The new World Handicap System

What it is, what it does, what’s great about it and what not – probably.

To many golfers around the globe it came as a shock when it was announced that the respective golf regulative body in their part of the world decided to hop on the band wagon to change the way how to calculate the handicap of every individual golfer.

Some were so accustomed with their way to calculate things for years, others still didn’t understand the Stableford system thoroughly and thought: “even another complexity now?”.

Well, my feelings were two-fold, too. I belong to those having understood the Stableford system inside out and truth be told really appreciate it. And even when things get a bit technical and mathematical in terms of handicap changes after a comp, it was all very transparent and understandable.

This was announced to be about to change when all global rule setting constituents sat together and decided the world would be a better place if all handicaps around the world were calculated in exactly the same way in order to make everybody really comparable to the other, taking into consideration that the world gets smaller and smaller in times of globalization and that it’s more likely than ever that players take part in tournaments not only in their own country of residence.

All were sitting around the table and came up with a system that (for some reason I won’t comment here) does look a lot like the system already in play in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that the handicap system is equalled out throughout the globe, I really do. I even like some new features of the new World Handicap System (WHS), or World Handicap Index (WHI) as they call it. There are some turn-downs too, but more to that later.

The roll-out was planned for 2020 but some countries decided to take some time to digest properly, prepare accordingly and only start in 2021. As the roll-out came closer, more and more actually decided to postpone to 2021. Germany as well, which is why I personally have no direct experience so far and would love to understand from my readers, how this turned out for them, especially how their handicap changed from one day to the other.

This, I guess, will be the biggest challenge for most people, that the systems are somewhat different and even when the system might be superior to their current system, there might be a jump involved (in whatever direction) that hasn’t been anticipated.

Having that in mind, I was trying the other day to transform my current handicap into the new one – and failed. It seems I still miss a point or two to understand how the transition is taking place.

But the basics first:

The new handicap will be calculated as the average of the best 8 rounds of the last 20 official rounds played. Period.

Sounds easy. And it does sound fair as well. 20 tournaments is quite a lot for most people. Only a minority of golfers will play more each year, so it’s even incorporated to look for a multi-annual handicap calculation. Then “the best 8” is fair as well, if you’d ask me. That leaves out 12 rubbish rounds out of the equation, which is good news for most, I reckon.

Biggest change for us European golfers, the whole system changes from an incremental system to an average system. So you’re not climbing the ladder anymore, you’re putting all scores together and pick the good ones, put those back together and average out. From Stableford, we’re getting to a so-called „score differential system“.

Factors such as course rating, slope value and that sort will still play a role in the system, which is good too, but of course complicate things.

After all these unsexy facts, an example I found online and liked:

Take as example a par-72 course with a course rating of 71.5, a slope of 125 and a personal round result of 96 (i.e. +24 on that day). This is the the formula to calculate the difference score:

(Round result – course rating) * 113 / slope rating = difference score

Leading to:
(96 – 71.5) * 113 / 125 = 22,148
With some rounding this ends at 22.2 which is automatically the latest difference score of all 20 most recent that are taken into consideration of the then following averaging.

Imagine these have been the best 8 out the last 20:
22.2 / 24.8 / 23.7 / 20.5 / 21.3 / 30.1 / 24.3 / 22.4.

Averaging these gets us to a new handicap index of 23.6 as 189.3 / 8 = 23.6625.

So far so good, while this is easy to grasp, it’s definitely tricky to transform an “old” handicap into the new one. I didn’t make the effort if I’m honest and would suggest nobody else do it, too. It’s a lot of calculating unless somebody is putting up an Excel spreadsheet in the internet anytime soon.

Meaning, this leaves me with some guess work really. My current handicap is 12.0 and the average net Stableford value of the best 8 out of 20 tournaments that I played recently is 36 points. And while this is pretty on point with the handicap, I still have no idea how my handicap will change coming New Year’s as this net Stableford point system is somewhat outdated then.

But then, what when you picked up a ball and get home without a stroke play number and just a Stableford one? There’s a new net double bogey calculation, but that’s a whole other story…

I guess unless somebody tells me how this will ultimately change my handicap, this is going to be a surprise—good or bad—we’ll see. Keeping fingers crossed. I have a feeling, this article is the start of a series of articles on the WHS and its factors and consequences.

If you want to learn more about the new World Handicap System, please check the dedicated website whs.com.

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