World Handicap FAQ
1. What is the World Handicap System (WHS) all about?
Golf already has a single set of playing Rules, a single set of equipment Rules and a single set of Rules of Amateur Status overseen by the USGA and The R&A. Yet, today there are six different handicap systems used around the world. Each is well developed and successfully provides equity for play locally, but each of the different systems produces slightly differing results. The WHS will unify the six systems into a single system that will:
enable golfers of different ability to play and compete on a fair and equitable basis, in any format, on any course, anywhere around the world;
be easy to understand and implement, without sacrificing accuracy; and
meet the varied needs and expectations of golfers, golf clubs and golf authorities all around the world and be adaptable to suit all golfing cultures.
After significant engagement and collaboration with the existing handicapping authorities and other National Associations, it has been agreed that the time is right to bring the different handicapping systems together as a fourth set of Rules, in support of the global game.
In addition, this project has provided an opportunity for the existing handicapping authorities to come together and share their combined experiences to produce a system which is modern and relevant for the way the game is played today around the world.
The WHS will encompass both the Rules of Handicapping and the Course Rating System (formerly the USGA Course Rating and Slope System).
2. What are the benefits of the World Handicap System?
As the world becomes a smaller place with a much greater frequency of international play (as demonstrated by golf returning to the Olympics in 2016), we believe the development of a single handicap system will result in easier administration of international events and, potentially, allow National Associations more opportunity to focus attention on golf development and strategic planning to support the sport. It would also provide the opportunity to evaluate de-personal golfing data to help monitor the health of the game.
3. How will existing handicaps be used for the World Handicap System? Also, is my handicap expected to change when the system goes live?
Existing scoring records will be retained and, where possible, be used to calculate a handicap under the WHS. For most players, their handicap will change only slightly as they will be coming from systems which are generally similar to the WHS. However, this will be dependent on many factors – including the number of scores available upon which the calculation of a handicap can be based. National Associations are being encouraged to communicate this message to clubs and golfers, i.e. that the more scores available in the scoring record at the time of transition, the less impact golfers will feel on their handicap.
4. Will the World Handicap System impact the way the game is played in my country or region?
It is not our intention to try to force a change on the way that golf is played around the world or to try and remove the variations. The cultural diversity that exists within the game, including different formats of play and degrees of competitiveness, is what makes the sport so universally popular. Through collaboration with National Associations, the goal has been to try to accommodate those cultural differences within a single WHS.
5. Does the World Handicap System have the support of all the existing handicapping authorities and other National Associations around the world?
Yes. A series of briefing sessions was conducted all around the world in 2015, which aimed to cover as many National Associations as possible. The reaction was very positive. It is also worth emphasising that the development of the WHS is a collaborative effort and all the existing handicapping authorities and National Associations who are directly involved in the process are very supportive of the initiative.
Each of the six existing handicapping authorities have recently gone through their own internal approval processes, and all of them have confirmed their support for the new system. While the USGA and The R&A will oversee the WHS, the day-to-day administration of handicapping will continue to be the responsibility of the existing handicapping authorities and individual National Associations.
6. Have you consulted with golfers and golf club administrators about the World Handicap System?
Yes. We have solicited the opinions of golfers and golf club administrators all around the world via an online survey, to which we received over 52,000 responses. We have also conducted focus group sessions in five markets throughout Europe, the USA and South America. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive; for example, 76% surveyed are supportive, 22% undecided at this stage and only 2% opposed.
7. What is the timeline for implementation of the World Handicap System?
We are planning to make the WHS available for implementation by National Associations beginning in January 2020, after an extensive schedule of testing, communication, promotion and education.
8. What other details of the World Handicap System can you share?
Further details of the WHS will emerge over the coming months. However, we want to emphasize that it is being designed to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, while still providing golfers with the portability, accuracy and consistency they expect.
Offering a couple of examples, golfers will be able to obtain a handicap after returning a minimal number of scores – the recommendation being as few as three 18-hole scores, six 9-hole scores or a combination of both to comprise 54 holes. Handicaps will not lapse after a period of inactivity and the maximum handicap will be 54.0, regardless of gender. These elements are designed to clear a pathway into the game, enabling players new to the sport to feel more welcomed into the golf community.
While the WHS is intended to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance, it must enhance the enjoyment of all golfers. Therefore, it will be important for clubs to ensure that new golfers with higher handicaps pick up at the maximum hole score and maintain a good pace-of-play.
9. How and when will golfers and golf club administrators be educated on the World Handicap System?
The education roll-out is scheduled to commence in January 2019, and we have already started to work on a strategy for the development of a ‘global-ready’ education plan to support implementation and ongoing operations. National Associations will continue to carry out the responsibility of educating its membership.
10. Will the introduction of the World Handicap System have an impact on the current technology infrastructure?
The methods used to receive scores and compute and maintain handicaps remains at the discretion of each National Association. While implementation of the WHS will invariably impact different technology and computation services in use around the world at various levels, it is anticipated that any disruption will be kept to a minimum.
11. Is there a place I can go for more information about the World Handicap System?
You can visit www.usga.org, www.randa.org., or your National Association’s website.
Establishing a Handicap Index
Q. How do I establish a Handicap Index? A. You must be a member of a golf club. The USGA defines a golf club as an organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (including a Handicap Committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review, and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. A golf club must be licensed by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System. A club can obtain a license agreement directly from the USGA or through its membership in an authorized golf association that is already licensed by the USGA and that has jurisdiction in the geographic area that includes the principal location of the club. Once a player joins a golf club, the player should post adjusted gross scores. When the player posts five adjusted gross scores, and a revision date passes, the club will issue the player a Handicap Index.
Maximum Handicap Index
Q. What is the maximum Handicap Index for men and women? A. The maximum Handicap Index is 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women (18.2N and 20.2N for a nine-hole Handicap Index, respectively).
The Course Handicap could convert to a number higher than the maximum Handicap Index. Example: A Handicap Index of 36.4 on a course with a Slope Rating® of 145 would be 47 (e.g. 36.4 x 145 / 113 = 47 Course Handicap).
Anything above the maximum Handicap Index must be designated with an “L” for local club use only (e.g. 45.0L).
Anything set below the maximum Handicap Index for an event is a condition of the competition (e.g. maximum USGA Handicap Index for event is 25.0).
Using a Trend Handicap
Q. Does the USGA Handicap System recognize a Trend Handicap? A. A Trend Handicap is an unofficial estimate of a handicap and is not recognized as a Handicap Index because it represents un-reviewed scores by the Handicap Committee. A Trend Handicap could be missing scores that have failed to be re-routed to the player’s home club before the next handicap revision, including any possible reductions or modifications to handicaps. A Trend Handicap is not recommended for formal competition.
Q. What scores are acceptable for handicap posting purposes? A. Almost all scores are acceptable because of the basic premise of the USGA Handicap System which states that every player will try to make the best score at each hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played, and that the player will post every acceptable round for peer review. Therefore, all of the following are acceptable scores:
When at least seven holes are played (7-12 holes are posted as a 9-hole score; 13 or more are posted as an 18-hole score)
Scores on all courses with a valid Course Rating and Slope Rating
Scores in all forms of competition: match play, stroke play, and team competitions where each player play their own ball
Scores made under The Rules of Golf
Scores played under the local rule of “preferred lies”
Scores made in an area observing an active season
Conceded Strokes/Unfinished Holes
Q. How does a player post a score if conceded a stroke or does not finish a hole? A. If a player does not finish a hole or is conceded a stroke, record the most likely score for handicap purposes. A most likely score is the number of strokes already taken, plus in the player’s best judgment, the number of strokes needed to complete the hole from that point more than half the time. The most likely score should have an “X” preceding the number. For example, player A is just off the green in two strokes, and player A’s partner just holed out for a two; therefore, player A decides to pick up. Player A determines the most likely score would have been to chip on and two putt; therefore, player A will record an X-5 on the scorecard (two strokes already taken plus three more strokes to complete the hole). Player A does not automatically put down the Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) maximum. First, player A determines the most likely score and then after the round checks to see if the most likely score is above the ESC limit.
Holes Not Played/Not Played Under The Rules of Golf
Q. How do I post a score if a hole is not played or not played under the principles of The Rules of Golf? A. For handicap purposes, the player must record a score of par plus any handicap strokes normally received for the holes not played or holes not played in accordance with The Rules of Golf. These scores should have an “X” preceding the number. For example, player A is not able to play holes 16, 17, and 18 due to darkness. Player A has a Course Handicap of 12 and holes 16, 17, 18 are a par 5, 3, 4, and are allocated as the number 4, 16, 10 handicap holes, respectively. Therefore, player A will record an x-6, x-3, x-5 on holes 16, 17, and 18, respectively.
Posting a Score from a Foreign Golf Course
Q. How do I post a score made on a foreign golf course for handicap posting purposes? A. The USGA licenses many foreign golf associations to utilize the USGA Course Rating System. We recommend contacting the club(s) where you will be playing (or have played) and request the Course Rating and Slope Rating. If this is not feasible, the foreign golf association’s Web site may have this information. If the foreign golf course has a valid Course Rating and Slope Rating, then this score can be posted for handicap purposes. If no ratings are available (or if there is not a foreign golf association authorized by the USGA in the country), then this score is not acceptable for handicap posting purposes.
Posting a 9-hole Score to an 18-hole Handicap Index
Q. How do I post a 9-hole score to my “18-hole” Handicap Index? A. Each nine holes on a golf course has its own Course Rating and Slope Rating. Make sure to post the nine-hole score with the appropriate nine-hole Course Rating and Slope Rating. Two nine-hole scores will eventually (in order posted) be combined to create an 18-hole score and be designated with the letter “C.”
Posting a Score From an Unrated Set of Tees
Q. How do I post a score from an unrated set of tees on a rated golf course? A. Example: A woman plays from the middle tees, which are not rated for women. The USGA Course Rating from the forward tees is 71.6 with a Slope Rating of 119. The middle tees are 396 yards longer than the forward tees. Using the chart in Section 5-2g of “The USGA Handicap System,” she will post her score with a USGA Course Rating of 73.8 (71.6 + 2.2) and a Slope Rating of 124 (119 + 5). Note: The resulting values are subtracted if the unrated tees are shorter than the rated tees.
Section 5-2g may also be used if a player plays a combination of tees. First determine the total yardage of the combination tees, then apply the above procedure.
This adjustment in USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating is only meant to serve as a temporary adjustment and not as a formal USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating. If necessary, the authorized golf association can provide a permanent rating for these tees according to the appropriate gender.
Posting a Score Under “Preferred Lies”
Q. Can I post scores while playing “preferred lies” or “winter rules?” A. Yes. As long as the Committee has made the decision to play “preferred lies,” then all acceptable scores must be posted. The decision to post under “preferred lies” is not an option to the player if he/she has an acceptable score to post. The Committee making this decision is the Committee present at the club (preferably the Handicap Committee), but could include other club committees. The decision is made on a daily basis based on a specific Local Rule adopted by the Committee. Guidance on how to proceed under this condition must be available to all members, since there is not an established code of how to take relief (must specify location to take relief, procedure, and length of relief).
The USGA does not endorse “preferred lies.” However, if the Committee adopts “preferred lies”, all acceptable scores must be posted for handicap purposes.
Posting a Score in Error
Q. What must I do if posted a score in error? A. Ask your Handicap Chairman or someone on the Handicap Committee at your club (possibly one of the golf staff) to correct the error. A club representative is the only entity authorized to make a change to a scoring record. The USGA and AGA Handicap Departments do not have the authority to edit or delete postings on individual membership records.
Handicap Adjustment for Injury or Disability
Q. Can the Handicap Committee adjust a Handicap Index for player injury or disability? A. Yes. Under Section 8-4b(iii) of the USGA Handicap System manual, a Handicap Committee can grant an increase in handicap for temporary and permanent disabilities (as determined by the Handicap Committee). The increased handicap must be identified by the letter “L” to indicate that it is for local club use only.
For example, a player having recent wrist surgery may be given a higher handicap while recovering. Whether it is a temporary or permanent adjustment, and the amount of adjustment, is to be determined at the club level by the player’s Handicap Committee.
Temporary Treatment: Assign a local Handicap Index reflecting current ability—until posting five scores to the player’s Handicap Index—and then go back to observing player’s Handicap Index as calculated.
Permanent Treatment: Disregard the players’ previous scoring records and assign a temporary local Handicap Index for use until posting five scores to establish a new Handicap Index.
Scramble and Skins Handicap Allowance
Q. Does the USGA have handicap allowance recommendations for a scramble or skins event? A. Visit Section 9-4 of the USGA Handicap System manual for handicap allowances recommended by the USGA Handicap Department. Since a scramble is not played under the principles of The Rules of Golf, it will not be found in the manual. However, this recommendation seems to work well for most groups, regardless of minimum number of drives required or other special conditions:
* Based on a percentage of Course Handicap
The USGA does not have a formal recommendation for a skins event. A skins event closest resembles an individual stroke play competition so the committee may decide to use a full Course Handicap and let the player take strokes as they fall. With the dynamics of all handicaps that could compete, it is impossible to recommend a blanket allowance. Try experimenting with the allowance that works best among your group.
Allocating Handicap Strokes
Q. Does the USGA have any recommendations for allocating Handicap Strokes? A. As the authority to set the course handicap allocation is given to the club, the USGA recommends that the Handicap Committee should review the course hole-by-hole to determine the appropriate allocation of handicap strokes for men and women. This procedure is not mandatory and will have minimal effect on a player’s Handicap Index. Common sense should be used to ensure that the handicap strokes are used as an equalizer and should be available where it most likely will be needed by the higher-handicapped player in order to obtain a halve on the hole.
When starting out, the Handicap Committee should remember a few basic guidelines:
Allocate strokes based on the tees played most often by a majority of the members.
Allocate the odd-numbered strokes to the front-nine holes and the even-numbered strokes to the back-nine holes—unless the back-nine is decidedly more difficult than the front—you can reverse the allocation.
Avoid allocating the low numbered holes to the beginning or end of the nine holes.
A method for allocating your handicap strokes is to collect 200 hole-by-hole scorecards from two different groups of golfers. Group A consists of golfers with a Course Handicap of 0-8 for men or 0-14 for women. If there are very few members within this range, take the low 25 percent of its golfers as group A. Group B consists of middle-to-high Course Handicap golfers, ranging 15-20 strokes higher than group A (20-28 for men and 26-40 for women).
The next step is to compare the average score per hole for group A against the average score per hole of group B. Rank the differential of hole scores between group A and group B from high-to-low (1 highest, 18 lowest) differential. Allocate odd and even numbers to front and second nine. The last step is to make sure low numerical holes are not at the beginning or end of each nine.
A second methodology sometimes utilized by clubs to set Handicap Allocation is to generate an average hole by hole score for all members and compare that value against the Par of each hole. Then rank the holes in order beginning with the hole that reveals the largest discrepancy between the club’s average hole score in relation to Par (1 largest, 18 smallest). Again, allocate odd and even numbers to front and second nine and avoid low numerical holes at the beginning or end of each nine.
The Handicap Committee should also implement local knowledge and good judgment when allocating handicap stroke holes as the club makes the final determination of handicap allocation utilized by players.
Course Rating FAQ
Course Rating System Principals
Q. What is the Course Rating, bogey rating, and Slope Rating?A. Course Rating defines the USGA mark indicating the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as strokes taken to one decimal place, and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of a scratch golfer. Course Rating is equivalent to the better half average of a scratch golfer’s scores under normal playing conditions.
Bogey Rating is the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for the bogey golfer under normal course and weather conditions. It is based on yardage, effective playing length and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of the bogey golfer. Bogey rating is equivalent to the better half average of a bogey golfer’s scores under normal playing conditions.
Slope Rating defines the USGA mark indicating the measurement of the relative difficulty of a course for non-scratch golfers compared to the Course Rating. Slope Rating is computed by the following formula: Bogey rating – Course Rating x (5.381 men, 4.24 women) = Slope Rating
Course Rating Obstacle Factors
Q. What obstacles are accounted for through the USGA Course Rating evaluation process?A. The USGA Course Rating system is setup to identify the effect of the following (10) obstacles on both a Scratch and Bogey golfer on a hole by hole basis.
Topography: Stance and lie problems
Fairway: Width of the fairway in the projected landing zones
Green Target: Difficulty of hitting the green surface on an approach shot
Rough & Recovery: Difficulty of recovery from areas off the fairway
Bunkers: Fairway bunkers that are in proximity to landing zones as well as greenside bunkers
Out of Bounds: Effect of OB on the players based upon shot length and distance to OB
Water: Effect of water on players based upon shot length and distance lateral or to carry water
Trees/Desert: How trees or desert come into play and the recovery factor is a player is in them
Green Surface: Difficulty of putting on the green surface, determined through speed and contour
Psychological: Gross mental effect that the significance of obstacles can have on a player
Re-evaluation of golf courses
Q. How often are courses rerated?A. Authorized Golf Associations who are licensed to evaluate courses in their region and issue USGA Course Ratings are expected to rate each course within their jurisdiction a minimum of once every 10 years to assure the values being utilized are an accurate reflection of the course difficulty. For newly constructed courses, the USGA Rating System requires that the Authorized Golf Association rate the course every 5 years for the first 10 years of existence. Aside from this standard rerate rotation; if a course undergoes significant renovation or changes that would greatly affect the day to day difficulty, the course should contact the local Authorized Golf Association to find out if the Course Rating & Slope values should be revised.
USGA Course Rating Teams
Q. Who is responsible for rating the golf courses using the USGA Course Rating System?A. Only Authorized Golf Associations are licensed by the USGA to rate golf courses and assign Course Rating and Slope values. Typically, the individuals who compose the rating team(s) for each Authorized Golf Association are composed of both volunteers and Association staff. In order to take part as a rating team member, individuals need to go through a training process to assure a high level of knowledge of the standards of the USGA Rating System. Highly trained rating team members will proficiently be able to evaluate golf courses using the standard Course Rating System and produce accurate values for use in future score postings to the handicap system.