As much as people moan about WHS, there are plenty of ways to protect the integrity of the handicap system. Your club just need to use them

Does anything rouse higher passions in golf than handicaps? A winner posts a fantastic score and they’re the talk of the clubhouse – and not because they’ve lifted a trophy.

Handicapping is an imperfect system. It tries to evaluate our ability, but humans are not machines. Sometimes we can surprise even ourselves.

And yet one of the constant complaints to have come out of the introduction of the World Handicap System, back in November 2020, is it’s a ‘cheat’s charter’ – that it gives those who might be tempted to go a bit rogue greater opportunity to do so.

What that line of fire conveniently forgets, though, is there are ways both WHS and your own clubs can take practical action to protect events, both from those players who are improving a bit quicker than the system can catch up with and from those determined to win whatever the cost.

If your club is doing some of the following, great! If they are taking other steps to ensure the integrity of the World Handicap System, get in touch and we’ll reveal the best…

Bring in maximum handicaps for big events

Don’t want a 45-handicapper walking off with one of your main board competitions? Fine, don’t let them enter. There should be Terms of Competition for every single event your club holds and there is nothing to stop your committee setting restrictions or limits on handicaps.

Without trying to sound like a grumpy old man, when I first started playing golf seriously I couldn’t enter local Union events until I reached an 18 handicap. It gave me something to work and aspire towards and, ultimately, made me a better player.

But no-one’s talking about preventing participation here, either. If your club is holding a big competition which has eligibility criteria, it should also hold a separate event on the same day – such as a Stableford – to allow anyone to play and post a competitive score. Your club shouldn’t really care how many competitions are being played on any one day – only whether the tee sheet is full or not.

Require a minimum number of scores

Players protecting their handicap – because they either don’t want to go down or, indeed, up – is one of the real menaces of an effective handicap system but it is relatively straightforward to police if your club is prepared to do it.

Under the old CONGU system, you had to play at least three competition rounds to keep your handicap active. If you didn’t, it lapsed and you’d have to put 54 holes’ of scores in to get back that little ‘c’ that appeared after your number. Only once you’d done that could you again enter competitions.

It appeared to be pretty effective. As someone who went through it a while back, there was nothing more annoying than having to chuck in another three rounds just because you’d failed to reach that magic number. It got people playing.

While inactive handicaps have gone, and you’ll always have a World Handicap System index however often you play, your club can still set up competition eligibility so that you must have submitted a certain number of acceptable scores within a certain timeframe to be able to sign up.

At my own club, it’s usually three in 12 months but you can make that figure whatever you want and you can also change it depending on the competition.

This can prove particularly effective in team events – where you might see a partnership that don’t play much in individual events but are absolutely dynamite in a format where their handicaps aren’t on the line – and in Open competitions, where there is then a trail of information for any organisers who find themselves needing to don a Deerstalker when faced with an improbable winner.

Treat your roll-ups as a competition

This is a tricky one as the idea of people regularly putting in a score when they play is viewed as almost offensive to the culture of British golf.

But what is a roll-up? Do a group of players come together, pay an entry fee, play a round that is scored, with a marker, according to the Rules of Golf, and then get paid out in prizes afterwards?

If they do, that’s not just a roll-up. It’s a competition. England Golf have tried to say this for years. They first urged clubs to keep an eye on out of season swindles and get-togethers and said handicap committees should look at those who were cleaning up and consider reducing their marks accordingly.

Since then, they’ve continued to stress that these sorts of events should be submitted as acceptable scores and counted towards a player’s World Handicap System index.

It’s up to clubs whether they do that or not but if your big events are then being scooped by players who are battle hardened by turning out in roll-ups that are competitions in all but name, you can’t really complain about it, can you?

Ensure your handicap committees have got their eyes on the ball

Let’s not undersell the role they play in ensuring WHS works as it should. The system automates a lot of it now and takes some of the administrative burden away (the yearly report software providers produce for the annual review is quite something to see if you enjoy numbers), but that doesn’t mean a committee can just put their feet up.

They are still the first – and best – line of defence against potential skulduggery. They know the players, or will know someone who does, and should be constantly monitoring handicaps and scores to see who might be moving in an unusual way.

That doesn’t have to end in conflict, either. People play well and badly for all kinds of reasons. Maybe someone has had a lesson and found ‘the secret’. Maybe another player is injured but doesn’t want to miss out. These are the kinds of little details that only a handicap committee can uncover – and it is why a good one is so vital to ensuring the integrity of the system.

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

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

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