Early days of the World Handicap System show an advantage to those with more shots in the bank. But, asks Steve Carroll, is this an anomaly or a flaw?

As I admired the shot, a high 5-iron that floated to about 15 feet from the pin, my playing partner – who knows my game well – turned to me and said: “There’s no way you should be off 13.”

He was right, of course. When I saw how my CONGU mark transitioned into my new World Handicap System index, and subsequent course handicap, at the back end of last year, I was telling anyone who’d listen how I was going to go on a tear when lockdown eased.

So it has proved. Buoyed by the confidence of a couple of extra shots in the armoury, I’ve lopped three off my course handicap in just under a month. My WHS index, which originally stood at 10.9, is now 8.3 and there could still be more to come.

The new system has been good for my game and very good for my members’ card. I scooped another £20 at the weekend.

If that’s what it has done for me, a plodding mid-handicapper with a propensity for a snap hook, then someone with a few more shots in the bank must be doing a dance come competition time.

At my home club, five of the seven medals or Stableford competitions held this season have been won by a golfer who had a Playing Handicap of at least 22.

I should state, in case anyone’s wondering what I’m up to here, that there’s no impropriety on anyone’s part. Players, no matter what their handicap, are entitled to have a great day on the course. You don’t have to be off scratch to post an exceptional score.

And anyone who studied my handicap record would tell you that it probably deserved to be 13. I don’t think I hit my CONGU mark for two years.

But we know, in general terms, higher handicappers were likely to receive more shots after the transition to the new ways and I wonder if the mental boost from that is what’s driving some of the scoring miracles I have been seeing across social media.

A player with a World Handicap System index of around 23 is getting 28 shots, reduced to 27 with the Playing Handicap, in a competition off the the white tees at my club (rating 73.6, slope 136). I don’t care what kind of golfer you are, being given a bunch of extra shots – or perhaps a couple more if you take the old system into account – is going to give you some confidence and something to play with. It certainly did for me.

What I am interested in is whether this phenomenon is merely anecdotal – a few extreme cases that we would naturally gravitate to – or whether it’s a trend across the UK. I’d be very interested to hear from you all.

A couple of caveats here. Until everyone has 20 scores in their handicap record, the system won’t even itself out. It’s designed to average the best eight scoring differentials from that number. For players that have fewer than 20, there’s going to be volatility – in both directions. That’s going to have an impact when scores are returned.

A new system that’s replacing something which stood for 100 years is also going to take some time bedding in, especially for those of us south of the border who have only really been battling with it for a month.

So is the World Handicap System giving higher handicappers a helping hand, is it just a phase that will settle down as scores inevitably get put in over the coming months, or are we all taking a couple of great numbers just a bit too literally?

What do you think? Statistical anomaly, or inherent flaw? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

Subscribe to NCG

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

PGA Catalunya Stadium PGA Catalunya Stadium

The NCG Top 100s Tour is heading to Europe for a multi-day event at PGA Catalunya. Prices start at £799 per golfer.


Subscribe to NCG