Five things U.S. golfers should know about new World Handicap System

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Five things U.S. golfers should know about new World Handicap System

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Five things U.S. golfers should know about new World Handicap System

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Golf’s governing bodies in 2020 will roll out a new handicapping system that changes the ways in which golfers can compare themselves against other players, allowing for the first time an apples-to-apples system in which handicaps more easily can travel around the world.

There’s a lot in play as part of this seven-year initiative to develop the new World Handicap System. Thousands of courses around the world have been or are being rated for inclusion, and the math behind the current U.S. Golf Association Handicap System was tweaked to include eight of a player’s past 20 scores, instead of the current system in which 10 of the past 20 are counted. This should benefit the most consistent players whose scores are most tightly bunched.

The USGA, working in conjunction with the R&A and other national bodies around the world, hopes the World Handicap System will promote global standards, increase consistency and possibly result in more people becoming serious about their games.

“With handicapping, we’ve had six different systems used worldwide,” said Steven Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of handicapping and course rating. “We first had to make sure that people had an appetite for this, because they are giving up autonomy and this would become a global set of rules governed by the USGA and the R&A. …

“We wanted to make sure we had support universally out there, and they came back and said, ‘You’ve got our support, this makes a lot of sense for the game.’ The time is right, let’s do this.”

Things for U.S. golfers to know

First, their handicaps likely won’t change by much, but a few decimal points in their handicap index typically are in play. Second, the system takes effect the first week in January in the U.S., with roll-out staggered throughout 2020 in the rest of the world.

A third thing to keep in mind involves potential. The intent behind the World Handicap System, in comparison with the current USGA Handicap System, is to have a player’s handicap index represent demonstrated ability, replacing the intent to allocate strokes based on potential ability. Simply put, instead of trying to identify how well a golfer might play in the future based on potential, the new system takes a harder look at past performance.

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. The participating groups currently operating handicap systems are the USGA, Argentine Golf Association, European Golf Association, Council of National Golf Unions, South African Golf Association and Golf Australia.

And while there’s a lot going on behind some of these calculations, players need only post their scores in GHIN, the computation service that will do all the calculations within the U.S.

The USGA has focused on education as implementation approaches, and these are the five educational points the USGA is stressing:

The handicap index calculation is changing

A player’s number will be based off the best eight scores out of the past 20. For most U.S. golfers, the change will be minor, but players may see that their handicap index is different in January despite having not played.

Players will have a ‘playing handicap’

Slope rating and now course rating and par will be used to determine a “playing handicap,” allowing players to compete from different tees on the same course more easily.

Net double bogey will replace equitable stroke control

The maximum hole score for handicap purposes will be limited to net double bogey (par + 2 + any handicap strokes received). For example, scratch players do, of course, make triple bogeys or worse. But for handicap scoring purposes, double bogey is the max.

Handicap index updates will be more responsive

Players’ handicap indexes will update the day after a score is posted. This replaces the current bi-weekly update method in the U.S. Event operators should take note, because they might have to implement new cutoff deadlines for handicapping instead of trying to update each participant’s handicap the day of an event.

Safeguards have been added to protect handicap indexes

The system will account for abnormal playing conditions, limit extreme upward movement of an index (largely to help prevent sandbagging) and reduce a handicap index when an exceptional score is posted. Handicap committees can make adjustments in rare cases when a player’s handicap index has been shown to be out of whack, such as when that player consistently outscores their index in competition.

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