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I’ve been putting every score in for WHS – here’s what I’ve learned

For nearly four months, every time our club golf editor has taken to the course he has submitted his card for the World Handicap System. What have been his big takeaways?

 

I’ve been sweating over three-footers, cursing my errant shots, and celebrating when I finally hit paydirt. For the better part of four months, I have played ‘every shot counts’ on the course.

Back in the middle of May, I pledged on our From the Clubhouse podcast that until the end of the club season I would put in a card each time I played for World Handicap System purposes.

Whether it’s been a competition, or a knock with pals, I’ve submitted each score – either into the club computer or through various apps.

Having previously put in only seven general play scores in the first two and a half years of the World Handicap System, this was quite a departure for me. I was interested to see if it had any effect on my game or how I approached my golf.

I’m now 15 rounds in and have still got the best part of two months to go before this experiment wraps up at the end of October.

But here are some thoughts on how it’s gone so far…

world handicap system

What’s happened to my World Handicap System index?

I started at 10.9 and I’m currently… 10.9. I’ve had very good scores, OK scores, bad scores and one or two that have almost made me weep.

Over the last couple of years in general, I’ve played some terrible golf. During that spell, which encompassed 32 rounds, my WHS index rose from 7.6 to 12.2.

It didn’t even go up the five shots required to hit the hard cap. A soft cap limited the worst of it and the odd ‘creditable’ score, when I got close to my course handicap, lowered my average.

What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t just stick in 20 bad rounds and go up the maximum. And if I had, it would have been so easy to spot. People just don’t play in a straight line like that.

Then, in the middle of August, I shot 78 on consecutive weekends. My home course York is a Par 70. The course differentials were 6.5 and, in old money, I think it worked out the equivalent of five under and four under handicap.

Taking the other rounds in my best eight into account, my index subsequently fell 0.8 and 0.7. A total of 1.5.

Should it have been more? A very rough calculation, comparing with the former CONGU system and not considering any CSS adjustment, would probably have seen me docked 1.8 under the old ways.

It’s not an earth-shattering difference. My overall feeling is WHS is a bit more adaptable. You move a bit faster when you’re playing badly, but one very good round doesn’t necessarily take an axe to your mark.

There are some who will argue that any round significantly under handicap deserves a greater chop – that it should be harder to put in a repeat performance if you’ve been in the money.

That’s an old school view and, for those who really take the scoring apart, the exceptional score adjustment still applies. I suppose the fact I’m back where I started, as I approach 20 new cards submitted, shows the system is doing what it’s supposed to?

world handicap system

Could regular away scores have a greater impact over time?

Seven of my 15 rounds have been submitted away from my home club. My average differential for those rounds was 17.34. At York, admittedly assisted by those two very good scores, the average differential for the remaining eight rounds was 12.5.

I probably need more data to even out the numbers but, even so, a near average five-shot differential between home and away scores is quite the margin.

I should also add that my biggest differential of the lot, 20.7, came on my home track.

It isn’t really a surprise I played ‘worse’ away from home comforts. The courses are unfamiliar. I didn’t know the lines on blind shots. I didn’t know the slopes on the greens. I didn’t know that there was a big gorse bush just over the rise as I powered a tee shot straight at it.

One of the things I really like about WHS is the ability to test your handicap at courses away from your own. It was a great thrill this year to do that at Ballyliffin and Portsalon.

Good golfers, though, have the skill of being able to transfer their form wherever they play. I have not learned that.

You could also say, you score what you score. But if I continue to play lots of golf at other courses, and put in acceptable scores, could I inflate my handicap over time when I return to my home course?

Certainly, the cumulative effect of some high scores, and some better ones dropping out of my record, allowed to me to return to York toting a course handicap of 14 and thinking I had shots to burn.

Yes, I still had to play well but I had confidence that I had a bit in hand at the weights. Familiarity did not breed contempt.

world handicap system

Numbers alone can’t tell the story

If you just used my WHS record as a guide, you might suspect I’ve been playing the system.

Let’s consider the evidence. Lots of general play scores. Lots of bad general play scores. Lots of scores submitted away from my home club.

Those back-to-back low scores at York – the lowest I’ve managed in competition off the back tees for five years – helped me win the second day of my club’s annual handicap competition and place highly in a trophy event. £55 for two week’s work. Not bad, eh?

I was self conscious enough about it that I even mentioned it to my club’s general manager – as if I had to reassure people I wasn’t taking them for a handicap ride.

There is still a lot of mistrust with WHS. Among many, there is a belief general play scores can be manipulated to raise handicaps and sandbag club competitions.

Hopefully, I’ve outlined earlier that this is harder to do than you might think. But what my record also shows is that you must look beyond the mere numbers.

I haven’t played lots of competitions because I’ve been busy. I have a young child, morning commitments, and a football season ticket. I work full-time and miss midweek events. My club doesn’t hold an abundance of Sunday comps.

I’ve not avoided club events. I just haven’t had the opportunity to play in as many as I would have liked. I think this is why handicap committees, looking into players who they feel might be manipulating their marks, need to be careful using the raw data alone to come to any conclusions.

The reports that handicap software can produce are obviously very helpful. But there’s a need to go beyond. To talk to players, to find out what’s going on with their game, and discover why they might be posting the numbers they are.

Bishop Auckland golf

I just don’t like scoring every time I play

There are plenty of people who enjoy putting in all their rounds for handicap purposes. They love the feeling of every shot counting.

I now know beyond any doubt I am not one of them. It speaks to the way I want to take my golf, but I just prefer competition golf and ‘friendly’ golf to be two different things. I love competition golf, but just not all the time.

Handicap chiefs will say, ‘just play your golf and don’t worry about the score’. But the fact is I do.

I’m so competitive I want to destroy my handicap every time I play. I get frustrated when that doesn’t go to plan.

I’ve learned to accept that feeling in medals and Stablefords. I have not learned to accept it when it’s every time I play.

It’s a weird sensation putting in general play scores. It counts but it doesn’t feel like an event. That three-footer is important but a prize isn’t on the line. A trophy will not be forthcoming. I’m struggling to get the same buzz.

And because I’ve largely – except for eight golden days – had a season of struggle, I’ve also been absolutely miserable at times as I’ve hacked it round the course.

When it’s just a knock about, I forget about the numbers. When the card counts, I can’t help but think about how I’ve screwed up again.

That’s down to me, and I’m sure many of you will experience this in a very different way. I’m not preaching to you. But when time runs out on this ‘season’, I’ll happily be playing again with nothing on the line.

How is the WHS handicap system working for you? What has your experience been of submitting scores for the World Handicap System? Let me know on X, formerly known as twitter.

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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