World Handicap System

world handicapping systemGolfers in Ireland are facing a major change as the World Handicap System is set to be launched next month.  After over two years of planning, the ILGU and GUI are following the other home nations in the adoption of the new system.  While many club golfers think they won’t see a change in their actual handicap until summer rules return in the spring, the changes start in under two weeks time.  The new system will see a golfers handicap change from course to course even during the non-counting winter season.

Firstly the name is changing, the handicap is being replaced by a handicap index.  The second change  is the your handicap index does not automatically change anytime you finish better or worse than your handicap.  The new system calculates a handicap index on an average system.  It takes the best eight scores from your last twenty rounds and that is designed to better reflect your playing ability.  It is estimated that over 80% of golfers will see no major change to their existing handicap.  Category one golfers may see a slight reduction while high handicappers may see a small increase.  For golfers who have 20 qualifying scores in their handicap record, this will be used to generate a new handicap index from November.  For golfers with less than 20 counting rounds a programme will be used to create the handicap index.

The new system also provides for flexibility in the formats of play.  For the first time it allows both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes, with the aim of ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.  Scores will only be counted when a golfer checks in prior to a round, the option to add a non-competitive score after a good round is not possible.

In advance of the introduction of the new system, all courses in Ireland have been rated in line with the system.  All tees now have their own course rating which replaces the SSS that a course would have under the old system.  Additionally, the front and back nines now have ratings allowing for a accurate recording of nine hole rounds.  Barry Lynch and a large team from Munster Golf have been working for two years to review courses in line with the WHS specification.  This takes into account the length of holes, width of fairways, obstructions and hazards and the size of the green.  It also factors in things like doglegs, wind, and forced lay-ups, and finally there’s also an allowance for the mental factor of how tough a course is.

The new system will see the introduction of a course handicap.  This takes account of the difficulty of the course, and for the first time it will provide different handicaps based a golfers skill level.  Under the new system a golfers the course handicap will factor in the relative difficulty for scratch golfers compared with high handicap golfers.  Most high handicap golfers will see a big difference in their scores from the back tees compared with regular tees, and this system gives them an extra allowance for longer and tougher courses.  In Lee Valley for example the white tees are rates at 135 but the longer blue tees are rated at 143.  This slope rating means that your handicap will change from course to course and will also depend on the tees used.

The course handicap is calculated by using the slope rating, a term that golfers may be familiar with from US courses.  This takes into account the course rating, and the relative difficulty compared with a scratch golfer.  Golfers will apply this rating to their handicap index to come up with their course handicap.  If the course rating is higher than 113, then golfers can expect to see a higher course handicap, compared with their handicap index.  While it is a complex calculation, charts will be available at all courses, and handicap and scoring software will be able to provide course handicaps when golfers sign in for competitions.  Golf Ireland will also have an app available in the coming weeks to allow golfers to enter the course and tees to generate a course handicap.  Like the previous CONGU handicap, courses will upload rounds to a central server on a daily basis, ensuring golfers have access to the latest information on rounds played.

A new maximum handicap index limit of 54.0 has been introduced, and applies to male golfers for the first time.  The aim is to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.  Like the existing congu handicap system a limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score for handicapping purposes.  New golfers will still need to submit scores from 54 holes, although this can be comprised of three full rounds, six nine hole rounds or a combination of both.  Early November will see the launch of the new Golf Ireland website, and while the new governing body only comes in force officially from January, the launch of the WHS is big development for the sport in Ireland.