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England Golf’s WHS warning: You can’t stop cheats (but you can help)

The governing body's head of handicapping addresses the biggest concern regarding WHS and what we can do to eliminate the manipulators
 

Just popping the three words into a social media channel is enough to bring up a column of chat that it would probably take you hours to digest.

More than a year after its launch, the World Handicap System continues to be debated and digested by golfers all over the UK.

But sift through that collection and one theme emerges again and again. Integrity, or more precisely, the fear that WHS can be manipulated.

So what’s really going on under the bonnet? Is there truth to the claims or is it all just another internet conspiracy theory?

And what are governing bodies doing to ensure we’re all playing by the same rules and that those determined to be nefarious are caught out?

My guest this week on the From the Clubhouse podcast is Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s head of handicapping and course ratings, as we went into a deep dive about all things WHS security…

What to look out for…

On manipulating the system and why it’s hard to stop those determined to cheat

“You’ve got to have a pretty good maths brain to work out how everything’s going to affect the score. Is it going to be one of your best eight? How’s the PCC going to affect it? Unless you keep a very solid record of your rounds, it’s not that simple,” Gemma says.

She adds: “This is a handicap system that is brand new. People are going to try and pick holes in it. It was exactly the same with the CONGU system. People tried to pick holes in it and we’ve always said you can’t build a handicap system to stop cheats.”

On why we all need to stand up to stop those who try to manipulate the system

“As golfers, we play with a higher level of integrity than maybe some other sports because we’re not governed by a referee every time we go out and play. It is peers checking and challenging each other,” Gemma says.

She adds: “There may be people trying to play the system, and we’re never going to get away from that. But what we actually need to happen is their playing partners, people that they are playing with and within their golf club, need to stand up and say, ‘Hold on a minute, this isn’t right’ and tell the golf club.

“Then we can actually start that disciplinary process and deal with it. If we just have people going out on social media saying, ‘This guy’s cheating, it’s a cheat’s charter’ we can’t actually solve the problem, and we can’t deal with the people that are doing this.

“If you think that somebody is playing the system speak to the golf club that they’re a member of and highlight it to them because then they can start to look into it.”

How to spot the WHS cheats and what clubs can do about it

“The most obvious one is they’ve put four or five general play scores in during a week and then they go out and play on a Saturday and they come in with a ridiculously good score in a competition,” Gemma says.

She adds: “[It’s] using that comparison between how somebody plays in general play versus how they play in a competition. If we’re going to see manipulation, it’s usually going to be for the benefit of something. Somebody is going to try and want to benefit from it. The only real benefit that we’ve got for manipulating handicaps is trying to win something.”

Gemma continues: “Look at the comparison between general play and competition is probably the biggest tip I can say and we have a report on the platform that allows clubs to do that.

“Then, if you start seeing patterns you don’t feel comfortable with, you don’t have to go full pelt into a disciplinary. Speak to the player. Have a quiet word in the bar and ask if there’s a problem.

“Have you had some lessons? Is this why you’ve suddenly started putting in a lot of good scores? Have that conversation as a golf club.”

Gemma adds: “It’s about talking to each other and not jumping in with both feet and really taking the evidence and then looking at it before you actually make a statement that somebody is a cheat.”

The From the Clubhouse podcast with Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s head of handicapping and course rating

Listen to the full episode in the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.

Need more information on the World Handicap System?

Visit our dedicated WHS page where you will find everything you need to know and details of how to contact us if you have any more questions.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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