Club golf: Handicapping expert on betterball changes

Karl Hansell learns about new allowances in fourballs and a raised handicap limit

The body which administers handicaps in the UK, CONGU, has announced changes to the guidelines which govern how they are applied.

Among the changes will be a change in handicap allowances for fourballs, the introduction of a club-only handicap system and the opportunity to earn a handicap by playing just nine holes.

We asked Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s handicap and course ratings manager, what effect these changes will have on the club golfer.

Major points

  • 4BBB handicap allowance to increase from 75% to 90%
  • New ‘club handicap’ introduced for clubs who wish to allocate handicaps  higher than 28 for men or 36 for women for use in club-run events. This handicap will only be valid at a player’s home club and cannot be used in opens
  • 9-hole scores will qualify for handicap assessment by having points added to create an 18-hole score
  • Changes take effect from January 1, 2016

‘They are not massive changes, but they are going to have an impact’ There have been a number of changes implemented by CONGU – how will the changes help club members enjoy their golf?

We are trying to get to the point where we are making it easier for people to play golf. The whole idea is to try and simplify handicapping to get more people to play.

I think the changes that have been made will make a difference in how handicapping is perceived. They are not massive changes, but it will make an impact. Certainly the ability to have a club handicap here above 28 is going to be massive.

Have your say on the handicap changes by clicking HERE and commenting on this week’s Niggle

What sort of work has been taking place behind the scenes to ensure these changes are the right thing to do?

We at England Golf, and all the other home unions, have suggested changes to CONGU over the course of the four-year cycle which the system runs to. They take these suggestions and get their researchers to take an in-depth look at them. For example, when you take the changes to fourball handicap allowances, the researchers have been looking at them for six or seven years, looking at whether three quarters is right or wrong. They’ve been looking at statistical data and asking, is there going to be any benefit or is it a leveling of the field?

They come back with a proposal and if one of the home unions throws a proposal in there, and another says no we don’t want that, we will sit and have a discussion and it’s either in or out.

We haven’t just plucked this out of the air, it has been thought about for some time, and we are constantly evolving. 

A major change is giving clubs the opportunity to offer members handicaps above the current limits of 28 for men and 36 for women. The handicaps will only be used at the player’s club and are not CONGU-approved, so how will this help beginners?

It’s going to get your beginners playing more, hopefully in an environment better suited to their ability. We know there are a lot of people out there on 28 handicap who have never played to it. They join a golf club, they get a CONGU handicap and the club says ‘go and play’. 

We think golf clubs should say: “Look, you are not quite there yet, we are going to give you a higher handicap, go play with this higher handicap group, and when you are ready you can play.”

You won’t get a CONGU handicap, that limit will stay at 28, but the club can have its own handicapping system for beginners, just like the one juniors currently have, and that will help people achieve their targets.

The idea is, if we can get people playing golf more often, that’s the key. You can get someone who’s at the driving range, make the step on to academy course and a club can give them something to aim for. 

If the target is unachievable – for example, you’ve been given handicap 28 but you can never play to it – you are going to get disheartened, you are not going to play and eventually you are going to give up.

In fourball betterball, both matchplay and strokeplay, the handicap allowance is shifting from three quarters to 90 per cent. What was the thinking behind this shift?

The discussions have been going on for seven or eight years over whether it’s better to have three quarters or 90 per cent. 

They have done a lot of research, looking at live scores to work out what’s the best handicap allowance. I think the 4BBB changes will be very well received as the low handicappers understand if they play their best golf, they are going to win more often anyway. 

Isn’t there a fear that this will just reward those who keep their handicaps artificially high?

If everyone plays to their handicap, 90 per cent is probably where it needs to be. The exact wording of the changes is yet to be decided, whether it’s a mandatory requirement to adapt 90 per cent, or whether it’s just advised.

But no matter what you do, you are going to get people who are trying to manipulate the system. We all play the game in the spirit it was intended, and we hope everyone follows the rules of golf in handicapping.

To coincide with the alterations, England Golf will be hosting a series of handicap workshops. Visit

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