Competitions have arrived and so has a new term on the lips of golfers. Getting the hang of WHS is taking a bit of time, writes Steve Carroll

“Why have I lost a shot?” Oh to be a fly on the wall at golf clubs as that cry rang loud at the weekend.

Many of us picked up our pencils in anger for the first time under the World Handicap System and, if what I saw is any guide, there’s been a bit of head scratching.

We’d finally begun to come to terms with Course Handicaps – no one’s spending five minutes running their thumb like a ruler down the chart anymore – and then the start of the competitive season brought with it a whole new thing: Playing Handicap.

I’m sure some of us had vague recollections of it from the hastily arranged online Zoom session, or emails flying around in lockdown. Even so, it still struck me in a way I hadn’t previously considered.

Parring the 6th at my home club, a 175-yard par 3 over water, is a challenging enough feat. Aside from a brief smirk of satisfaction as the putt dropped in regulation, an odd thought then occurred.

Forever more, I’ll be carrying two numbers in my head.

I’m a scorecard watcher (I know, I know) because it pleases me to always be aware of where I am at any given point of a round.

That was easy under CONGU. I was however many over or under my mark. But the Playing Handicap has changed that.

So on this particular hole, I received a stroke under the Course Handicap only to lose it on the leaderboard when the Playing Handicap was applied.


Even though a Course Handicap determines the number of strokes we get on any golf course, there’s this little thing called equity that gives rise to the Playing Handicap in tournaments.

I’ve read the CONGU explanation about it, and I’ve read what the R&A and USGA have to say too.

The best description I’ve found, though, came on Bracken Ghyll’s website: “When playing in competitions, the R&A has set mandatory handicap allowances dependent on the format of the competition.

“These handicap allowances effectively reduce your Course Handicap to provide equity for players of all levels of ability in each format of play.”

In individual strokeplay it’s 95 per cent – so you’re basically losing a shot once you get past a 10 handicap – and it all sounds eminently fair. Here’s the kicker. The Playing Handicap only applies to the competition. What goes forward for a golfer’s WHS record – what affects their index – is taken from whatever they scored with their Course Handicap.

Golfers don’t need to calculate their Playing Handicap, England Golf say. But I can’t help it!

Maybe I’m neurotic, but for the last 12 holes of my round I found myself computing two scores – one for the competition and another for my handicap.

I’m sure plenty of you will think I’m whining on about nothing. But here’s a cautionary tale. You pick up in a Stableford comp because you thought you couldn’t score. But wait, you still had a putt for a point with your Course Handicap. Argh!

I’ll get used to it in time. We’re all getting to grips with something that’s new and that winter we all thought we had to accustom ourselves to it was wiped away with lockdown.

And despite this little mental blot of mine, I like the new ways and particularly the chance to put in a score that counts at anywhere I might play this year.

Hopefully, much like the revised Rules of Golf back in 2019, it will soon become second nature. How long it takes to get there will be the key.

Until then, I’ll try and avoid juggling numbers like Rachel Riley while I’m lining up a putt for par.

How are you getting to grips with WHS? Are you bewildered, buzzing or betwixt and between? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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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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