First WHS review to bring in big changes from January 1

The R&A and the USGA have announced details of the first update to the World Handicap System (WHS) – which will come into effect from January 1, 2024.

Using data from more than 100 million scores posted to the system around the world each year, the game’s governing bodies will make a number of changes from 2024.

Significant updates include:

Inclusion of shorter-length golf courses within the Course Rating system: The overall length requirements for Course Rating in the WHS will be significantly reduced. A set of tees on an 18-hole course may be as short as 1,500 yards, and a set of tees on a nine-hole course may be as short as 750 yards. This change is intended to expand the WHS to thousands of shorter length courses, including par three courses, and enable more golfers to obtain and use a Handicap Index.

Use of an Expected Score for a hole not played: Improvements have been made to the method used to handle holes not played, which will now be based on a player’s expected score rather than a score of net par. This new method will produce a nine-hole or 18-hole Score Differential that more accurately reflects a player’s ability. As golfers across the world are playing more nine-hole rounds, an expected score can also be used to convert a nine-hole round into an 18-hole Score Differential.

Playing Conditions Calculation adjustments made more frequent: The Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC) has been modified to increase the likelihood of an adjustment for abnormal playing conditions. National associations were given discretion, beginning in July 2022, to introduce this revision within their computation platforms, which will be complete by April 1, 2024.

Enhanced guidance on conducting a Handicap Review: The role of the Handicap Committee is vital to the success of the WHS and the Rules recommend that a Handicap Review is conducted regularly, or at least once a year to ensure a Handicap Index remains reflective of a player’s ability. New reporting tools have been developed that national associations can incorporate into their handicapping software to assist Committees in conducting the review process effectively and consistently.

Claire Bates, handicapping director at The R&A, said: “We have made good progress in the early stages of the WHS but we know there are always areas that can be improved as we gather more data and information on the system from around the world. Conducting a regular review process is important in terms of good governance and enables us to examine some of the key areas in which we have received feedback. We will continue to work with the handicapping bodies and national associations around the world to ensure that the WHS is providing golfers with a system that provides a sensible balance between inclusivity and integrity, making it as easy as possible to get a Handicap Index, subject to meaningful safeguards.”

Steve Edmondson, Handicapping & Course Rating managing director at the USGA, said: “The game of golf continues to evolve and the WHS has embraced those changes in a dynamic way to help all golfers, everywhere they play. It is a monumental time in golf, and improving both the accessibility of obtaining a Handicap Index and leveraging powerful data and technology to easily and accurately track performance is a great step forward.”

As well as the changes announced globally, Great Britain & Ireland’s golf associations, including England golf, will bring their rules further in-line with other national associations, including:

From April 2024, the Course Rating minus Par adjustment will come into effect in England. In short, your Course Handicap was worked out by taking your Index and multiplying it by Slope Rating/113. From April, the calculation will be: Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) + (Course Rating – Par). By adding this step, players will receive additional shots on their Course Handicap if par is lower than the Course Rating. If the par is higher, they will lose shots.

Fourball betterball scores may now count towards a players’ handicap – if they have at least nine scores on the card, the team is six under-par or better, and their upscaled score adds up to at least 36 points.

Meanwhile, Course Handicaps will no longer be rounded (where software such as the England Golf app can be used). Playing Handicaps for competitions will still be rounded to whole numbers.

The R&A and the USGA jointly launched and govern the WHS, with the review cycle mirroring that of the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status.