What Can Be Done to Make The World Handicap System EVEN BETTER

The handicap system allows golfers of all skill levels to compete equally.  In the past, depending on the country you live in, each handicap system had its own set of rules varying from country to country.  These variations ultimately defeated the purpose of the system itself.

In 2020 the USGA and the R&A, in conjunction with other national associations, rolled out the World Handicap System.  The “WHS” is designed to set handicaps uniformly, similar to the rules and make the system the same for everyone in the world.  With many of golf’s greatest minds coming together to create the system they have done nothing short of an an impeccable job, but it leaves some asking themselves what else could be done to make the system even better.


Course ratings and slopes are the underlying numbers that interpret how well someone plays on a particular course from a specific set of tees. Factors like fairway width, distance to hazards, green size and more are utilized for an objective system.

The system takes hundreds of variables to create the ratings. But what happens when these numbers get off?   Over the years trees grow, greens shrink, and other things change that could affect the variables.  If these ratings get off, the differentials of golfers playing that course will be affected.

Once courses are rated initially, why don’t these numbers get updated using actual current data?  The WHS system has actual data all in one big database.  Can’t these scores be used to update ratings when outliers are discovered?  Is a course consistently playing easier, or much harder?  Is it harder for the bogey golfer, but much easier for the scratch golfer to where only one of the ratings needs to be adjusted?  Ratings get off at some courses and it should not take years to get them updated.  If anything, it will save money by not sending raters to courses. Let the numbers do the talking.


Golfers have different types of rounds that can be posted.  There are home scores played at their club, away scores played at other courses, and competition scores.  Currently all scores are treated equally.  There should be a weighted scale for each type of score. 

Doesn’t a golfer at their home course have an advantage over a golfer that has never seen the course before?  If both golfers’ skill sets are the same the member arguably has a huge advantage.

Tournament rounds should be treated differently as well.  These rounds are taken more seriously and alter how you play the game.  They may play safer or they may get nervous and play terrible.  Either way the tournament atmosphere is different than the casual Saturday round and can affect scores.  There should be consideration to what type of score posted.


The WHS System is the same for everyone who uses the system in the world.  With this being the case why are all of the scores still housed in different databases around the world?  In GHIN, anyone can look up anyone at the click of a button.  Peer Review is great, but if I am playing with an international player, I can’t do this.  Is the system a global system, or not?    


The former GHIN system showed all data of a round played, including course and actual date (now it is only month/year + course rating/slope). We’d like to see that make a return. This may have been for privacy reasons, but why this data was removed is unknown.

With a transparency mindset there should be a “no fly list” similar to the airlines. If a golfer continually manipulates their handicap they should be on a no-handicap list. Whether that means not issuing a handicap or having notes to let a committee decide how to handle it. Clubs know who these bad actors are but outside events do not.  Conversely, clubs may want to know what outside events the player has and is not posting.

There are policies in place to allow for penalty scores and/or manual adjustments, but they rarely are used. Often times adjustments benefit the member who believes their index to be too low in tandem with club professionals wanting to satisfy the customer. However, we have found that negatively affecting the 1% of bad actors tends to benefit the 99%. It should be noted there is a key difference between malicious intent and not, which is another topic. The database should be able to be used to help not only the players in peer review but the administrators as well.


The WHS system has policies to keep an index from going up too high.  A Handicap Index is designed to measure how a player plays when playing their best. It is not an average. It should not matter why a player’s Handicap Index is wrong it only matters that a correction should be made.  One of these policies is referred to as an exceptional score.

The policy for exceptional scoring is great.  If a golfer beats their current index by seven shots in a round an adjustment is made to that score AND their scoring history. A full shot is taken away from every score in their 20-score history.  If you beat your index by ten shots, they take two shots away rather than just one shot.  We like to call that a retroactive adjustment, something the World Am instituted many years ago.

The reason for this is that your Handicap Index is designed to measure your best golf and you simply can’t (err, shouldn’t) beat your best by 7 or 10 shots.  The adjustments are needed to correct the index which was obviously very wrong prior to the adjustment.

As much as the index being adjusted for exceptional scoring is a great thing, the adjustment should kick in at less than 7 shots.  A single digit handicapper beating their index by 7 shots is quite dramatic and beating it by 10 is almost impossible.  It is easier for a high handicapper or a beginner to do this, but for a single digit handicap to do it that is a huge red flag.  The exceptional scoring adjustments should be easier to get into or on a sliding scale much like the former probability table. If you are beating your index by 10 shots as a single digit handicap your account should be locked until someone at the golf association has a chance to review it. See again: the no-fly list.


As we look at these various parts of the World Handicap System it is important to note that the system is extraordinary.  This is the best system there is and we only want to see the system evolve and get better.  The rules of golf are reviewed and updated every couple of years and the handicap system should be handled the same way.


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