First year of WHS has not gone well

Ivan Morris
Ivan Morris

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It’s an understatement to say that the first year of the new World Handicap Scheme (WHS) in Ireland is being widely perceived as a major disappointment. Results in club domestic competitions published in the provincial press and commented upon on social media would have one believe that WHS has been the reason for an avalanche of unprecedented, low scoring that has caused a groundswell of discontent that could bode ill for the club game as traditionally played in Ireland?

Golf Ireland and the R&A, who are responsible, have been adopting a wait and see stance because they feel it will take (at least) one more year for the new system to bed in properly. A recently published comment by a Golf Ireland spokesperson in the Irish Times stated that 54% of Irish golfers have less than 20 scores on their record and therefore do not have a fully developed Handicap Index.

90% of 2.3million submitted scores are said to be from Competition rounds with 10% from General Play – that’s 230,000 casual rounds submitted, the vast majority of them (I am convinced) with the intention of giving themselves ‘comfort strokes’ and the means to take an unfair advantage over their fellow club members and friends. It’s a pathetic attitude that deserves more than mere hand-wringing by rules makers who foisted WHS upon us. A golf handicap is intended to be the great equaliser, now it seems to be the great divider.

I would like to know how many of the competition scores were 9-holes returns and how many golfers returned two 9-holes scores on the same day? How many resulted in cuts would also be useful information. I would guess the number of casual score cuts is a tiny proportion and (in my opinion) recorded by scratch or plus golfers endeavouring to achieve eligibility to enter a championship.

I have been playing golf for over 60-years and until relatively recently every golfer I have ever known regarded his handicap as a badge of honour and the lower the better. The attitude was too many handicap strokes makes one a worse golfer. Who sets out to become worse rather than better?

As far as I know I am one of the few low-handicappers who regularly plays with 20+ handicaps. Last week, I played with an 18 and two 28s. All three were a lot lower once and said the more shots they have the worse they play and are embarrassed to have handicaps so high and would prefer if the limit of 24 was restored. They said: If they have a good score they are labelled a cheat and if they have a bad score they are also labelled a cheat for not trying. It’s all very unsatisfactory and reduces their enjoyment of the game.

A discernible decline in the numbers playing in the domestic competitions – particularly amongst ‘cliques’ of the clubs’ lower handicapped members is now widely apparent. That hits a club’s morale as well as its income. It could also signal the first step, without realising it towards the beginning of the end for lifetime golfers.

Two years from now, it could well be that a small but significant proportion of the once ‘lifetime committed’ may have allowed their handicaps to lapse (as a result of not playing in competitions or not returning casual scores). Having no handicap almost certainly means playing less, especially at weekends, followed (in due course) by resignation from the club and giving up golf altogether.

Golf is a very easy game to give up. As soon as one becomes used to filling one’s days without golf, it can be difficult to find enough time to fit it back into one’s lifestyle again.

It would appear that the majority of golf club committees have adopted a laissez-faire approach to WHS – not because they believe it will settle down but because they are overwhelmed by the extra volunteer work involved. But, handicap-manipulators cannot be allowed free rein even in the short run. Surely, the ‘honour of the game’ and a ‘fair deal’ for honest golfers requires a level playing field?

IT rules the world today. It seems to be dominating golf too and too many handicap administrators have been content to let ‘the computer decide’ what a member’s handicap should be instead of being pro-active in maintaining a sense of ‘fairness’ and applying general play rules.

The drawback in using a computer for any purpose is ‘garbage in, garbage out’ as the IT savvy manipulate their handicaps as they wish. Under WHS’s self-reporting procedures it is easy to create any handicap (high or low) one would like. It’s a cop out to blame a system that has worked reasonably well in other countries. The blame lies squarely with the manipulators. Somehow the courage to deal firmly with them must be found.

If every golfer played the game honestly, there would be no problems with WHS. In Ireland that seems to be a presumption too far. Perhaps the chart (below) created to deal with rogue scores in the USA could be operated here? Scores in the yellow columns result in instant disqualification and one’s handicap is adjusted accordingly.

Being a volunteer on a golf club committee is thankless. Handicap convenors are over-burdened and (too) often dictated to, sometimes threatened or even intimidated, (not to mention being overruled by the General Committee). If there are zero volunteers or wholesale resignations from committee work, the club will suffer. Giving greedy and mean-minded golfers the ability to manipulate their own handicaps has been too much of a temptation for some but, without a fair handicap system administered properly – club golf cannot function.

Before I finish I’d like to make a few suggestions: Nominal, token prizes in ALL club competitions, which should be played in categories (rather than strictly off handicap) with appropriate (different) tees and appropriately adjusted competition standard scores (for different handicap purposes) As a 70+years old golfer the difference between my playing off the back tees and forward tees on my home course could be as much as five shots but the CSS differential is only one stroke. Putting 40+ handicappers and 70+ year olds off the back tees is daft. It is within the rules of WHS for a club to set a handicap limit in any of its domestic competitions and it should be done more often. Categories, different tees, and different CSS’s should be used rather than all handicaps competing against each other off the same tees.

The WHS handicap limit of 54 is farcical and anti-golf. Rewarding incompetence is not the way to build a competitive sport. 36 is more than enough (including ladies) If you can’t play to it – practice, play more golf, and take lessons. Give all (male) beginners 18 (as was the case until 1983) Let them learn how to play to it. If, after two years it is obvious they will never play to 18, incrementally inch them up to 36.

Note to Golf Ireland – please take a forensic look at the standard of golf being played in the final stages of the Pierce Purcell, Bruen Shield and Fred Perry competitions. It’s obvious that many, if not the majority, of players in these competitions are miles too good for their handicaps. Why? It’s long overdue GI did something about it because it devalues these competitions?

Finally, may I make this heartfelt appeal to those whom the cap fits and were tempted by the false perception that casual score reporting was an opportunity to get shots back that you do not really deserve: everyone knows who you are and are trying to figure out how best to deal with you. In the meantime, please be assured that you are despised as the lowest of the low – a cheat. One last dig: There isn’t the same problem with handicaps and outrageously low scoring in ladies golf. Why?

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43 responses to “First year of WHS has not gone well”

  1. Paul avatar

    Fantastic article congrats,clubs will have to monitor internally ,will have no option if they want to survive.

    1. Martin avatar

      Excellent article and all true. For far too many, Golf is no longer a game of honour and that is being supported and encouraged by the governing body. G.I. will say that it’s a matter for the clubs but when clubs are openly flouting the system, G.I. must act – unfortunately, it seems that G.I. doesn’t want to act.

      1. Niall BARRY avatar
        Niall BARRY

        Golf Ireland, at the very core of their being, are dishonest and untrustworthy. I have High Court proceedings issued against them which will prove this to all golfers. Golf Ireland are not an organisation that anyone can expect to uphold ethical standards.

      2. Cyril Carty avatar
        Cyril Carty

        Only rounds of golf played in competition should be counted for handicap purposes so at least everyone will have to pay to submit a score also to challange someone about their golf u would need avideo of their golf to be sure when u ended up in court

      3. Enda avatar

        Utter rubbish… Recording all scores is the measure of a golfers ability.. Personally I’ve been cut multiple times for casual golf – makes every round mean more

        Crazy scoring wouldn’t be an issue if the competitions split between those with a valid index (20 scores recorded) & those that do it

        As for the Interclub comment.. Check the winners of the Pearse Purcell over the last 10 years… Banning clubs is the only appropriate sanction…

        Should have a GAA rule – if you play senior football you can’t tog out in junior b but good luck enforcing that in golf

      4. Leo Fitzgerald avatar
        Leo Fitzgerald

        I agree whole heartedly. Our committee took the decision at the start of WHS we would not allow casual rounds at our club and have blocked them off. Still we have a problem with massive scores. How can a player win the order of Merit and get 3 shots back in the same year. Single figure golfers have no chance in forward tee competition. Would like to hear how clubs in the UK are finding it.

    2. Joanne killian avatar
      Joanne killian

      A superb article and about time some spoke up .

      1. Tony avatar

        All very true. GI useless.
        Max handicap 36, 54 rediculous.

    3. Big kev avatar
      Big kev

      Great read….
      Gui..jokers ..have no balls..
      Let clubs sort it …never going happen..
      Whs is a joke can cheat whenever u want ..if I want to gain a load of shots back .just throw in a load of bad scores..then have loads of shots back for captains day or whatever …
      It stinks

    4. Aidan lambe avatar
      Aidan lambe

      Agree with all points made, GI need to address this major anomaly in new system now and not wait for another year.

    5. Ann avatar

      A good article. However I am willing to give the new system a chance to iron out some teething problems..

    6. Joe Lyons avatar
      Joe Lyons

      I know we don’t always see things the same way Ivan, but you are bang on the money with everything you say here. I couldn’t agree more. Handicap manipulation is a cultural issue in Irish Golf and needs to be addressed by Golf Ireland.
      A small number of clubs seem to encourage it with the intent of winning pennants in tbe events you mention above. When competing in All Ireland finals, profile pictures of all players with a direct link to their handicap records should be displayed on digital scoring. This might at least shame the clubs and teans that are fielding teams of golfers who cant break 30points all year, but all of a sudden are the best in their category in the country. There is no reason why Golf Ireland could not insist on this as a condition of entry. There are several other suggestions that could be implimented if Golf Ireland took their head out of the sand and make a concerted effort to rid our game of this blight. First thing they need to do is set up a working group with the sole purpose of addressing the culture of handicap manipulation. It is endemic in our game and wont be resolve itself.
      Keep up the good work.

    7. Alan avatar

      Agree with every part of article.

  2. Fiona avatar

    I put in a lot of scores, all above board and signed off by playing partner. With the new system my Index was several points higher than old number. After six months my index is down and I was really pleased until I realised the overall effect is I’m getting the same number of shots as before. Many people couldn’t understand why I was submitting every available score. Also, one lady I played with who was new but improving rapidly wasn’t aware she could submit GP scores so was playing off a number much higher than her skills as only playing one comp per week. At that rate the index is slow moving

    1. Maria avatar

      A great article and so very true. This system is just not working at the moment and I thing it’ll be to the detriment of golf!

      1. Dave Collopy avatar
        Dave Collopy

        100% agree Ivan. This new system is going to get worse before it gets better. Golf Ireland will never act as usual it’ll be left to the clubs. Many of us have been reduced to organising weekend competitions between ourselves (invitation only). We all know who the bandits are but unless the clubs act I’m afraid we are in serious trouble.

        1. Eamon Whitty avatar
          Eamon Whitty

          Winning scores in club competitions in Ireland

          2 examples

          55 nett in S/P comp

          60 pts S/F

          So what does this say for newH/C system

  3. Ger avatar

    Well said, the GUI have had their heads in the sand for far too long. Everyone who wins a provincial pennant in Purcell, Bruen etc (not Senior Cup n Barton) should be cut a shot followed another if they win an Irish Pennant

    1. Noel Rooney avatar
      Noel Rooney

      Good suggestion, should be easy for the GUI to review the handicaps over a period of 2 years for every club playing in an inter club competition and notify clubs of the results

      1. Ann English avatar
        Ann English

        Thanks so much for this article. The new system is a blight on honest golfers . Where I play it’s so difficult to now compete against much higher and much more competent golfers with extraordinary high handicaps . It’s a complete sham and very disheartening. Golf clubs will suffer as people won’t play in competitions and this affects the clubs finances.
        GI need to DO something . I won’t be holding my breath

    2. Brian avatar

      Just to offer a counterpoint argument, the WHS has been a God send for me. I only took up golf during the big boom of May 2020, and given an index of 28. Handicap index now down to 17 all through submitting casual rounds and I’ve never entered a club competition! Not saying there’s anything incorrect in the article, but the WHS isn’t all bad!

  4. Robert Kennedy avatar
    Robert Kennedy

    Well said, played golf for years off a low handicap. Generally I win about three nett prizes a year. Didn’t come close to winning this year with the new handicap, played my best golf as well. Very hard to compete now off a low handicap.

  5. Jerry Crowley avatar
    Jerry Crowley

    Terrific article and clearly sets out the failure of this new system. Previously , as we all know, the max increase under the CONGU system was 1 shot in calendar year, now players have received increases in HI of 5/6 shots in three months!! And as for the limit of 54, that’s a joke. What chances do single digit players have of winning. Time for a rethink R&A.

    1. Myles avatar

      I think you maybe from the island couldn’t agree more game is being destroyed currently

  6. Noel Mannion avatar
    Noel Mannion

    Excellent points well made by Ivan but unfortunately Golf Ireland appear to have a different agenda to the vast majority of Club golfers who they supposedly represent.
    No pride in handicaps anymore it’s all about winning a prize, what a shame.
    Clubs / handicap secretaries will have to take a stronger stance, have handicap limits for open days (28 for men & 36 for women).
    Have Category prizes, reduce the value of prizes and discontinue Rumbles.

  7. William O Brien avatar
    William O Brien

    Great article Ivan. None of this should come as any surprise. Years ago when WHS was first signalled, I was struck how many times the word Integrity was in the documentation. A foreign concept for those that blight our great sport. Consider also how Classics are been abused. Here in Clare we had some beauties in 2021 that would take some explaining .

  8. Dermot avatar

    I always thought you played sport to be as good as you could be. I am afraid that WHS is encouraging cheats.This is so disappointing for a game I love and given my spare time to over 60 years. It is silly to think it will take time to bed in . Cheats are cheats .Golf Ireland need to wake up. Fair dues to the ladies golf they are above all of this. I am saddened.

    1. Cyril Carty avatar
      Cyril Carty

      Now 2 persons of similar attitude can play golf sitting down and submit the score that is rubbish???

  9. Robbie Walpole avatar
    Robbie Walpole

    Thank you, you put time and effort into writing this column and it sumes up
    all my feelings. It shows I’m not the only one.

  10. Colin avatar

    Although I play in another area,, covered by the whs, there are no such problems. Last week’s 9 hole competition was won with 18 points in decent wind. Cheats will always be cheats and is difficult to legislate against them. Surely a simple solution for clubs would be to award prizes based on categories and eliminate 1st, 2nd,3rd places. I would think casual rounds one would return better than normal scores as it a less pressured situation. Only one per month is permitted here and must be notified before play.

    1. paddy murphy avatar
      paddy murphy

      100% agree. Also, have a separate comp for those with less than 20 cards. Giving people high handicaps when they start, allowing them win, rewards mediocrity, as cheats. And lets not cod ourselves Golf Ireland DOES NOT REPRESENT INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS! We dont vote for them, so they represent themselves.

  11. C Dann avatar
    C Dann

    Good article. Though I don’t feel the WHS is the sole reason for these problems, bandits existed long before it’s introduction. I do feel it has got worse in club competitions with scores in high 40’s becoming the norm. I feel part of the problem is the inter club matches and people protecting handicaps to stay within limits of the teams they want to play in. I’ve played many a match were the opposition seems to be miles better of similar handicap. In particular this came to a head in a 4 ball better ball match in 12-17 handicap limit match where myself and my partner were leave par better ball through 9 and where 5 down! One player in particular was -3 gross of a 13 handicap! Really puts you off even entering these competitions.

  12. William Cullen avatar
    William Cullen

    This article is so true. The WHS is a godsend to cheats, I.e those who manipulate their handicap for their own gain and robbing prizes from honest golfers.
    It is the worst system ever brought in to the game of golf.
    Bring back the congu system which wasn’t the best but was fairer than we have now.

  13. David Rooney avatar
    David Rooney

    Excellent article, I agree wholeheartedly. More categories are required so people with similar handicaps play against each other, that should make it less possible for any cheat, say off 36/48 etc beating a 12/18 handicap by 10+ shots as we have seen recently

  14. Deirdre Murphy. avatar
    Deirdre Murphy.

    Exclent article .Surely the G.U.I. must sit up and take notice now as so many are in agreement with you.

  15. Gerry avatar

    Excellent & timely article by Ivan. The WHS is potentially the greatest ever threat to most golfers enjoying competition golf. The GUI found an Irish solution to an Irish problem in the old system….limiting the number of 0.1’s a golfer could get back in a year. The Irish solution for WHS for openers should be to ban casual golf for handicap purposes (except when applying for a handicap). It is being used by the ‘bandits’ to build their handicap so they can plunder prizes in competitions. Very sad behaviour for a game that has at its core personal integrity.

  16. Sean avatar

    Always enjoy your written articles Ivan as I know you wrote from the heart & your love of the game………however…..when you made some recommendations to Golf Ireland my heart sank. As most amateur golfers know I.e. the people who HAVE to pay a compulsory levy to GI, who are supposed to represent the grassroots of golf, you are wasting your time. Untouchable unaccountable out of touch bureaucrats

    1. Jack French avatar
      Jack French

      Great article that needed to be written.
      The WHS system is a farce. It encourages cheating. There was nothing wrong with the old system we had under the GUI.
      Allowing handicap adjustments for casual golf is a joke.
      You can get shots back by throwing your score card in the bin instead of getting penalised

  17. John keegan avatar
    John keegan

    Great article
    Will make for some interesting debates in committee rooms & at bar
    The number of people playing in small private comps is on the increase
    Every club is effected by this

  18. Mike Carey avatar
    Mike Carey

    Totally agree with you on the whole article Ivan.
    One simple solution to level the field in comps.
    Instead of having 3 or 4 nett prizes, and 1 best gross,flip the coin. Have 3 or 4 gross prizes and 1 nett.
    Let’s see the bandits fight it out then.

    It gives your honest players something to play for and should make your improving players strive to get better.

    There will always be bandit’s, but make it as hard as is possible for them to take the winnings.
    I’d also do away with casual rounds. That’s how these handicaps are jumping so hi. If those individuals are made to work for what they have , say having to win in a Sunday medal then it’ll weed out what needs weeding.
    Plus I would also double the cuts for anyone placing in comps, and 1/2 or 1/4 the shots given back for anything worse than handicap.

    But something needs to be done.
    I’m a single digit golfer BTW.

  19. Alan Whitehead avatar
    Alan Whitehead

    Agree with Ivan – 100%

    The problem lies with the introduction of 54 handicaps, supposedly to encourage more people into golf! (More likely to increase the money take to keep the officials in a job!)

    Having played to a single digit hcp for most of my golfing life, I have now stopped entering competitions as I have no chance of winning anything.

    Clubs are just as much at fault as GI as they have it in their remit to organise all competitions in categories, as in the old system. i.e. Cat 1 = 0 to 5, Cat 2 = 6-12, etc. They also do not apply the old rule 19b – adjusting hcps on standard of play regardless of wether the ‘bandits’ have avoided competitions to protect their ‘micky-mouse hcps !

  20. Grace Collins avatar

    Very good article. H/C of 54 for ladies is rediculous , these ladies will never get their h/c down even to 36! But they will be picked for every team event by men who just need shots and these ladies think this is great, collecting prizes in team events!! Far better to return to max of 36 and let these ladies try to play better golf , when I started Golf, I was given max h/c of 36, my aim was to play to it which I eventually did after a good while. It made me want to improve.

  21. KEVIN O'CONNELL avatar

    Handicap limit for Men has to be 36.
    Too easy to bump up Handicap Index via a few poor ‘casual rounds’. Think the allocation of category prizes for Club competitions would help. Continuous monitoring of all members/players is essential and does involve quite a bit of extra work for Handicap Secretaries. WHS does need another golfing season before we can properly review system, and as mentioned by others, all players ideally need a minimum of 20 scoring rounds to effectively assess handicaps.

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