Golf courses around Ireland may lie silent and empty at the moment but one of the biggest changes in the sport’s recent history will come into effect on Tuesday with the introduction of the new World Handicap System. The new system will give a fairer representation of a player’s ability based off an average of scores and will make handicaps transferrable around the world no matter where you are playing. The new structure will mean there are a few differences in place next time we can all tee it up when courses reopen. Let’s have a closer look at what those differences are.
How does the new system work to calculate my handicap?
As opposed to the old system which worked based on categories, standard scratch and buffer zones in each competition you played, this new system operates on a basis of score averages. Essentially, the best eight of the last 20 scores you have submitted will be averaged out (with other factors also taken into account) to determine your new handicap index. This index is not what you will play off but instead a base number to determine what your handicap will be for each set of tees at every course you play. As Vivien Bond from the East Leinster district of the Irish Ladies Golf Union explains, “The index is a calculation which represents your demonstrated ability but it’s what you take everywhere, it’s the portable part of your handicap.”
So I’ll play to a different handicap depending on what tees I play off?
That’s correct and this is where the new system will be particularly interesting. Every course in Ireland has been assessed by a team of course raters from Golf Ireland and every course has been given a course rating, bogey rating and slope rating.
To summarise briefly, a course rating is essentially the same as the old course standard scratch meaning that it is the score a scratch golfer would be expected to shoot at that course off each set of tees. For instance, the course rating for Black Bush Golf Club in Dunshaughlin off the blue tees is 74 (one over par) but off the white tees it’s 72.9 (0.1 under par). The bogey rating is what a player off about 20 for men and 24 for women would shoot off each set of tees and the slope rating is the number which indicates the relative difficulty of the course for bogey golfers compared to scratch golfers.
The course rating and slope rating, combined with your handicap index, will determine how many shots you get from each set of tees. Don’t worry, there aren’t any complicated sums to do at the golf course (bar adding up your shots) because you can find out what your course handicap is either from the sign-in computer or from a chart which will be displayed at every course. You can also now see how many shots you will get at each course and off each set of tees on the recently launched Golf Ireland app. Or, if you really just want to get the calculator out, the formula to work out your playing handicap is: (Handicap Index) x Slope Rating/113 = Course Handicap.
As an example: a player with an index of 5.5 playing off the blue tees at Black Bush (slope rating of 136) will have a course handicap of 7. The same player, playing off the white tees (slope rating of 133), will get a course handicap of 6. You can find the rating of every golf course at randa.org/chc-lookup.
So now I have a higher handicap for competitions?
That depends on the rating of the course but, at most courses, you will receive more shots than you used to but also don’t forget that everyone is in the same boat. There is also another factor in the new system for competitions to level the playing field somewhat – this is called the playing handicap. Essentially, when you sign in on the computer before your round you will get your course handicap which is what you write on your card and what you play to. However, for competitions, the results will be determined by each golfer’s playing handicap which is 95 per cent of your course handicap. This levels the playing field by giving those with lower handicaps a fairer chance.
For example, if someone has a course handicap of 7, their playing handicap will be 6.7 which rounds up to 7, meaning they still get the same number of shots. For someone with a course handicap of 18, their playing handicap will be 17.1, rounding down to 17, meaning that they will have one shot less for that competition. The percentage figure depends on what format you are playing. For instance, for individual strokeplay and stableford it is 95 per cent while for singles matchplay it is 100 per cent of your course handicap.
So, will my handicap change on Tuesday?
That depends. What is certain is that, on Tuesday morning, all golfers in the UK and Ireland will have a new handicap index which will be available to view on golfireland.ie or on whatever system your club uses such as the Club V1 Members App. The vast majority of people won't see a drastic change between their new index and their current exact handicap. The sign-up for the new system is open now and can be accessed on the Golf Ireland website although be aware that scores are currently only up to date to the start of October. Scores will be fully up to date by Tuesday.
How do I get my handicap down?
The same as before – by playing well. Your handicap index will be updated at midnight each day you submit a score but it will only come down if you shoot a score good enough to get into the best eight of your last 20 rounds. Remember, the index is now based on an average of those and there are no more handicap categories or buffer zones. However, if your best eight scores range from, for example, 33 points to 38 points and you shoot a round of 34 points it won’t necessarily mean that you definitely get cut because it will depend what playing handicap you were off on the day and the rating of the course. The mathematical equations are far too complicated to go in to here but essentially the key is play your best and then check online after midnight to see if your index has changed.
How does my handicap go up?
Every time you play a round the 20th round on your record drops off and is replaced so, for instance, if the round that drops off was 40 points and your latest round was 28 points, the average of your best eight will drop and your index may increase.
However, to stop handicap indexes going up too quickly, there is a built-in low memory function in the system which remembers your lowest index from the last year and compares your eight best scores to that. There is also a soft cap (which slows down the rate of increase) if your index goes up 3.0 shots and a hard cap (which stops any further increases) if your index goes up 5.0 shots.
Is there still competition standard scratch to take into account bad playing conditions?
There is but it is now called playing conditions calculation. This determines, depending on all of the scores submitted, whether handicap indexes are readjusted to take into account the conditions.
Can non-competition rounds now count towards your handicap?
Yes, scores from casual rounds can now be submitted to your record. However, you can't just shoot a great round and then decide to enter the score. Before teeing off players have to pre-register their round for handicap purposes, either on the computer at the golf course or on the Golf Ireland app. The round must also be played with at least one other person and your electronic card must be signed on the app. For more detailed instructions on how to record general play scores you can watch Golf Ireland's instructional video here.
There’s quite a lot to all of this – what are the most important things to remember for when we can get back to playing golf?
So, the most important things to remember for when you are next playing your Saturday morning competition are: record your course handicap on your scorecard (this is obligatory and you can be disqualified if you don’t do so).
Sign your card after you finish.
Submit your score as soon as you can after the round.
Golf Ireland is also advising players to write their handicap index and, if playing a competition, their playing handicap on the card to make it easier for handicap secretaries. After that, as Bond says, the key thing to remember is that “the software will do it all for you”.
For more information, Golf Ireland have some very handy presentations, a podcast and some short video explainers available on golfnet.ie/whs while the HowDidIDo YouTube channel also has a very good series of videos.