The New Golf World Handicap System – All You Need To Know

The World Handicap System (WHS)

The world handicap system was launched in January 2020.

It provides a unified and more inclusive system for the first time in the history of golf. Not all countries will go live with the system immediately but plan to link-up during the year.

Developed by the Royal and Ancient (R & A} and the United States Golf Association(USGA) in coordination with other existing authorities world-wide.

The R & A will assist in the governance of the system.

The objective was to provide a consistent measure of playing ability and achieve a handicap system calculated in the same manner throughout the world.

Another key reason is to ensure that the golfer will obtain and maintain an Index, rather than a handicap.

This index will be globally accepted and also ensure that golfers can compete equally at all times.

Added to this it is inclusive and accessible for all social golfers to play with anyone on a fair and equal basis.

The system is more appealing to aspiring and novice golfers.

Why The Need for Change?

As the game of golf has developed, more and more people take to this wonderful game, be it after retirement from work or other sporting codes.

Business executives use the game for developing relationships, and others just fall prey to the golf bug “bite”.

Golf and lifestyle estates have created many new golf enthusiasts, and offer safe and secure living in addition to new courses.

Social golf societies offer the opportunity for golfers to learn to play, in a friendly and non-competitive environment.

Once these new players develop confidence and become more proficient, the need for self and peer recognition, joining a club with a handicap is the next step.

A major failing of the old system was that the golfer carried his handicap from his home course to any other course he chose to play.

This could be to his advantage or disadvantage.

If he were handicapped at a difficult golf course and chose to play one that was a lot easier, he would probably score well below his normal score.

This could invite criticism or even embarrassment, should the club decide to query his handicap.

The world handicap index system will ensure he competes fairly.

Some Golf Handicap History

1924 witnessed the first handicap committee in Great Britain.

The Standard Scratch Score and handicap scheme became operational in Great Britain and Ireland from 1st March 1926.

This proved that collaboration could be achieved and a unified handicap system could be introduced.

Since 2011 The Royal and Ancient have been committed to bringing this to fruition, and the World Handicap System is the result.

Facts and Definitions Relating to the Change

WHS Easy Definition – Your course handicap ( the number of shots you receive in a round of golf), will be determined with the help of the slope rating for a set of tees from which you play.

What is Slope Rating?

Slope Rating: In simple terms, it’s a single number indicating the difficulty of a golf course to an expert golfer: a Par golfer.

USGA slope rating: slope ratings are calculated as a multiple of the difference between the expected good score for a bogey golfer(handicap range 20 to 24) called the bogey rating, and the expected good score for a scratch golfer (zero handicap) called the USGA course rating.

How is Slope Rating Calculated?

  • USGA slope rating is a numerical value that indicates the relative difficulty of a set of tees on a golf course for a bogey golfer in comparison to a scratch golfer.
  • To calculate the slope rating, the difference between the bogey and the scratch rating is multiplied by 5,381 for men and women by 4,240.
  • Course rating tells the scratch golfer how difficult a course will be; the slope rating tells a bogey golfer how difficult it will be.

What is the Average Slope Rating?

  • The average slope rating is 120. Coastal courses have an average rating of 121 and higher.
  • Slope ratings in the USA can range anywhere from 55 and 155 with an average of 120.
  • The higher the slope number, the harder the course for bogey golfers.

Maximum Handicap

Previously the max handicap for men and women was 36 but has now been raised substantially to 54. The reason is to attract new players and social golfers to increase the popularity of the game. It has and will achieve its objective.

Old vs New Handicap Differences

Old Handicap System

Previously your handicap was adjusted twice a month. (South Africa) On the 1st and the 15th of each month. The downside of the system was that a player could have a Hot Streak, and for 2 weeks, he would benefit and clean-up all the competitions before his handicap was adjusted.

However, other countries had different systems and interpretations, and the new system will achieve uniformity.

The player had to enter his score within 72 hrs to avoid incurring a penalty score, This invariably was a par score. The delayed entry time was a point of much debate as a golfer could play a good round on Thursday and only enter his round after another round on Saturday. ie delayed the potential handicap cut.

A common trait among “pot hunters” (jargon for players who manipulate their handicaps)

New Handicap System

There are 5 main changes that golfers need to know, but before we venture into the detail, there is another point of importance. It is the responsibility of the golfer to ensure that a round is opened before he starts to play.

Most golf clubs will ask you for your affiliation card when you check-in and if not you should offer it to open your round.

1. Scores must be entered within 24 hours of the round played or a penalty score is incurred. Your handicap index is adjusted within a day of the golfer recording a score. ( Can be overnight).

2. Fewer Scores count towards your Index.


Previously the best 10 scores out of 20 rounds were used for your handicap calculation. Now it is the best 8 scores entered out of the last 20 rounds. Should less than 20 rounds be played, the calculation is adjusted according to the number of rounds played. (chart available)

3. Playing Conditions calculation


Clubs now use the average of all scores on the day.

Wind velocity can be a factor.

4. Maximum Score per hole


The maximum score a golfer can record on a single hole is a net double bogey. ie: An 18 handicap can only score a maximum of 3 over par on any hole during the round.

5. Playing from different Tee boxes


All clubs have a chart that will convert your index to your handicap for the course on the day. ie: Golfers playing from the forward tees will receive fewer strokes than before. Those playing from back tees will receive more.

In Summary

The unification of the World Handicap System will equalize and provide a consistent measure of the golfer`s ability. The index will be calculated in the same manner irrespective of where you play your golf.

A first in the history of golf.

The player’s index will be recognized wherever he decides to play in the world. Whilst the unification has been welcomed, it is still the responsibility of every golfer to ensure that he, his friends, and playing partners, adhere to the system.

Unfortunately, there will still be those “sandbaggers” who attempt to manipulate their scores and the system. Our game is about honesty and integrity, so don’t be afraid to expose those that tarnish our image.

Sources & References

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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