What in the world is happening with the WHS?

John Craven

Move over HSE. NPHET. CFJ. There’s a new acronym in twitter town, and the people don’t like it.

In truth, the new World Handicap System was never going to be a quick sell. Unless you’re Barack Obama, change is often greeted with scepticism; an attitude of ‘We’ve a way of doing things around here that has served us well since the dawn of time. Why rock the boat?’

And although the last system was far from smooth sailing, if you were to read the thoughts of the twitter-sphere on the current one, the Titanic has already hit the iceberg.


The WHS was heralded as the great unifier: a universal handicap system to provide all golfers with a consistent measure of ability no matter where they are in the world. And to its credit, it’s united a fair chunk of Ireland firmly against it.

I’ll be honest with you, I wrote an 18-part how-to-guide prior to its official launch and came away from the keyboard with PTSD. Like most things maths, I trusted that someone much smarter than me had figured out the equation and after a period of transition, the Irish would take to WHS like they have to craft beer, avocados and that lad on the telly who replaced Eamon Dunphy. Sadly, the period of transition looks destined to extend into a second year.

For many, the teething problems still being experienced are more like cavities and they need extracting. At the heart of the problem is perceived handicap manipulation – players using casual rounds to bloat handicaps to go after big prizes. Where banditos of times gone by had to work hard for their .1s back, the new system is altogether more generous.

Far too generous, in my opinion, when it allows a golfer to play off a maximum handicap of 54. 54! I’m all for making golf more accessible and growing the game, but who benefits from getting a 54-handicap? Are we supposed to congratulate someone for shooting 40+ points if they had three shots on every hole? You’ll have golfers parading about the place like those round one X-factor contestants convinced by their family they can sing before Simon Cowell spits in their faces.

That’s not to say beginners aren’t welcome – of course they are – but if 54 is your level, then the score is irrelevant. Golf needs to get quicker and I make no apologies for saying I don’t want to play with someone for five and a half hours only to watch them hole out on the last for an even par round of 126. Play off 28. Pick up when you’re out of a hole. Learn the game and calculate what you need to do better to play to your mark.

Now last time I checked, my handicap index was 8.5 which, from my reading of twitter, sentences me to purgatory when it comes to aspirations of winning anything. I’ve played very few competitive rounds this year anyway, and I hold the fiver we play for in my regular fourball far above all else, but I completely understand why proper competitors are disillusioned by inflated scoring across the board.

I played with a lad off 9 not long ago who was going well… kept his spirits up when putts were missing… cheered him to the line with the chequered flag in sight. 41 points on a breezy day was a hell of a score. 47 won… on countback!

It seems this has been a theme in many clubs across the country. It’s deterring those lost souls in handicap purgatory from entering competitions altogether and it’s putting a big onus on handicap secretaries to ensure everything’s above board.

It was @Veron_mc who became the latest golfer to raise his WHS concerns on twitter, highlighting a 36-handicapper cleaning up all ’round ’em in big club competitions this year. And amongst the avalanche of empathy under the post was one handicap secretary who confessed he had enough.

“I was hcap secretary at Galgorm Castle for the past 3.5 years & have resigned as there was so much admin to do, mainly chasing casual round scores,” wrote @normanreid3. “Members everywhere using casual rounds to increase their handicaps to a level where they can win the big prizes.”

It’s a bit rich in my view to be overworking a volunteer because of an undercooked system, but what’s really sad – and this isn’t a WHS thing, but a people thing – is that as long as there are big prizes to play for, a minority of golfers have always been willing to cheat the system to get them. And to be clear, I don’t for one second believe players new to the game are deliberately taking advantage. They’re just playing the cards they’ve been dealt, and my guess is that new members playing off lofty handicaps wouldn’t be too fussed if they were told the max handicap for competitions was 24 (as an example) from the outset.

Clubs have power here to create separate categories. Determine eligibility markers and promote a culture amongst the next generation of golfers where the number one goal – fun aside – should focus on cutting your handicap as much as possible.

Forget about protecting handicaps, a culture that existed long before WHS. Aim to obliterate them in a movement that, with a bit of luck and planning, could take handicap manipulation down with it.

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26 responses to “What in the world is happening with the WHS?”

  1. Pat Dunne avatar
    Pat Dunne

    John fairplay very good article. When you get on to Golf Ireland about the whs they refer you back to your club Handicap Secretary who was comfortable with the old system which they could control and monitor.

    1. Tom avatar

      Juveniles in my club cannot play in adult competitions unless they have a 14 hcp or less. The solution is to have a special category of golfers competing among them selves. When their hcp is reduced to say 28 they can compete in the ordinary comps.

      1. Ian Mooney avatar
        Ian Mooney

        Got it in one

    2. John Craven avatar
      John Craven

      Thanks Pat. I’d imagine there’ll be a serious review underway over the winter and hopefully it can be rectified ahead of the new year. Still plenty of power within clubs to do something about it without relying on outside influence. Will take a fair bit of volunteerism mind you!

  2. neil neart avatar
    neil neart

    Lots of people have spoken to RandA, Golf Ireland, their club handicap and competition secretaries about these very issues and been politely told to get lost. Members are being forced to play competitions they have no chance of winning. There are too many mindless hypocrites running golf.

  3. Ivan Morris avatar

    John Craven has beaten me to the punch. I have been diligently gathering material all year long in order to write an article like his one. Whatever about anywhere else, WHS is not suitable to Irish conditions. Too many club competitions, too many valuable prizes, too many casual rounds being submitted. I have not submitted a single one (if I did my handicap would go down slightly instead of up) and I have reduced the number of competitions I play in to the minimum. Playing in competitions when you are handicapped fairly is pointless. My bottom line? Nobody should receive more than one shot per hole in a Stabelford competition. I’d eliminate Stableford competitions altogether. Whether you are scratch or 54-handicap – EVERY SHOT SHOULD COUNT – that is what golf is and what a handicap is based on. A handicap limit in competitions is the easiest, quick solution but it won’t happen because Golf Ireland has neither the power nor the will to do anything. When the majority of members down tools and refuse to play in competitions, GCs who need the entrance fee revenue will do something about it themselves by putting a ceiling on handicaps within their own club. Then, of course, there will be so many playing off the max, it will be a virtual scratch competition!

    1. John Craven avatar
      John Craven

      Don’t let me put you off, Ivan. Sounds like you can dig a lot deeper into the crux of the issue and I’m sure plenty of people would love to hear your take. I look forward to reading it!

    2. Seamus Toomey avatar
      Seamus Toomey

      Singles competitions should have 2 gross prizes. Generally I play nearly all scratch cups as you are playing against your own level.

  4. dave richards avatar

    I totally agree with the comments posted so far. Time the GUI stood up for intelligent golf. Let them have the courage to introduce a handicap limit not greater than 36. Gives both the journeyman and the gifted players a chance to enjoy the game with a skill based score rather than a crapshoot benefitting from 40+ handicaps.
    This would help speed up the game which is a universal cry.
    If you can’t get around in 36 shots, find another sport to enjoy a great outdoor, challenging social activity – hill walking comes to mind!!

    1. Yvonne Beale avatar
      Yvonne Beale

      Absolutely. The new WHS system with outrageous handicaps is simply awarding players who have no ability to play the game & crucifying those who can. It is killing the player who has the talent to play the game. It is killing the pleasure of match play with 100% stroke difference. I now feel like giving up in participating in any match play.

  5. Gerard Mary Maher avatar

    The new handicap system has allowed the 5% of golfers who always manipulated their handicap to do so at an alarming rate.
    Unfortunately the new golfers over the last year have bought into this ideal that getting as high a handicap as possible is the ethos of the game. Most other games reward player for the pursuit of excellence and prizes are only awarded to the best performers of the skill.
    It is not unusual to see players going from 5 to 12 or 12 to 20 who a year ago could perform off their original handicap. They are building to win big in a captains prize or classic.
    These players are still selected to play Junior Cup, Jimmy Breun or Pierce Purcell because they are ‘Great’ players and are considered better than the honest players who fall in the handicap ranges for these competitions.
    Golf Ireland have made no efforts to take on the clubs who manipulate their handicaps to win national pennants at Pierce Purcell, Jimmy Breun etc and we all know the clubs involved. Other clubs seem to be following this approach now as Golf Ireland do nothing to resolve or sanction the clubs involved.

    The new system has for most golfers lifted their index by 1-3 shots even for those who play only in competitions and ignore the supplementary option. Most honest golfers want to keep their handicaps and strive to play to them not seek the easy way out of more shots to bring what I consider false scores off inflated handicaps.
    I would love to play senior hurling but unless I train and practice there is no chance I can play. Golf is the total opposite if you turn up on the first tee a fit 30 year old and shoot 47 points off a handicap of 25 you are a hero. Gone are the days when a 30 year old was given a handicap of 12 and then worked to play to it over a few seasons.

    I play a 4 ball on Sundays with 3 other single handicaps. We will not enter the club competition to compete with these cheats. I know the committee will have a problem with this but they need to address the issue or face the consequence that a large percentage of honest golfers will just leave the competitions to the cheats.
    Golf Ireland have made no efforts to take on the clubs who manipulate their handicaps to win national pennants at Pierce Purcell, Jimmy Breun etc and we all know the clubs involved.
    Golf is fast becoming a cheats paradise and unless Golf Ireland act now the integrity of the game will be lost in Ireland.
    Golf Ireland wake up and take on the issue and limit handicap increase to 1 shot per year apart from extreme cases such as health issues that can be addressed by club handicap committees and the branch offices.

  6. Darren avatar

    All interesting points, however for me the main difference in the 2 systems is that the old system was based on ‘potential’ the new on ‘actual’ ability. As an upper mid handicapper, I’m arguably one of those who benefits from the new system. I can have a good day at the office, nail 40/42 points and get a slight reduction in handicap because it’s a good score amongst a sea of ‘meh’. Couple of months later, if I don’t hit the dizzy heights again my handicap will jump up because of this score ‘dropping off’ by virtue of rounds played, and so it continues. Under the old regime I’d have had a good cut, which would then taken ages to go up again, and arguably rightfully so. It’s the consistent, low handicappers which are greatly disadvantaged because if you’re off 6 you need to shoot level par to be in with a shout, god forbid you’re a plus handicapper because you’re never winning the stableford and you may hope there’s a gross prize.

  7. ENDA CREGG avatar

    Hi All,

    the issue is the vast majority of clubs and H/C Secretaries don’t want to address it as it allows their club teams benefit from this “banditism” also. Golf Ireland should be reviewing all Provincial Team winners with automatic cuts to h/c’s.

    What needs to be done at club level is
    a)new members get a max handicap of e.g. 24 for men and 32 etc for women sotheir h/c’s have to go out before they become competitive.
    b) max number of .1s back in any one year.
    c) separate categories for weekly comps, Presidents & Captains days etc
    d) max handicaps of 20 for AM AM’s.

    Slow play was killing our game on its own but the new WHS system is magnifying the problem.

  8. Tony avatar

    I think the new system is better .. apart from the allowance of casual rounds. I think the WHS handicap works fine for the 95% of golfers who play the game fairly. I also think golfers should be allowed to play off higher handicaps just as long as that is a true reflection of their ability. However maybe 36 should be the maximum – GolfIreland want as many people playing as possible so they are happy to go to 54.
    I believe it is allowable to introduce a local competition rule which does not allow those with a certain number of casual scores to win a prize. I think if that is used in conjunction with the casual scores difference versus competition scores report (e.g if difference is greater than 1 or 2) then it could eliminate these casual score players – especially those who use their home course , rather than societies, to improve their handicap.
    I agree that GolfIreland need to take a proactive role to InterClub competitions – at the moment these competitions are just encouraging players to keep their handicaps high. This could be worse next year if they allow it to be your handicap at 1st Jan as opposed to the lowest handicap this year.
    I believe any player who plays on a team that wins a regional title must be cut in some form – e.g. in Pierce Purcell for every match a player wins their qualifying handicap is cut by .3 – so if they qualify on 13 and win 4 matches their qualifying handicap for next year is a maximum of 11.8 or less if they have done better in other competitions during the year.

  9. Jim Caraher avatar

    New system while is still in its ‘bedding’ in phase definitely favours the ‘higher’ handicappers when it comes to higher scores in competition. No male golfers game benefits from playing off 36+ handicap. Ladies tournament should be able to determine their own max etc. If an individual wants to play with their golfing mates (their mates will soon get fed up) off more than two shots a hole fair enough but don’t expect to play competitive golf and win overall prizes. There must be merit given to the golfers that work hard to get their handicap down along with the enjoyment of doing so. Otherwise we might as well give everyone a prize like the school sports day! There has to be winners and losers in competition.
    There should me a maximum handicap say 36 for men’s club competitions. For casual golf 54 doesn’t bother me but don’t expect ones mates to be overjoyed at giving 3 shots a hole in some cases. I would abandon stableford altogether favouring stroke competitions for the majors with the occasional stableford thrown in for good measure to keep everyone happy. (Good luck with that by the way!)
    Inclusivity is all well and fine and it’s great to see more new members joining golf clubs but there must be a viable chance for all when teeing it up on a Sunday morning otherwise people will turn their backs in competition if they feel their entrance fee doesn’t give them an equal footing with everyone else.
    While I accept that any high handicapper can have their day in the sun and good luck to them, it appears since the introduction of WHI across the board more high scores are winning weekend competitions.
    While I accept that there will always be ‘bandits’ building handicaps it seem to be far too easy to go out in handicap.
    It’s a minefield out there! Enjoy you golf!!

  10. James Smyth avatar
    James Smyth

    New system a load of horlicks. Leave well enough alone!

  11. Kevin Gallagher avatar
    Kevin Gallagher

    The volume of commentary speaks volumes. The cheats abound. The new system is a joke and puts ridiculous pressure on club handicap convenors. Decent truthful golfers throughout Ireland need to refuse to enter club or inter club competitions and the countrywide loss of revenue will prompt the removal of cheats by club councils. Please go back to old system simple clear and not as open to cheating scum

  12. John avatar

    Maybe if you are to compete in a Jimmy Breun or Pierce Purcell you should have 20 competitive round from your home club, so if you did want to inflate your handicap you’d want to put in a lot of effort to do so. The GUI will only be pushed to do something when somebody off 20 has 54 points and is beaten by a 24 handicapper with 56 points. When the cheats can’t even win, thats when you’ll hear uproar.

    As for scrapping stableford points, that would be one way to slow down a round of golf, having people try to finish out a hole after they have knocked 3 balls out of bounds where they could normally pick up.

  13. Michael Fitzpatrick avatar

    I think you’re conflating two issues here.
    1. The fairness of the new WHS system
    2. Gamers of the handicap system

    In terms of the first, I believe the new system is fairer. I play at a seaside course (off 12 at present), where the wind is the main course defence. Under the old system, on a calm day (once or twice a year), I was liable to shoot the lights out, as were quite a few others, get cut two or three shots, and only get .1 back for subsequent rounds, limited to one shot a year. Under the new system, this unusual score is just averaged in as one of the best 8 of 20, as it should be.

    The handicaps at our club are all much lower than they would be at other clubs due to this. We can see that, when despite practicing intently for the winter and spring, our club teams rarely go beyond one or two rounds. And the guys we compete against, with the same handicaps, often look like professionals compared to our abilities off that same handicap.

    But the high handicap issue does need to be addressed, particularly where golfers are protecting or building a handicap. It’s not fair to to those who do their best to lower their handicap yet never have a sniff at a prize. I would suggest:
    1. Max handicap in club competition 28 for men, 36 for the ladies. This will incentivise golfers to reduce their handicap. And it doesn’t mean than someone off 54 can’t enter the competition, it just means they’re only getting 28 shots. There could be occasional closed competitions, without a handicap limit, for older or infirm golfers.
    2. Eliminate the ‘overall’ prize and just have three or four categories of prize. Perhaps Scratch or lower to 9. Then 10 to 18. Then 19 to 28 and similarly for the ladies. And the prizes could be better in the lower category, a little less in the next category and less again in the highest category. Again this will incentivise golfers to improve their handicap rather than protect it.

    1. dave richards avatar
      dave richards

      Michael makes excellent points and sense. CLUBS – adopt his h/ proposals.

    2. Niall avatar

      Well said Michael. I would add if casual scores are used to only increase h/c then maybe this should be withdrawn. Any h/c adjustment would then attract much needed finance to the club.

  14. Christopher O'Connor avatar
    Christopher O'Connor

    I’m a plus 2 handicapper and I love this great game , but have to admit I’m a bit saddened by whats happening to golf at the moment. When I started playing golf 35 years ago the ethos of golf was to shoot as low a score as possible everytime you played and improve, I think golf ireland has forgotten this and now players of a higher handicap have a massive advantage and they know it , just turn up we give 54 shots and a nice prize, no incentive to improve why should they. I’m all for bringing people into golf ,the more the merrier but at what cost ,I can’t keep putting my hand in my pocket for these competitions in my club as I have no hope of ever winning , its taken a lot of the fun out of it for me and my playing partners of 35 years , we supported every competition in the club this year and we are all 10 or lower and not one of us came close to winning a comp especially team comps , its sad to say its out of control.

    1. Yvonne avatar

      So, so agree. The joy of playing good golf is being killed. The reward for playing pretty incompetent golf is being rewarded.

  15. Brendan King avatar
    Brendan King

    I have played off 5 to 6 handicap for over 20 years but my game has got worse these last couple of years. Last January my HC index was 8.3 at 68 years of age . I have not broken 80 in over a year so now I’m 13. Index which I still cannot compete. If it was still under the old system I would have given up on playing competition. Definitely casual rounds should go in January 2022 and then the only upward movement of handicaps would be through club competitions

  16. Pat O Sullivan avatar

    The club H/C secretaries have discretion in determining handicaps even under the WHS system. I know of one club who compared all the members handicaps prior to WHS with those post WHS and adjusted them upwards or downwards as appropriate. This takes a thing called b..ls and is in short supply. Clubs will only act when revenue from competitions reduces drastically by abstension from playing by its members.Forget about Golf Ireland. They will make no decision but are cabable of talking this subject to death.
    Any handicap needs to be policed and regulated. We have too many people in golf who want the glory but not the responsibility. THe CBM (Camera,Blazer, Microphone)brigade are alive and well.

  17. Mark Knight avatar
    Mark Knight

    I’ve not such a problem with the WHS itself but more the handicap allowances for team games. 85% for 4BBB regularly leads to scores of 46 points or more in opens from high handicappers. Two scratch golfers can never compete. Another is American Greensome, 60% of the lowest plus 40% of the highest. This puts two high handicappers off 100% handicap. With two redundant shots per hole, again I’ve frequently seen scores in excess of 46 points meaning two scratch golfers can never be competitive. Then there is Texas scramble. It used to be 10% of combined, it’s now 25%, 20%, 15% and 10% of handicaps going from lowest to highest. Four players off 20 would have previously got 8 shots, they now get 14, an extra 75%. I frequently see a stroke play score of 50, again how can 4 scratch players score 14 birdies and 4 eagles to compete. Something needs to be done before good players turn their backs on playing these team competitions.

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