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What golfers ought to know about the World Handicap System

Written by John Gordon

Like many of you, I’ve always been diligent about maintaining an accurate handicap. The reasons are ridiculously obvious: I want to know if my game is improving (or not) and I want to ensure that when I compete in net events, I’m being honest and equitable with my fellow competitors.

I never really thought about the mechanics of the system, perhaps because I was too lazy or disinterested to read through the ponderous Handicap Manual (now called the Rules of Handicapping). I gave full credit to the boffins who came up with the convoluted doorstop but never cared to interview the geniuses behind the curtain.

And then, this year, along came the World Handicap System.

Perhaps because of the restrictions due to COVID-19, golfers had more time on their hands. In any case, I’ve never been asked more handicap-related questions at the course or on social media. So, taking a cue from the manuals that accompany your new car or fridge or TV, here’s my version of a “Quick Start Guide” for the World Handicap System.

Why a new handicap system?

Why not? Golf now has both a globally recognized set of Rules as well as a worldwide handicap system. Even if you never travel outside Canada, you can be assured you are playing the same game as every other golfer around the world. The new system may require some tweaking after it’s been in effect for a while but it’s doubtful there will be another significant revision in the near future.

Highlights of the World Handicap System

How does the new World Handicap System work?

At one of the meetings of the 23-member committee tasked with creating the new system, a USGA delegate compared understanding the intricacies of the handicapping system with air travel.

“I have no idea how an airplane works. I don’t understand jet propulsion, aeronautics and so on, but I trust that when I get on that plane, it will get me safely to the destination I intended.”*

Likewise, the process of coming up with the World Handicap System would make your head spin, so just concern yourself with the final outcome.

But if you’re in quarantine or a masochist or one of those aforementioned boffins, you can review the Rules of Handicapping here.

Has the Course Handicap calculation changed?

Yes. To your benefit. Under the old system, there might have been just a two- or three-shot difference in your Course Handicap from the front to back set of tees, despite the fact that those tee decks might be separated by 1,500 yards.

Under the new system, that difference now might be 10 to 12 shots because the par of the course has been integrated into the calculation.

Why doesn’t my Handicap Index go up when I post a high score?

Under the old system, the low 10 of your most recent 20 scores were used to calculate your Handicap Index. Under the new system, the low eight are used. So that bad score may not enter into the calculation. Similarly, using the most recent eight scores instead of 10 may have lowered your Index.

What the heck is Net Double Bogey?

“Net Double Bogey” has replaced the old Equitable Stroke Control system (ESC).

Now everyone’s maximum score for handicap purposes is net double bogey. Simply put, this is the par of the hole PLUS two strokes (double bogey) PLUS any handicap strokes you may be allowed on that hole.

If you don’t want to have to figure that out when you’re posting your score, let the Golf Canada Score Center do it for you. When you enter your score hole by hole, the Score Center automatically adjusts for net double bogey.

And for those of you complaining about posting scores hole by hole: You play the game hole by hole so why not post your score that way? It takes only a couple of minutes and provides some interesting data.

Here’s my Super Easy Quick Start Guide:

Post all your scores hole by hole immediately after your round. Let the Golf Canada Score Centre take care of the rest. And check out the new app which makes the process even easier.

(*Thanks to Craig Loughry, Director of Golf Services at Golf Ontario, for this anecdote and other invaluable assistance with this article. Loughry was the Canadian representative on the World Handicap Operations Committee.)

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