In depth, the latest golf handicap rule clarified


A proud old bunch can be golfers. When they nonchalantly slip the words “Yes, George, I’m still in single digits after all these years” into casual chatter, they get the kind of puffed-out chest you’re more likely to get at the height of the mating season from a gorilla.

“People are passionate about their handicap,” says David Kernohan, Scottish Golf’s handicap and course rating officer. In recent weeks, when the new World Handicapping System (WHS) was launched on Nov. 2, setting more tongues wagging than a Maori war dance, the specific passion was aroused in golfing countries.

If you felt it was controversial to transfer 11 boroughs to tier four limits, try to explain to Ronnie at Falkirk Tryst why he suddenly went overnight from 12.5 to 13.1?

A short social media search, the great platform of the, ahem, cautious center, was overflowing with divided views when the WHS went into effect earlier this month. The move was hailed by some club golfers as an easy, straightforward transition; others declared it a total affront to human dignity.

The WHS was designed to combine the six different handicap systems in use for some 15 million golfers worldwide to theoretically create a more precise, equal and versatile measurement tool for casual readers more concerned with global pandemics than golf mathematics.

As it is now known, a golfer’s handicap index is determined from the best eight rounds of the last 20 outcomes, whether in competition or general play. With a limit of 54 holes, new golfers must send cards. 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 nuanced approach would allow the handicap to move more freely and adapt wherever the golfer plays and make changes as needed.

Got this one? Huh? No? Well then. Well. Only practice what is preached by Kernohan. “The most important thing is to just play golf the way you’ve always played golf,”The most important thing is just to play golf the way you always played golf. “The game doesn’t change, so just trust the system. The new index is more representative of a golfer’s ability. The old system was more about potential ability than proven ability. That’s why many may have once played all three or four rounds according to their handicap. That’s the key change, and hopefully they’ll realize that when they start submitting their results.”

As always with such seismic changes -“it’s the biggest in amateur golf for a long, long time” – there will be teething issues and wrinkles that need to be ironed out, and it’s premature to jump to conclusions after just a few weeks in service.

However, Kernohan is inspired by the early numbers. “We’ve run about 24,000 scores through the system and about 2,000 through the general play feature in the first week,” he says. “That (general play) is one of the big advantages. In the past, you had to play competitive golf to get a handicap. One thing we’ve seen, and will continue to see, is members submitting occasional scores and getting a handicap. It’s less about competitions now and more about making handicaps available to everyone on the terms they want to play golf.”

It was a considerable challenge to collect handicap and course data from here, there, and everywhere, about this, that and the other, and about every Tom, Dick, and Harriet. It was obvious that there would be some issues.

“There was so much data in the Central Database of Handicaps (CDH),” Kernohan gasped. You may have more than one CDH number for a golfer. If he or she moved clubs, and if they didn’t take the CDH number with them and set them up with a new CDH number for their new club, then the scores were missing. There were conflicts, but we are working hard to resolve them. We have strongly encouraged clubs to ensure that members have a CDH number and that their records are synchronized.

We do have a lot of work to do to ensure that the framework is understood by golfers, why it was set up and the advantages of it. But they’ll see the advantages once they start using it. The good news I got


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