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World Handicap System problems will last decades – so get used to it

The issues with WHS, Tom Irwin tells Steve Carroll, are cultural, and it’s time to accept that it won’t be changing any time soon

 

Did we all under-estimate how big a change the World Handicap System was going to be? Coming up to two and a half years since it’s introduction, the way we manage our scores is still proving as controversial as ever.

England Golf’s recent attempts to limit the number of general play scores in some of its over-subscribed competitions has re-ignited the debate but there is deep resentment and concern in some quarters about how it has been implemented and how it is working in the club game.

On the latest From the Clubhouse podcast, Tom Irwin and I examined how the system was introduced in the UK – contrasting areas where what happens here differs in other parts of the world.

I explained a little more about my belief that WHS is only truly effective when, as in America, every score has to count, but Tom is convinced the issue is more of a “cultural” one and could take until a new generation – which have evolved as golfers under the system – comes through.

“We’ve entered into this system, but we’ve only half entered into it. That’s fundamentally the problem, isn’t it?” he said.

“We’re now in this place where we’re completely between two stools and it means people’s handicaps are going off in V-shaped directions – because some people are doing it one way, and other people are doing it the other way.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone has really appreciated how seismic this is and how it’s all ultimately linked to the independent golfer.

“We’ve touched on it with the word ‘cultural’. So it is culturally what you do in the US and has been for some time.

World Handicap System date

“Their app is called the GHIN golf app, and I’ve played with loads of Americans in loads of different circumstances. They get the phone out their pocket, and they put the scores in, and that’s what they do. Often, you’ll get in and they’ll say, ‘I’ve submitted an 80 for my index’, and you’ll think, ‘Well, there’s no way you’ve shot that – you picked up four times!’ But that’s how they do it.

“Obviously, we are culturally in a totally different space where we play golf, and then we turn up on a Sunday to play in the medal in our best trousers, with our shoes polished, and our balls all marked. We’re nervous as soon as we get our pencil out and we grind it out to try and hit the buffer zone.

“Culturally, that’s what we do. Also, most people who play golf with any degree of regularity are members and, in the States, that’s not the case. There is way more pay and play golf played.

“What you’re seeing is going to take two decades before we get to people, and all these new golfers who are signing up to the independent golfer scheme, who are now grown up and have got to our age in a world where you record the score on your phone and then that’s what you do – you put your score in.

“The other thing that’s cultural for us is that we all cling on to low is better. There is the status point that people don’t want to submit a score for handicap unless it’s sunny, dry, there’s no wind, they’ve got the clubs clean, they’ve got their best trousers on, and they’re playing with their friends. The circumstances in which some people want to submit a card have got to be perfect because they want their handicap to be as low as it can be.”

Tom concluded: “If everyone does the same thing, then it doesn’t matter – because everyone’s in the same boat – but the nuanced thing here is that it’s cultural.

“What we seeing is a shift to try and get us recording every score and to try and get us doing that digitally, try to get us to recognise independent golfers, and that people who are playing casually most of the time are just as valid as people playing in the monthly medal.

“That’s the paradigm shift that’s taking place and it’s going to be really, really, painful. You just wonder how much is it going to put people off.”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree these are World Handicap System problems? Let me know with a tweet.

From the Clubhouse podcast on World Handicap System problems

You can listen to the full episode of From the Clubhouse in the player below, or click the button to be taken straight to wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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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