World Handicap System

March 9, 2020

On January 1, 2020 the way in which Amateur golfers calculate their handicaps throughout the world changed into one unified World Handicap System (WHS).

The purpose of moving to the WHS is to enable as many golfers as possible the opportunity to:

i) Obtain and maintain a handicap index.

ii) Use their handicap index on any course in the world.

iii) Compete, or play recreationally, with anyone else on a fair basis.

For the most part, this move to the WHS is not going to change how you keep record of your handicap however I thought I'd highlight some of the more interesting modifications that will change how your handicap is calculated.

It is not uncommon for casual golfers to shy away from keeping record of their scores often because they don't think they are good enough to have a handicap or because they think they don't play often enough.  The WHS aims to break down these barriers and the following information is aimed to encourage all golfers, regardless of ability or frequency of play, to maintain a handicap index.

  • Golfers now only need 54 holes in any combination of 9 or 18 -hole rounds to obtain a handicap index
  • The maximum allowable index is now 54.0, up from the previous limits of 36.4 for Males and 40.4 for Females.  Competition committees still have the ability to set handicap index limits for their events
  • The maximum allowable hole score for handicap record is now NET double bogie.  For pace of play consideration the WHS encourages golfers to pick up their ball once the NET double bogie score has been reached.

Golfers who have been keeping record of their scores previously may find the following points regarding how their Handicap Index is calculated of interest.

  • Your handicap index is now calculated using a straight average of the last 8 out of 20 scores entered.  Previously it was the last 10 out of 20 and there was a .96 performance multiplier factored in to come up with your handicap index.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the old way of calculating a players Course Handicap was not in relation to PAR.  It was in fact in relation to the Course Rating for the tee's that were being played that day.  Ever notice that your Scoring Differential was often a couple strokes higher than your score was in relation to par?  Under the WHS a players course handicap will now be in relation to the par from the tee's that are being used for play that day which means that a lot of you have likely seen that your index has dropped.  It also means that a players handicap will fluctuate more significantly based on the tee's they are playing that day.  Click HERE for an example of a player with a 15.0 index and how their Course Handicap would have looked when calculated the old way versus the new WHS format.
  • The minimum number of holes that need to be played for an official score is 14 for 18-hole rounds and 7 for 9-hole rounds.  If you game gets cut short for any reason and you have started play on your 7th or 14th hole, the remaining holes will be given scores equal to NET par based on your handicap.
  • Match Play rounds can now be used in calculation of your handicap index.  There is a field in Golf Canada's score posting page that allows you to indicate that the score being entered is a match play score and on holes either won or lost before completion of play, a 'most likely score' will be used to calculate your total score.  The chart that can be found by clicking HERE, shows you haw the WHS would like to to come up with your most likely score.
  • The WHS recommends that golfers begin entering their scores hole by hole versus the old standard of total score.  By entering hole by hole the new WHS software will automatically recalculate scores where a reduction needs to be made for the NET double bogie maximum.  We as a golf course will have a much easier time deciding on hole handicapping with all of the data that will be entered and you as a golfer will have a better ability to track your stats such as greens in regulation, putts per round, sand saves etc.
  • Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC) - is not a weather measurement.  The PCC looks at expected score vs. actual score from any set of tees on any given day.  The PCC will be conservative in nature and will adjust all golfers scores for that day between -1 and +3.  PCC calculation will only be applied if 8 acceptable scores are entered that day making it extra important that scores be entered on the day of play moving forward.  Application of the PCC is not something that you will likely see a lot of however scores that are automatically adjusted will be indicated as such in your scoring record.

Now I'll highlight how the new WHS is going to combat limit the extreme upward movement of a golfers handicap index during a temporary loss of form period or through manipulation of their scoring record.  AKA Sandbagging

  • Low Handicap Index (LHI)-  once a golfer has 20 scores entered the WHS will keep record of their Low Handicap Index which, unless it is improved upon, will remain as their LHI for up to 365 days.  A golfers LHI will always be displayed in their scoring record and will be used as a reference point for limiting upward handicap movement through introduction of the following Soft Cap and Hard Cap.  Moving forward, a golfers handicap index will not be allowed to increase any more than 5 strokes above their LHI in a rolling 12-month period.
    • Soft Cap - will suppress upward movement by 50% once a 3.0 increase over the LHI has been reached.  HERE is an example of how implementation of a Soft Cap would affect a players handicap index once it surpasses the 3.0 strokes above their LHI.  A golfer can play his way out of having a Soft Cap applied by either entering enough scores to bring their unadjusted index below 3.0 strokes above their LHI or by having their LHI increase after 265 or more days.
    • Hard Cap - will restrict the upward rise of a players handicap index to 5.0 above their LHI.  HERE is an example of how implementation of a Hard Cap would affect a players handicap index once the application of a Soft Cap no longer keeps their index below 5.0 strokes above their LHI.
  • Exceptional Score Reduction (ESR) - is a procedure for dealing with exceptional scores that may indicate a players true ability.  If after a score is entered and their handicap index is recalculated including and PCC adjustment, that Score Differential is between 7.0 and 9.9 strokes better than their  Handicap Index, that score plus the preceding 19 scores will automatically be adjusted down by 1.0 strokes.  If that Score Differential betters their Handicap Index by 10.0 strokes or more, this score plus the preceding 19 will be adjusted down by 2.0 strokes.  HERE is an example of application of what application ESR could look like.  Please note, in this example the players current Handicap Index is 11.5 AND that he has posted 2 exceptional score within his last 20 rounds which means 6 of his ESR scores have had 2 strokes taken off.  The only way to eliminate the application of ESR is to play your way out of it by posting Score Differentials that are within 7.0 strokes of you current Handicap Index.


That about covers everything I feel would be relevant to you as a golfer in understanding the newly introduced World Handicap System.

If you are interested in watching a webinar published by the Washington Golf Association regarding WHS implementation feel free to click HERE.  It's a touch over 2 hours in length so grab some pop corn and buckle up!

If you've managed to make it all the way down here to read this, I APPRECIATE YOU!!

Take care,

Craig Wilkinson