What changes to the World Handicap System mean for the average golfer


The USGA and R&A have announced the first tweaks to the World Handicap System which aims to give golfers a universal rating of their play.

The changes to the system are aimed at encouraging new players as they seek to take into account a big increase in golfers frequently playing nine-hole rounds.

Beginning in January, the WHS will employ an “expected score” algorithm to convert nine-hole results to 18-hole score differentials. A model scoring algorithm for each handicap index for men and women has been built using data acquired from the 100 million scores reported yearly throughout the world under the WHS.

The relevant model will be applied to your index and provide an anticipated score on any remaining holes for handicap reasons, replacing the application of a net par score for any missing holes. The new formula is designed to account for a standard golf course. Therefore, the calculations are no longer course-dependent compared to the maths employed under the system introduced in 2020.

While the managing director of Handicap and Course Rating for the USGA, Steve Edmondson insists that the previous system was ‘good enough’.

For decades, players in the United States had been posting nine-hole scores but had to wait for an additional nine-hole score to be coupled with in order to construct an 18-hole number for handicap reasons.

Edmondson said this was problematic because the scores could swing both ways with players either getting a score that was far lower than they could ever hope to shoot over 18 holes or was much lower than what they were capable of.

“As you can imagine, I could be combining two low scores; a score that was really good for a day with a bad score, so you’re not getting a true reflection of how I played on that day; or two bad scores,” Edmondson said as per Golf Digest.

“When you combined two low scores you might have an 18-hole differential that you’re really not capable of shooting if you were to play 18 holes.”

Edmonson says that advancements in technology should allow them to get much closer to the ideal system.

“We want to be able to understand somebody’s true demonstrated ability, so you want to remove some of those outliers, and we feel like that has done so,” he added.

The watchword for Edmonson is ‘responsive’ which is what they have set out to make the new WHS.

Nine-hole rounds will now be folded into handicaps in much more timely fashion.

“It will be responsive,” Edmondson said. “The next day that score will be reflected, as it should, and it will be based off the play of the day rather than the play off two days. That goes back to the consistency and more comparable.”

The golfing powers have also seen fit to reduce the minimum yardage for a course to be included in the Course Rating System.

This shift reflects the increased popularity of short courses as a location for new golfers to be introduced to and learn the game. The yardage concessions will provide these new players more opportunities to play rounds that may be documented for handicap reasons.

“Just over 700 par 3 courses in the United States alone are not part of the WHS today,” Edmondson said. “So somebody new coming into the game might not understand why they can’t get a handicap index based on that course, etc. This now brings them into the fold.”

Any unprocessed nine-hole scores will be recalculated under the new WHS in mid-January, and any short-course scores reported in the new year are expected to pop up at the same time.