World Golf Handicap System


For U.S. golfers, the differences aren’t that dramatic 
For golfers in most of the rest of the world
the new system represents a more dramatic change

This is the flavour of the early reaction to the announcement by the R&A and USGA of the new World Handicap System to come into force in 2020. It is early days yet and we don’t have all the detail – just the principles.


A modern handicap system for all golfers everywhere


Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We are working with our partners and National Associations to make golf more modern, more accessible and more enjoyable as a sport and the new World Handicap System represents a huge opportunity in this regard.

“We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers. Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”


Of most interest to us here at is a handicap system which will indicate with sufficient accuracy the score a golfer is reasonably capable of achieving on any course around the world, playing under normal conditions. For the future, global golf competition will be expected and accepted. One world, one handicapping system. If you’re a 6-handicap in New Jersey or California, you will be a 6-handicap in Scotland or Australia.

Features of the New World Handicap System


  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability
  • A recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with some discretion available for handicapping authorities or National Associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction
  • A consistent handicap that is portable from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA Course and Slope Rating System, already successfully used in more than 80 countries
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation
  • A limit of Net Double Bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only)
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game

What Does it Mean for Us ?

The impact for each golfer depends on where they play their golf. To this point, we had the USGA handicapping systems, with course ratings, slope, the 0.96 multiplier, best 10-of-20 system, etc. We had the CONGU European system, which had the SSS (standard scratch score). Australia was closer to CONGU but has spent the past several years moving towards the USGA type standard.

Golfers in America

The good news for American golfers is that the WHS will look and feel much like the current USGA system. The WHS formula will be average-based, pulling from a golfer’s last 20 rounds (though all you need are three to establish a handicap) to calculate an index based on your best eight scores. (The current USGA system takes 10.) The new formula, which will count both nine- and 18-hole scores, will use a course’s Slope and Rating and will continue to produce an Index based off a players’ potential that’s then translated to a “playing handicap” for each set of tees at each course. What will change is the top end of the scale, with a maximum players’ index being 54.0 for both men and women, up from 36.4 for men under the USGA system and 40.4 for women.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment from the USGA system is that the highest score a player can take for any given hole is net double bogey, regardless of their index. Apparently modeling shows this should have a minor impact on most handicaps but will prevent Indexes from jumping up artificially—you’ve been warned, sandbaggers!—a concern for officials who oversaw the CONGU and EGA systems in switching from incremental formulas to an average-based model.

Golfers in Europe

As for golfers who currently have handicaps in the U.K. and other parts of Europe, the first bullet point represents a huge difference in the current system and the new system. Handicaps in the U.K. and Ireland are much more complicated than they are in the United States, but the bottom line is they are based more on tournament golf rather than casual golf  reporting fewer scores a year. What is crucial when allowing recreational rounds to count for handicaps is how it is administered.

Much of the casual play in Great Britain and Ireland is match play or foursomes, so those rounds typically don’t count. This is one of the reasons that players in Scotland, for example, play rounds closer to three hours while U.S. rounds typically average 4 ½ hours. You have to wonder if this new system might slow down pace of play in the U.K.

The other change for UK golfers will be the introduction of the Slope Rating, measuring the degree of difficulty of each course. How adjustments will be made for weather conditions is not fully explained, but reference to daily handicap revisions could imply that a similar system to the daily SSS used by CONGU could be what the authorities have in mind. It is likely that the UK golfer’s handicapper will move up and down more than at present, will be less stable.

Looking Forward

Over the course (! my exclamation mark) of 2018, the R&A and USGA will be busy preparing all of the various WHS materials and resources needed to launch the new Rules. They will continue to reveal more details of some of the features included in the new system, as well as carry out some additional testing and validation work. Some fine-tuning may be required as a result of this work.

2019 will see the roll out of the WHS materials and the start an extensive programme of education. The system will continue to be tested right up until it is launched in 2020.


And the final statement from R&A and USGA:


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