Handicap indexes for most golfers in the British Isles are likely to rise exactly 12 months from now. Starting on Nov. 1, 2020, British and Irish golfers will abandon the system they’ve grown up with and adopt the new World Handicap System to bring them in line with the United States and the rest of the world.
The World Handicap System is being rolled out in 2020 across the globe, bringing the world’s six handicap systems – operated by the U.S. Golf Association, Argentine Golf Association, European Golf Association, Council of National Golf Unions, South African Golf Association and Golf Australia – into a single set of rules. The changes have been made with collaboration from the USGA and the R&A, as well as the other handicap authorities and national associations.
There is no single hard date for implementation as various governing bodies try to align education models and technology with the new system. For example, while players in the British Isles must wait until November, U.S. golfers will begin play under the new system the first week of January, 2020.
The intent is for a consistent model that allows global players to compare their handicap indexes without worries about various stroke-allocation methods. Each country’s governing body is allowed to make slight modifications to suit the game in that country, but it will be the first attempt to make handicapping consistent around the world.
With the World Handicap System, British and Irish golfers will receive a new handicap index. Their old handicaps disappear Oct. 31, and they’re handed a new one the next morning. Most probably will see an slight increase, according to Claire Bates, the R&A’s director of handicaps.
“On balance, our research and analysis says if you’re a higher handicap golfer you’re likely to go up one or two strokes,” Bates said. “If you’re a single-figure golfer, the chances are you might stay the same or might go down a little bit.”
Since the majority of golfers in the British Isles are not single-figure players, that more than likely means an increase across the board.
Under the current system, British and Irish handicaps are based on three scores, which must be witnessed by another player. The player’s score is adjusted after each score is returned in competitive play. Three cards per year must be handed in to keep handicaps active, otherwise a player’s handicap lapses and he or she cannot play in competitions or club matches.
British and Irish players are divided into five categories: category 1, handicaps of 5.4 or less; category 2, 5.5 – 12.4; category 3, 12.5 – 20.4; category 4, 20.5 – 28; and category 5, 28.1 – 36 (women only). Handicaps increase by 0.1 per poor round, with decreases of 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4 and 0.5 (women only) per shot better than the players’ handicap depending on a player’s category. Category 1 players can decrease by 0.1 per shot better than their current handicap, down to category 5 players whose handicaps decrease by 0.5 per shot.
In 12 months, there will be no separate handicap categories.
Starting on Nov. 1 next year, the handicaps of golfers in the British Isles will be based on the average score of their best eight scores, as calculated in comparison to course ratings and slope ratings, from their previous 20. Handicaps no longer will lapse.
Another new addition to handicapping: All British courses will have slope ratings for various tees, and handicaps will be adjusted according to the slope rating for the tees from which a golfer chooses to play.
British golfers probably will not have to hand in a card after every round, unlike other parts of the world. Although the R&A has collaborated on the system with the USGA, the Council of National Golf Unions (which oversees handicapping in the British Isles) will roll out and oversee the handicaps, just as it currently does. Bates said scores from competitions and cards that are pre-registered for handicap purposes only – similar to the current supplementary card system whereby a player must inform the club before a round that it will count for handicap purposes – will count. Such scores must be played in full accordance with the rules of golf.
That is different than the system in the U.S., where even under the World Handicap System a player should use every score for handicap purposes, even if the score is not played in competition or if the player does not notify the club before the round of the intent to count that score.
“I believe under the (Council of National Golf Unions system), they would require your score to be attested or verified before it is submitted,” Bates explained. “We really wanted to try to elevate handicapping to a similar status to the Rules of Golf. The default position is that for a score to be acceptable for handicap purposes, you need to have played your round of golf in accordance with the rules.”
The benefit of the new system is that golfers in the British Isles – or anywhere else in the world – will have a handicap index that can be applied to any course in any country.
“I would hope given all the education we’ve done, the effort we’ve put into it, the robustness of the library of material we’ve produced for national golf associations, the support we’ve put in place, I would hope we’ve done enough that it can go as smoothly as possible,” Bates said.
Golfers in the British Isles will hope so too, since they’re facing arguably the biggest change to their handicap system since they began playing.
– Jason Lusk contributed to this story