world handicap system

World Handicap System: We’re three months in – so what’s working, and what isn’t?

It's three months after golf returned from Covid lockdown in England and the system is in full swing. But is it any clearer? Steve Carroll runs through the pros and cons

I’ve started playing a little game of guess the reduction. I put my score into the World Handicap System and try and predict what’s going to happen to my index.

I’m getting pretty good at it. I knew, for example, that the 83 I submitted in last week’s midweek competition meant my mark of 7.7 was going to reduce.

Sounds odd at first – my gross adjusted score was 11-over-par – but once you start to see what falls off the bottom of your record and how your new score relates to your other counting numbers you do get a sense of how it’s going to move.

Granted, it’s not as simple as the old .1 increase and category reductions but I’ve enjoyed trying to work out the puzzle. And yet, for some, that’s what WHS remains.

Today marks three months since we returned to golf in England after the third coronavirus lockdown.

Given the false start of last November, and the three-month shutdown at the start of the year, it was essentially the real introduction of the World Handicap System for golfers in the country.

In an ideal world, we’d all have had several months to get used to course and slope ratings and playing conditions calculations but the pandemic put paid to that and so we’ve been doing it on the hop and during a busy competition calendar.

I’ve spent the last three months putting in plenty of scores, so here are some of my early observations about what is working and what might be improved…

General play scores and the My England Golf app

World Handicap System

I like the flexibility this offers and particularly how general play scores work with the My England Golf app. I was never one for supplementary scores but the ability to now do it all through my phone – particularly recording the intention to put in a score – has made it far more likely I’ll submit one (I’ve done it four times so far since WHS was introduced).

I know there have been issues for some around GEO location within the app and this element could definitely be improved – a friend of mine sorted this by fiddling with location services on his iPhone – but it has become my go to resource for looking at and using my handicap.

I like the functionality, I like the way it shows which scores count and which don’t, and I like the way it allows me to link with my friends across the country and see how they are getting on with their scores.

Score entry is incredibly easy and once you’ve got to grips with attesting you’re off and running. For me, it’s a big plus.

The overnight handicap change

Remember this scene? You’d had a nice round the previous day but the roll-up was going off before the competition results were published so you were left having to guess how your performance was going to affect your handicap.

It was worse if you were on the cusp, and the movement of CSS could mean the difference between losing a shot or gaining one.

So you used to penalise yourself, only to get round and discover nothing went as you expected. I love that handicaps now update overnight. I wake up in the morning before a game, click on the app, and know exactly where I am.

The end of .1

Whenever my handicap used to get close to the dreaded .4, and I got off to a bad start in a comp, I could be something of a grump on the course. It was even worse when on a bad run of form and there was that small, yet relentless, march up the handicap ladder. I’ve had a couple of shockers this year but my handicap hasn’t moved a tiny digit – because those dire efforts have never been close to being any of my best eight scoring differentials. It’s given me a different mindset on the course and, consequently, I’m enjoying the game more.

Course and slope rating

Anyone else find this topic a little confusing? The charts are straightforward and it’s easy enough to convert your WHS index into a Course Handicap. I’m also aware there’s not a straight line, in terms of difficulty, between course and slope ratings and how many strokes you might get on a given course.

But I’ve been scratching my head about why I’ve sometimes lost a shot on a layout that feels, at least to my eyes, to be considerably harder than my home course.

Now we’re getting to grips with working out our course handicaps, there could be more of a conversation with golfers about how ratings are worked out and how those numbers are achieved.

That said, I’m hugely in favour of the principle that your course handicap can change depending on the course you are playing.


I get more emails about this than any other facet of WHS and I can’t work out some of them either. Software handles most of the questions – I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere near a calculator to work out a recent Texas Scramble I played in.

In match play, the fractions on the back of the scorecard used to be a lifesaver. It is possible I am just stupid – plenty of people tell me so on social media – but if you’ve got a handle on pairs match play feel free to educate me.

The Playing Conditions Calculation

I’ve put 20 rounds in since April 10, played in all manner of conditions, and the PCC has moved once. No one seems to know how it works, and even handicap chiefs have referred to it as a ‘black box calculation’: namely you shove all the scores into the computer and wait to see what it spits out. It’s obviously meant to be more stable than CSS – which had plenty of critics – but for it to do its job effectively golfers need to have confidence in it. We’re not there yet.

How are you getting on with the World Handicap System? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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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