Published: 06:00, 24 November 2020
Golfers will be embracing a whole new handicap system when they return from the second lockdown.
The much-anticipated introduction of The World Handicap System came just as the government announced golf clubs must shut their courses for a second time this year.
All golfers must now use the new WHS, which replaced the old Central Database of Handicaps system on November 2 and means a player’s handicap could change from course to course, depending on how difficult they are. These are measured by course and slope ratings.
Golfers must compare their handicap index (which each player should now have had calculated for them by England Golf) to the tees they are playing off and that will give them a playing handicap for that course. The calculation tables should be displayed for all players to see close to the first tee at every course.
It will mean that players who might be familiar with their own course won’t suddenly find they are out of their depth at a harder venue or, equally, the next Tiger Woods when they play somewhere easier. It’s a standardised system that is being used worldwide and means your index can be used everywhere, near or far.
But how is your handicap index worked out? That’s a calculation of the average of the best eight of the last 20 registered scores. Each time a round is submitted, the oldest score drops off the record.
England Golf has around 650,000 members so it was a lot of data to manage - they have transitioned around 15 million items of historical data - and it hasn’t been without its glitches but it’s hoped that once things settle down, players will be happy with the changes. The golf shutdown has at least given them time to resolve any issues.
Whitstable & Seasalter Golf Club’s Derek Bates has been at the club for more than 30 years.
The handicap secretary is soon to be their new club president, officially taking over the role this Saturday when outgoing president John Clarke will take a well earned rest.
‘Just because you may have a handicap index of 10 it doesn’t mean everywhere you play golf you will receive 10 shots’
He believes the new system is fairer although he admits it may take some getting used to.
“The introduction of the new world handicap system has been successful,” he said.
“There are a few anomalies that we are working through, internally and externally with England Golf and so the jury is out, as to whether people find it better or worse than the old system.
“It is a new system, it is worldwide and I don’t think there is any going back. In my view, it is a far fairer system than the one we have had to date. I think when people get used to the new system, which may take a little while, it is a better way of managing handicapping arrangements.
“We have been expecting it for a few years now so it hasn’t come as a shock. England Golf have done a load of work in terms of pushing out information but some had to be cancelled because of lockdown so it did leave us a bit short on some of the opportunities to get clarity and more information.
“We were prepared and had lots of information but how receptive members were, maybe some felt it would never happen, there was some laid back opinion among some but now there is a realisation of the affects of what it will have on playing members.
“We have a lull now, which is quite fortunate since lockdown, it has allowed us to sort out a few problems and get ourselves better prepared. We will find out really when lockdown ends just what the impact is.
“We have had one ladies competition run under the new handicap system and there were a few problems.”
Now England Golf hold the WHS centrally on their database, rather than locally, and players have to wait before finding out any changes to their own index.
Mr Bates added: “The other big change is that the handicap index, what is allocated by England golf, is something you take with you to different courses and according to the difficulty of their courses, the course handicap you use will be different.
“Coming to terms with a different course handicap is going to be something that will not be easy for people initially.
“It is going to take time for this to bed in and people to feel comfortable about it. The full force of all the questions haven’t been forthcoming yet as those people haven’t had the chance to use the new system.”
Sittingbourne & Milton Regis golf professional Chris Weston believes the new system has plenty of benefits.
He said: “The big draw is that you can now take your handicap index and play golf anywhere in the world with a playing handicap that is representative and reflective of your ability at the course you are playing.
“There are a lot of benefits to it and I definitely see the positives, it is more reflective of people’s ability and everyone is effectively on the same playing field. If you go on holiday to Spain your handicap index remains the same.
“I can only see it being positive and a good thing. It will take a bit of getting used to, before people start their round of golf, to work out how many shots they are getting. Just because you may have a handicap index of 10, it doesn’t mean everywhere you play golf you will receive 10 shots. You will have to make sure you double check before you start play.
“There are some who don’t like change but I believe they will quickly see the benefits.
“Once players have done it for a few months and seen the positives I think they will be more than happy with it.”
Sittingbourne’s course rating is 126, slightly harder than the 113 average. Their new signage is all in place ready for the expected - and hoped - return of golf in early December.
Weston said: “It does look complicated if you just have a quick look at it, as it has a slope rating, a course rating and your handicap index, but once you have done it a couple of times, it actually does make a lot of sense. Just think ‘HCP’.
“The ‘H’ stands for know your handicap index, the ‘C’ is to check it against the course rating to find the ‘P’ for your playing handicap. Then go and have fun!
“Before, if you were a five handicap and went to Royal Birkdale for a round of golf and shot 10 over, you’d think ‘oh, I’m five over my handicap’ but in actual fact you have actually played to what a five handicapper should do because that course is much harder than the average. It helps you get the most out of your game of golf and the key thing is to enjoy your game of golf as well.”