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All you need to know about the 2024 World Handicap System changes

They’re here at last. Six months after being announced, a host of new WHS features are now in force. We get into the details

 

It’s neither D-Day, nor April Fool’s Day, for the World Handicap System. But April 1, 2024, is still a significant date for golfers in Great Britain & Ireland – as a raft of changes to the fledgling system have come into effect.

While WHS has only been in play here since the back end of 2020, the alterations instigated by both the R&A and USGA, and then more locally by the home nations making up CONGU, remain a pretty big deal for golfers.

Whether playing competitions, or submitting general play scores, all will see an impact from the 2024 World Handicap System changes throughout the season.

The first big change is the introduction of Course Rating minus Par, which finally brings GB&I into line with other WHS jurisdictions.

While you can find out the finer detail in the link above, simply put, if the par of the course being played is lower than the Course Rating, players receive additional shots on their Course Handicap. If the par is higher, they lose strokes.

Since WHS was introduced, players have been playing to the Course Rating rather than the Par of the course.

This change reverses that. But one result is that the handicap boards on show at most clubs have needed replacing as the new calculations made the old numbers redundant.

If changing the number of shots you might receive isn’t a big enough change, then allowing fourball betterball scores from competitions to count for handicap is seismic.

world handicap system

Clubs asked for a way of tackling players who cleaned up in team events – while not necessarily playing in as many individual events – and this was how handicap chiefs responded.

It’s subject to some strict criteria. These include one player of the pair scoring on a minimum of 9 holes, the total score of the pair being at least 42 points or six under par, and that player’s upscaled score adding up to at least 36 points.

If that happens, the WHS software calculates a score differential and adds it to the player’s record.

That’s not the only change to fourballs. If you’ve ever stood on the first tee in a match play competition and wondered just how you were going to work out the shot allocations, that’s been made easier.

The way handicaps are applied in 4BBB and foursomes match play has reverted back to the way it was before WHS arrived – and you can get to grips with the finer details here.

Perhaps the biggest other change is ‘expected score’, which alters the way 9-hole scores are upscaled into 18 and deals with any holes not played in a round.

It’s now based on what a player is expected to score, rather than net par. An automated calculation, which is not being shared by the USGA, it aims to “more accurately reflect the playing ability of the individual golfer,” say England Golf.

But that’s not all. The minimum lengths for courses to be rated has been halved – allowing the prospect of many short, Par 3 and academy courses to get on the ladder and give golfers more chances to put in acceptable scores.

And, elsewhere, Course Handicaps will now be unrounded, clubs can standardise the pars of their courses, and they can also hold competitions over a non-standard number of holes.

They are quite the changes. But what impact could they have on your game? Our club golfer had plenty to say

Why do men and women need separate handicaps? Answer: They don’t

The way fourball match play handicaps are worked out is changing

5 things you might not know about Course Rating

Should clubs get the chance to think again about 95 per cent?

Do these stats show golfers are starting to embrace the World Handicap System?

I put every card in for six months – what did I learn?

Ignore the critics, there is plenty to like about WHS

Here’s a very quick way to work out your World Handicap System index

Why your club may need a new handicap board when WHS changes

How many PCC adjustments have there been in England?

Does your club use this ‘banned’ golf hole accessory?

Can team scores count for the World Handicap System?

Should you be allowed to post a handicap score when playing alone?

Got a handicap cheat at your club? Here’s how to stop them

How to submit cross-border scores in GB&I

What does your handicap index really mean?

Can my score still count for handicap if I’ve been disqualified?

The forgotten role of the marker in WHS

How long should your club keep your scorecard?

High handicappers do dominate competition – but is it for the reason you think?

What are your responsibilities under WHS?

world handicap system

Frequently Asked Questions about the World Handicap System

What is the World Handicap System?

Also known colloquially as WHS, the system was developed by the R&A and USGA together with existing handicapping bodies around the world.

Designed to be unified, it aims to provide a “single, consistent measure of playing ability that calculates a golfer’s handicap in the same way regardless of their location in the world”.

It is now used by more than 120 national associations. With the Rules of Golf, Rules of Handicapping and Rules of Amateur Status under a single set of regulations, WHS brought handicapping under the same umbrella.

When did the World Handicap System come into force?

WHS replaced the old CONGU system of handicapping in Great Britain & Ireland in November 2020 but had actually been launched in other parts of the world at the start of the year.

The later start date was designed to give players in GB&I the traditional club off-season to familiarise themselves with the changes.

But, with Covid restrictions having severely impacted golf courses over the winter of that year, most players only really started getting to grips with the new system in the spring of 2021.

What are the benefits of the World Handicap System?

The R&A, on their website, say the benefits of WHS are:

  • Consistency of calculation around the world;
  • Portability of handicaps from course to course and country to country;
  • As the world becomes a smaller place with a much greater frequency of international play, the development of a single handicap system facilitates easier administration of international events;
  • The potential for National Associations to focus attention on other areas. 

How does the World Handicap System work?

Your Handicap Index is worked out from the lowest scoring differentials in your record. A full record is considered to be one that contains at least 20 scores.

The index is then calculated by averaging the best eight of those 20.

Having obtained a Handicap Index, that is converted into a Course Handicap which takes into account the difficulty of the course and the tees from which you are playing.

Working out that number requires considering a number of factors, including Course Rating, Slope Rating and Bogey Rating.

In competitions only, depending on the format, an allowance can then be applied that changes the Course Handicap.

But this Playing Handicap, which aims to provide equity, does not affect the Score Differential produced for your handicap record.

How can I get a Handicap Index?

Join a golf club, or an independent golfer scheme (such as iGolf in England or OpenPlay in Scotland) and submit a minimum of 54 holes.

That can be done using any combination of 9- and 18-hole scores.

Who runs the World Handicap System?

It is governed by both the R&A and USGA. They, with the help of governing bodies across the world, set the rules and regulations.

The administration of the scheme, as well as the responsibility for ensuring it runs as it should, is the responsibility of national associations.

They are issued licences to run WHS, which actually gives them considerable authority at local level.

Is the World Handicap System the same in all countries?

No. National Associations have discretion to alter small parts of the system depending on the golfing culture of their countries.

For example, in the United States, ‘most likely score’ allows players to pick up and add a score to handicap in certain conditions and formats but is not applicable in GB&I.

The aim is for the system to maintain its key principles – such as Course Rating and Slope – but allow for some flexibility in formats.

How often is the World Handicap System updated?

Just like the Rules of Golf, the Rules of Handicapping are reviewed and updated on a four-year cycle. The most recent came into effect at the start of 2024.These 2024 World Handicap System changes were applied in Great Britain & Ireland in April 2024.

Now have your say on the 2024 World Handicap System changes

Have you got used to the World Handicap System? What do you think of these 2024 World Handicap System changes? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

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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