World handicap system literally a game changer for golf

Bernie McGuire

That’s it, then. The rulers of golf, the USGA and R&A have spoken. We’re getting a new World Handicap System from January 1, 2020.

Once the announcement was made, the message was consistent from all bodies, including the GUI and ILGU – “it’s gonna be great, really great for golf” was the theme.

Well, I hope it will turn out like that, but forgive me for being a tad skeptical.

I like our CONGU system, although I’d be a bit iffy about the current maximum men’s handicap being 28.

The big thing is that your handicap gets tested in competition, and when you’ve a card and a pencil in hand, there’s an extra edge to the round of golf.

A ‘friendly’ round is not the same, albeit that when you’re playing for the couple of euro and the craic is good, of course it’s fun to be out there with your mates.

But make it a monthly medal, or the captain’s prize, or even the weekly singles, and the focus goes up a notch.

You may, of course, and probably will, play below your best, and shoot a score that’s outside the buffer zone and get your .1 back, but heck, there’s always the hope of shooting 40 points the next day out.

The point is that competition is a test, and surely that’s what the game is about?

I know there are golfers out there who want to build their handicap, but under the CONGU system and the GUI and ILGU’s vigilance, it’s more difficult and takes longer for any potential cheats to get the shots back.

Under the WHS, every round will be taken into account for handicap. That means that social and ‘friendly’ golf is part of the system.
How is that going to work?

Will our friendly rounds which feature ‘gimmes’, mulligans, and “drop one there” if you’ve lost a ball reflect the true quality of our game and handicaps?

And will golfers bother to file every card they play for handicap purposes? How could those scores be verified?

The big fear is that at worst, this system can make it much easier to cheat. At best, it’s likely to result in a drop in standards of Irish golf.
Matt Ginella, a panellist on a Golf Channel discussion about the WHS candidly admitted that standards are higher in these islands than in the USA, saying: “A 7 (handicap) from the UK absolutely drills a 7 from the US every day of the week, no doubt about that.”

And here’s the crucial question: does any golfer worth his or her salt really want to see a maximum handicap of 54?

I believe that high handicap limits are like credit card limits: the more the bank increases the credit card limit, the customer will spend to that limit and then some.

Increase the handicap limit to 54 and it’s a slippery slope downwards.

However, the machinery is starting to crank up. To adopt this system, every club in the country will have to get a USGA-style ‘slope rating’ which is a measure of one course’s difficulty relative to another.

The call is going out to club members from Leinster Golf to volunteer for slope rating duties, but there’s so much more to be done.

Software providers will have to produce the goods to cope with the new system, and golfers will need to be educated.

And then, another big question: Who is going to pay for all this?

Bah, humbug. Pshaw. Harrumph. Maybe it’s time to take up hillwalking.

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