When the USGA and R&A modernized the Rules of Golf in 2019—the most comprehensive update in decades—the governing bodies challenged the stereotype that they’re resistant to change. They’re set to do that again with the launch of the World Handicap System, which starting in 2020 will consolidate the half dozen handicap calculations previously used around the world into a single, portable Index.
U.S. golfers might be relieved to learn the new WHS closely resembles the former USGA system. The formula to calculate a Handicap Index remains average-based. Steve Edmondson, USGA director of handicap and course rating, says the difference between a player’s WHS Index and USGA Index will be typically within one- or two-tenths of a point. But there are distinctions with the WHS that golfers should understand when the system goes live in the United States and dozens of other countries in January. (Some places, including the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Portugal and Italy, won’t switch until later in the year.) Here are five to remember
1. Fewer scores count toward your Index.
Under the old USGA system, 10 of your past 20 rounds contributed to your Handicap Index. With the WHS, that number falls to eight of your past 20. The reduction, Edmondson says, allows for greater responsiveness to good scores and rewards more consistent play.
2. Your Index updates in your sleep.
Those accustomed to getting a new Index the first and 15th of each month, take note. That rhythm changes under the WHS, with a new Index calculated daily (or at least any day after a golfer posts a new score). This is meant to create a more responsive handicap and keeps players from having to wait up to two weeks for new scores to have an impact. Tournament committees beware: It will be best to establish clear cutoff dates for handicaps.
3. Welcome to the net-double-bogey world.
To safeguard against (cough) sandbagging (cough), the USGA system employed Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) to cap the maximum score on any hole. ESC was calculated on a sliding scale, depending on your course handicap (10-19 could take no more than a 7 on any hole, 20-29 took a max of 8, etc.). The WHS also has a maximum, but it uses net double bogey as the universal standard. This provides consistency in its application and is a nod to handicap systems used in other parts of the world, particularly those that use Stableford scoring, where net double bogey is the equivalent of zero points.
4. Your Index will weather the storm.
Modern technology can tell you within a yard of how far you are from the flag on any hole. Why can’t it make your Handicap Index more intuitive? It will thanks to the addition of a “playing conditions calculation” (PCC) that adjusts how your score impacts your Index depending on the average of all scores posted at that course that day. Say 20 mile-per-hour winds cause you to shoot in the high 80s when you normally post 78s and 79s. The WHS algorithm accounts for this to keep the score from negatively affecting your Index, particularly if all scores that day were high.
5. How many shots you’re getting will change.
Although the formula that computes your Handicap Index isn’t fundamentally changing, the one that calculates how many shots you’re getting from any set of tees is. Previously, your course handicap represented the number of strokes you got based on your Handicap Index in relation to course rating, a metric that only the most avid golfers knew or understood. Now course handicaps reflect the strokes you get in relation to par, a more intuitive measure for most golfers, Edmondson says. (To do this, the formula adds “course rating minus par” to the equation.)
Tournament chairs will appreciate this. Now they won’t always have to make stroke adjustments when golfers are playing from different tees or when men and women are competing against each other.
Note that course-handicap values from tee to tee will vary more under the new system. Golfers playing forward tees will get fewer strokes than before, and those playing back tees will get more. This might affect matches in which you’re playing from one tee and your opponent is playing from another. It’s possible you’ll receive or have to give more strokes than in the past. But if you’re playing the same tees, the difference in the shots you’re giving/getting from an opponent should be minimal, Edmondson says. That’s because the equation is applied to all.
Isn't It Time You Got An Official Handicap? Here's How To Do It.
If you don’t already have a handicap (and, surprisingly, 85 percent of American golfers don’t), why not get one? With the World Handicap System launching in January, there are more reasons than ever to do it. Think you don’t play enough? You just need to complete 54 holes to qualify. Not good enough? The maximum Handicap Index has been raised to 54, so it works for golfers of all skills. USGA studies show golfers with handicaps make better connections inside the golf community and play more rounds. And isn’t that what we all want? If you don’t already belong to a golf club, contact your local Allied Golf Association about getting a handicap. (Here's a list of all 59 with easy to access links.) Expect to pay about $50 to join your local association, which covers the handicap and other benefits such as competitions, green-fee discounts and more.