone from beginners to the experienced, from the recreational to the competitive, thereby supporting the development of the sport through increased participation.

The administration and oversight of handicapping will continue to be the responsibility of each handicapping authority and National Association, thus helping to ensure the credibility of the system at the local level. These organisations  have the discretion to tailor the system to fit their own golfing culture. For example, the WHS  offers a broad range of formats that are acceptable for handicap purposes, with some form of corroboration, and handicapping authorities and National Associations  have had discretion to select from that range to both support their local golfing culture as well as encouraging golfers to post as many scores as possible.

Despite these responsibilities, moving from six different systems to one will almost certainly lead to other efficiencies, allowing National Associations more opportunity to focus their resources on golf development and strategic initiatives to support the sport within their jurisdiction. It  will also provide the opportunity to evaluate de-personalised golfing data to help monitor the health of the game.

Why now?

Golf is a global sport, with a single set of playing Rules, a single set of equipment Rules and a single set of Rules of Amateur Status.  The missing link was handicapping, and after significant engagement and collaboration with the existing handicapping authorities and National Associations, it has been agreed that the time is right to bring the different handicap systems together.

What are the benefits of the World Handicap System?

As the world becomes a smaller place with a much greater frequency of international play (as demonstrated by golf returning to the Olympics in 2016), we believe the development of a single handicap system facilitates easier administration of international events and, potentially, allows National Associations more opportunity to focus attention on golf development and strategic planning to support the sport. It also provides the opportunity to evaluate  depersonalised golfing data on a periodic basis to help monitor the health of the game.

How will existing handicaps be used for the World Handicap System? Also, is my handicap expected to change when the system goes live?

Scoring records from previous handicap systems will be retained and, where possible, be used to calculate a handicap using the WHS algorithms. For most players, their handicap will change only slightly as they will be coming from systems which are generally similar to the WHS. However, this will be dependent on many factors – including the number of scores available upon which the calculation of a handicap can be based. National Associations are encouraged to communicate this message to clubs and golfers, i.e. that the more scores available in players scoring records at the time of transition, the less impact golfers will feel on their handicap.

Will the World Handicap System impact the way the game is played in my country or region?

It is not our intention to try to force any type of change on the way that golf is played around the world or to try and remove the variations. The cultural diversity that exists within the game, including different formats of play and degrees of competitiveness, is what makes the sport so universally popular. Through collaboration with National Associations, the goal has been to try to accommodate those cultural differences within a single WHS.

Does the World Handicap System have the support of all the previous handicapping authorities and other National Associations around the world?

Yes. A series of briefing sessions was conducted all around the world in 2015, which aimed to cover as many National Associations as possible. The reaction was very positive.  It is also worth emphasising that the development of the WHS has been a collaborative effort and all the previous handicapping authorities and National Associations who are directly involved in the process are very supportive of the initiative.

While The R&A and The USGA will oversee the WHS, the day-to-day administration of handicapping will continue to be the responsibility of the existing handicapping authorities and individual National Associations within their jurisdictions.

Have you consulted with golfers and golf club administrators about the World Handicap System?

Yes. We have solicited the opinions of golfers and golf club administrators all around the world via an online survey, to which we received over 52,000 responses. We have also conducted focus group sessions in five markets throughout Europe, the USA and South America. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive; 76% of those surveyed are supportive, 22% undecided at this stage and only 2% opposed.

What is the timeline for implementation of the World Handicap System?

Many National Associations adopted the WHS in January 2020 and the system is now fully operational in these countries, including Argentina, Australia, South Africa and the USA. Other countries are planning to go live with the WHS throughout 2020 to accommodate different implementation plans and variations in their golf seasons.

Given that National Associations will be adopting WHS at different times throughout 2020 and perhaps beyond, how will this impact entries and eligibility criteria for international amateur events?

As usual, it is recommended that competition organisers clearly specify the eligibility criteria for their events within the entry form and in the Terms of the Competition. During 2020, while some players will have transitioned to a WHS Handicap Index, others will not have – and the entry criteria should reflect this appropriately.

How does the system make golf more accessible and inclusive?

The WHS has been designed to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, while still providing golfers with the portability, accuracy and consistency they expect.

Offering a couple of examples, golfers will be able to obtain a handicap after returning a minimal number of scores – the recommendation being as few as three 18-hole scores, six 9-hole scores or a combination of both to comprise 54 holes. Handicaps will not lapse after a period of inactivity and the maximum handicap will be 54.0, regardless of gender. These elements are designed to provide a clear pathway into the game, enabling players new to the sport to feel more welcomed into the golf community.

While the WHS is intended to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance, it must enhance the enjoyment of all golfers. Therefore, it will be important for clubs to ensure that new golfers with higher handicaps pick up at the maximum hole score when the format of play allows, maintain a good pace-of-play and are accommodated within the club’s competition structures.

How and when will golfers and golf club administrators be educated on the World Handicap System?

Education began in January of 2019 as part of a “global-ready” education plan designed to ensure that National Associations were prepared to implement the WHS within their jurisdiction from January 2020.  As part of this effort, the USGA and The R&A conducted 10 international training seminars, attended by more than 90 National Associations.  At the local level, National Associations have also been conducting education workshops and sharing learning resources to ensure club administrators and golfers are fully prepared for the introduction of the WHS.

Will the introduction of the World Handicap System have an impact on the current technology infrastructure?

The methods used to receive scores and compute and maintain handicaps remains at the discretion of each National Association. While implementation of the WHS will invariably impact different technology and computation services in use around the world at various levels, it is anticipated that any disruption will be kept to a minimum.

Is there a place I can go for more information about the World Handicap System?

You can visit your National Association’s website, randa.org or usga.org.

OTHER QUESTIONS:

HOW WILL WHS IMPACT PLAYER HANDICAPS?

Will my handicap change as a result of the WHS and, if so, by how much?

It is likely that most golfers will see some change to their handicap once they transition to WHS. However, the degree of change will depend on which handicap system you are transitioning from and what profile of golfer you are. The WHS is responsive to good scores by averaging your eight best scores out of your most recent 20, but it also includes safeguards to prevent handicaps from increasing too rapidly over short period of time.

If I don’t currently have a Handicap Index, how can I get one?

If you aren’t already a member of a golf club, we recommend you contact your National Association. Whether you play recreationally or competitively, and whether you are an amateur or professional golfer, the WHS was developed to be as inclusive and accessible as possible.

Once I have a Handicap Index, what happens after I submit each score?

Once your initial Handicap Index has been allocated, it will be recalculated each time you submit a new score. Once you reach 20 scores, the calculation will be based on an average of the best 8 of your most recent 20 scores.

How long do my 20 scores last on the new system?

Scores will not expire and will remain on your scoring record. However, it will always be the most recent 20 scores on your scoring record that will be used for the core 8 of 20 calculation.  To maintain the most accurate handicap, players must submit all acceptable scores as soon as possible after completion of their rounds.

Can my handicap lapse under the WHS?  

If you retain membership of a golf club, your Handicap Index will not lapse and there will be no minimum requirement for you to submit a certain amount of scores every year. However, the more scores you do submit, the more accurate your handicap will be.

If you cease to be a member of a golf club, you will no longer be eligible to hold a WHS Handicap Index. However, scores should not be deleted at this time and if your membership is ever reactivated, your new Handicap Index will take your scoring history into account as well as all other available evidence.

What is a Slope Rating?

A Slope Rating is calculated using the difference between the Course Rating for a ‘scratch’ golfer (a player with a 0.0 Handicap Index) and the Course Rating for a ‘bogey’ golfer (a player with a Handicap Index of 20.0 to 24.0), and multiplying this by a factor.

A Slope Rating is a number which indicates the difficulty of a golf course for the ‘bogey’ golfer relative to the scratch player.

What is the difference between a Handicap Index, a Course Handicap and a Playing Handicap?

A Handicap Index is the measure of your demonstrated ability, based on a golf course of standard difficulty (i.e. a golf course with a Slope Rating of 113). This is the number you would tell people if they ask “What’s your handicap?”

Your Handicap Index converts into a Course Handicap, which is the number of strokes you will receive on the golf course from a specific set of tees. This is determined by the difficulty of that golf course, based on its rating.

Your Playing Handicap is your Course Handicap adjusted for any handicap allowances.

What is PCC?

The WHS includes a ‘playing conditions calculation’ (PCC), which will analyse how eligible players have performed on any given day compared to their expected performance on that golf course.

The PCC will reflect weather conditions, associated course conditions and course setup, all demonstrated by the scores submitted on that day. If expected results fall outside an acceptable tolerance level, an adjustment will be applied to all players’ Score Differentials on that course for that day.

Scores should be entered as soon as possible. What would happen if a score is not returned quickly, is there a time limit?

Scores should be entered before the end of the day and preferably before midnight (local time). Any scores not entered before that time will still be acceptable scores but will not be used as part of the daily PCC determination. However, the PCC for the day of play will still be applied when the score is submitted at a later date.

Will your handicap change over 36-hole events?

In a multi-round event that is played over 1 day or 2 consecutive days, it is recommended that no change is made to a player’s handicap during the event, for ease of competition administration purposes. This should be included within the Competition Organising Committee’s Terms of the Competition.

I am currently a member of a golf club in a country that has already adopted the WHS and I am also a member of a club in a country that has not yet moved onto the WHS. What handicap should I be playing from in each country?

Within the Rules of Handicapping, a player must designate one home club to manage, monitor and maintain their Handicap Index. However, during the transitional period until such time as both golf clubs have adopted the WHS, you will effectively have two handicaps running – a WHS Handicap Index and a local handicap governed by the Handicap System in operation within the jurisdiction that has yet to adopt the WHS.

The golf club in the country that has adopted the WHS will require you to return scores in all authorized formats of play back to them to be recorded on your WHS scoring record. This may also include scores for rounds that you have played in other countries, in an authorized format of play. You are required to return these scores to enable your WHS Handicap Index to be administered in accordance with the Rules of Handicapping. If you are in any doubt about what scores are acceptable for handicap purposes, you should check with your golf club or with your Regional or National Association.

For the golf club in the country that is yet to adopt the WHS, you will be bound by the terms of the local handicap system in operation. The Handicap System will specify the scores that must be returned to your nominated ‘home’ golf club for your handicap record within that country. If in doubt, about which scores must eb returned you should enquire with your golf club or local National Association.

Once this country does adopt the WHS you must, as above, then decide which golf club you wish to be your designated ‘home’ golf club for handicap purposes. All acceptable scores will then have to be returned to that ‘home’ golf club whenever played in an authorized format anywhere around the world.

You will also need to keep all golf clubs of which you are a member fully informed of all updates made to your Handicap Index, ensuring that all required acceptable scores are recorded appropriately within each golf club. This ensures that your Handicap Index will be the same within all golf clubs of which you are a member.

If the WHS is a global handicap system, will I be required to pay annual ‘handicap’ dues in each country in which I hold a golf club membership, or will I just need to pay one set of dues now?

The category of golf club membership that you hold, the services that you receive and the National and Regional Association structure will determine the dues you are required to pay within each jurisdiction. Dues may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and will cover many other benefits other than handicapping. Please enquire with your golf club or your Regional or National Association to clarify what dues are charged and for which services and benefits these are made.