Is the World Handicap System beginning to prove its worth?

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For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a single digit golfer and with a little help from the new world handicap system, I got there with minimum effort.

Presumably calculated on potential given my first three cards included no better score than 84, my first handicap in quite some time was gifted to me by the golfing gods in May last year… 7.1.

It was a shock to my system. I was humbled, if not a little put out. No way could I play to 7. I handed in a 93 next game out just to prove it and earned a full shot back. Another error strewn round later and I was 9.1 and climbing.

It’s not easy this golf craic, the late, great Robin Williams described its cruelty well, however, today I’m back down to 8.1, and although my handicap is still a few cards short of the 20 I need to boast a fully developed index, I’m beginning to think there’s method to the madness of WHS.

I realise it’s not the popular opinion, and I was sceptical for a long time too, but if, like me, your goal is to play your best every time you tee up and get your handicap as low as possible, then I don’t see an issue with the new system. It initially claimed to deliver a more accurate representation of a player’s ability and I dare say the 7.1 it branded me with in the beginning was an example of WHS recognising my potential before I did.

The introduction of casual rounds has also been a blessing for me, enabling me to stay competitive and gauge where I’m at outside of traditional competition. I’m sure they’re a god send for many others too whose weekends are spent away from the fairway, yet I see people looking for them to be scrapped.

And I get it. It’s like the Wild Wild West out there because WHS, much like the old system, is open to manipulation. That’s a people problem though, not a WHS problem, and the sad reality is that there will always be a minority of people hard up for a McGuirks voucher.

I’ll never understand the appetite amongst some people to cheat themselves, never mind the game, just to get amongst the prizes, but I don’t think golfers playing the right way should be punished for the actions of so few.

WHS is by no means perfect, but they didn’t expect it to be so soon. Personally, I still feel a handicap of 54 is unnecessarily big. I understand the motive behind it, that it, dare I say, grows the game, but I don’t think golfers are won and lost on this basis.

Maybe I’m being narrow minded but if you can’t play to 36, there’s plenty of ways to learn how to. And if you physically can’t do it, then I’m not sure why the score is strictly relevant to the enjoyment of your game. I have friends playing off 18 who should be playing off 48. They hack it around. Sign for 20 points and immediately ask when we’re playing next. If they played off 48 and had a good day, they’d by liable to break the 50 point barrier, and I can assure you they’d be mortified at that.

We’ve all seen horror stories from golf clubs around the country. Shooting 62 in the Captain’s Prize and not even finishing on the podium. Every dog will have his day but a few too many have seemingly had them since the introduction of WHS… but how much of this is anecdotal evidence spreading like wildfire and how much is based on fact?

According to data collected by Europe’s largest network of golfers on HowDidiDo, average stableford scores in competition have actually shifted from significantly favouring players in lower categories to being almost equal. Furthermore, there’s just under two points between the average totals scored by players in all categories, down from an almost 13 point difference pre-WHS.

It seems WHS is levelling the playing field after all, and from my own experience with the new system, I can’t complain. It’s opened up the possibility of me maintaining a handicap on a more regular basis and if players, BIG IF, can just be honest with themselves and others, then I see no reason why it can’t prove to be the success it has in most countries around the world.

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14 responses to “Is the World Handicap System beginning to prove its worth?”

  1. Seamus ward avatar
    Seamus ward

    New handicap system is working brilliant for the majority of the golfer withe the exception of category 1who continue to struggle to win any major prizes in their clubs.

    1. Michael Lennon avatar
      Michael Lennon

      It’s a good system, just need to get rid of the Casual play.
      Should only be allowed count competition golf towards handicap as per previous system.

      1. Dermot Hannon avatar
        Dermot Hannon

        The article states that golfers want to play their best and lower their handicap. Not sure about that assumption. Many golfers want to play a social, fun game and at the weekend, to get on the time sheet, are forced by clubs to enter competition and return a score. Their handicaps will creep up over time and are not manipulated with intent. Then when the Club Captains or Presidents Prize is played, they arrive on the podium. No surprise.
        The WHS acceptable score was primarily designed for the US market where the opportunity to play in competition golf is less for many. Its a way to manage the Handicap Index albeit quite crude, as players rarely score well in courses new to them. Same as players here returning scores on trips to Portugal etc..
        The WHS was never a quick fix, if needs another year before we can truly assess. I recall in the 70s, we had downward adjustment only with annual revision. Not great..

  2. Charles Scanlon avatar
    Charles Scanlon

    Lower handicappers have always had an advantage expecting higher handicaps to pay entry to comps knowing they no chance . Now they are kicking and screaming claiming they won’t enter comps as they feel they have no chance . If you are over 20 handicap and win now you are accused of being a bandit because you are not supposed to win . Horror stories abound but I bet if every clubs capts and presidents winners were surveyed it would be rare to see anyone over 20 handicap winning . Anyone playing in comps and paying entry fees deserves to see their handicap go up if they are not competitive . What is wrong is taking social rounds into account because abusers can manipulate this and clubs are losing revenue . I’m 73 and had polio as a child and play off 29 . I was 5th in our capts prize won by a 14 handicapper . Now if I won would people say we can’t have 73 year old cripple playing off 29 winning our capts prize . I’m as human and competitive as a 25 year old . Yes new system is brilliant but it needs a few changes and more influence of own club handicap committees . Everyone who pays to enter deserves a chance to win

    1. Karl O'Dea avatar
      Karl O'Dea

      System is good in the main. Lots of positives, slope varying course ratings based on difficulty etc. No issue with casual rounds. One are that should be reviewed is the 8 rounds from 20. A high handicapper is a high handicapper due to inconsistency. Their 8 rounds will generally show a higher number and this has the effect of a ‘good day’s resulting in a bonkers score. Under the old system we had buffer zones and this had the effect of calming handicaps of higher guys in particular. Whilst applying 8 rounds from 20 works for a low guy, what about reducing the number of counting rounds based on your ‘category’. This would calm the higher handicappers number as it (may) be average of 5 rounds of the previous 20. This could be scaled based in category making it a bit more (imho) accurate as to potential.

  3. Daniel McGivern avatar

    New system is working okay with just one major problem. Some new players have their handicap starting far too high and when this becomes obvious through their scores their handicap only reduces very slowly.
    It would be better to start them lower and then raise their handicap if necessary.

    1. Donal Cuffe avatar
      Donal Cuffe

      I agree with this. Most people should start no higher than mid 20’s unless they provide a medical cert, which allows inclusion. But if they really a terrible and I mean terrible it won’t take too long for their handicap to go up. However someone with a basic level of coordination starting on 36 or higher will hoover up prizes considering the quick improvement that can be made initially starting the game.

  4. Martin Fitzpatrick avatar
    Martin Fitzpatrick

    The whs might be ok within Ireland but there is no way to record scores achieved in Ireland on to my Spanish federation membership number. It seems to be a new handicap system for Ireland only and therefore is not a whs.

  5. Steven avatar

    Now every shot counts, gone are the days of realising a score is gone and it’s 0.1 coming, so you can mentally write off a round, figure out something before you play next. Now every round is stroke play (with a nett double bogey cap per hole) but these rounds now count with a fictional adjusted score applied; so the increases in handicap can be crazy – rather than 0.1. Yes I fully understand the maths behind it and averaging best 8 of last 20 but it’s brutally punishing on players who want to get their handicap down and keep it down – was always a unwritten code of ethics – play to your best all the time

  6. Philip Browne avatar
    Philip Browne

    I agree with the comments regarding casual rounds causing problems. I live and play my golf in Spain and under the Spanish Federation rules you are only allowed one casual round per month to go towards your handicap. Allowing all casual rounds to count is leaving the system wide open to abuse.

  7. Christopher avatar

    My Brother from the UK and my Brother in Law from the US played in my club last week and couldn’t access the system , only allows 8 digit membership numbers

  8. Darren avatar

    I think the issue lies in the use of the word ‘potential’. WHS works on the basis of current potential/form whereas the old system took a persons absolute potential and worked from there. The main problem here is that at a high handicap level that absolute potential then gets diluted through inconsistency and the given index can be significantly higher (eg you have an 86 in a sea of 94/96’s). What we are seeing at our club is that person then having another day in the sun and coming in with 41/42 points (and more, I recently saw a 45 off 18), which is practically unobtainable for low handicappers unless they shoot the lights out. I’m confident that our prize giving this year will be a procession of 20+ handicappers lifting the trophies. So is it a more level playing field – yes in that competition wins are more accessible for higher handicappers, but is it fair – remains open to debate, particularly if you’re a low handicapper (for context I’m an inconsistent mid with current index 14.1, but that could change as of about 5pm today coz I’ve a low round about to drop off….)

  9. Joe avatar

    I know of some horrible examples of players intentionally returning ridiculously high scores in order to manipulate the system
    and then they shoot 20 shots less in the big club competitions- captains prize etc
    My club also run 10 hole competitions where 30 points is needed to win and the score doesn’t count for handicap purposes I also believe there should be a hcap limit of 24

  10. Edward avatar

    The system is good it’s the people who abuse is the issue and that will always happen. I don’t think it’s fair for a 30 odd HC to shoot 48pts and win a big prize as most of the club will only groan and that’s not fair on the guy with the large HC so maybe Cat prizes is the way to go. Also causal rounds are being abused and should be scrapped. The system work great but doesn’t take into account the high jinx of some people.

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