Changes in Handicap to the tee

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Unless you’ve been living under a giant boulder for the past few months—and, let’s face it, living under a giant boulder would actually be a pretty good escape from the present tumult—you’ll definitely know that tomorrow would be the Global Handicapping Method.

And what else? Given the general worries about limitations, openings, closures and restrictions in this pandemic-ridden year, golf clubs have a lot to deal with.

Simon Payne, a professional and secretary at Cowglen in Glasgow’s Southside, says, “I have to be honest and say that the new handicap system was pretty far from my own thoughts,” “It was all about getting golf back and keeping people safe. The most important issues were those.

People have been more interested in recent months as to whether the club is still available. For instance, look at Ireland. For six weeks, the courses are closed again. The biggest problem has been only going out to play golf. It was probably more debated by people than the handicap side of things.

“We knew the new handicap system was coming, but we probably put it on the back burner considering everything that was going on. But in the last few weeks, we’ve definitely been sitting up and paying a lot more attention to it.”

For years, the World Handicapping Scheme (WHS) has been debated – the first discussions were conducted in 2011 by top golf officials – and is also operating in other parts of the golf world. The transition to the new calculation method here in the UK and Ireland was postponed until November 2 so that elaborate calculation software could be produced and implemented.

Next Monday, don’t panic when you hear the sound of different pistons, pulleys and crankshafts rippling and clanking amid great steam billows as you hover over a tricky five-footer. It’s just that a fancy, number-crunching gadget spits out your new handicap. Or that sort of anything.

The WHS was developed to unify the six separate handicap systems in use to create a fairer and more flexible method of measurement, in principle, for some 15 million golfers around the world. This is not light reading, of course, but it is a complicated, nuanced subject that can not be worked out easily on the back of a dog-eared Strokesaver.

There is a 46-page online toolkit that describes all of the complicated methods and math involved, but the framework is well-intentioned and hopefully long overdue in a global game for all ages and abilities, considering the formulas and overwhelming details.

The handicap index, as it is now called, is determined for regular golfers from the best eight rounds of the last 20 scores, whether in competition or overall play. Cards totaling 54 holes must be submitted by new golfers. Depending on the tees that you play from and the venue, this then results in a course handicap.

Supported by a new slope rating for course difficulty, this more complex approach would allow the handicap to move more freely and adapt wherever the golfer plays and make changes where appropriate. For example, if he or she plays on a more difficult championship links, a nine-handicapper might get a few more strokes on a relatively straightforward inland course.

“A handicap on one course is very different from another,” Payne says. A course’s playability and complexity differ from place to place, so there will be more equity now.

Gender-neutral tees and getting away from the feeling of men’s and women’s tees and just having tees would be a very positive thing. Our white tees, including the yellow and red ones, are now graded for men and women. People love the pleasure of playing on various tees.

In 1985, at Blairbeth, Payne got his first handicap. “It was always a sense of great pride, and all you did in golf was improve and keep lowering it,” he reflects on this beloved tool that helps players of all abilities to perform fair and competitively in golf.

“As always with a major overhaul, as handicaps are re-evaluated and recalculated, there will undoubtedly be a few teething issues. However, “it will all blow over, as Payne noted reassuringly.

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