World Handicap System

The vision of the new World Handicap System is to unify the six different handicap systems used around the world into one, universal system. Although the six other systems were very well-developed, each system provides slightly different results. The new system will enable players round the world to compete on fair ground, in any format, on any course, without sacrificing accuracy. As the system was adapted by all of the existing handicapping authorities and other National Associations, this collaboration will ensure the system is suitable to all golfing cultures.

When adapted, the WHS will be governed by the USGA and The R&A and administered by national and multinational associations around the world. The WHS will encompass both the Rules of Handicapping and the Course Rating System (formerly known as the USGA Course Rating and Slope System).

Five Things to Know InfographicWHS.comComparison of Key Features Rules of Handicapping

Five Things You Need to Know About the New World Handicap System


1. Your Handicap Index may change.

But that’s OK! Finally, players around the world will have an apples-to-apples handicap. Your new Handicap Index will be more responsive to good scores by averaging your eight best score out of your most recent 20 (currently, it’s 10 out of 20 with a .96 multiplier). In short, your Handicap Index will be determined by your demonstrated ability and the consistency of scores. In most cases for golfers in the U.S., it will change less than one stroke.

2. You need to know your Course Handicap

In the new system, your Course Handicap will be the number of strokes needed to play to par. This will result in greater variance in that number and presents a change, as historically it has represented the number of strokes needed to play to the Course Rating. This is a good thing, as par is an easy number to remember. Target score for the day? Par plus Course Handicap. The Course Rating will now be inherent within the calculation to be more intuitive and account for competing from different tees.

3. Net Double Bogey.

The maximum hole score for each player will be limited to a Net Double Bogey. This adjustment is more consistent from hole to hole than the Equitable Stroke Control procedure. Net Double Bogey is already used in many other parts of the world and the calculation is simple: Par + 2 + any handicap strokes you receive.

4. Your Handicap Index will be revised daily

One way that handicapping is being modernized is a player’s Handicap Index will update daily (which will provide a fairer indication of a player’s ability in the moment), if the player submitted a score the day before. On days where the player does not submit a score, no update will take place.

5. Safeguards in the new system.

The new system will limit extreme upward movement of a Handicap Index, automatically and immediately reduce a Handicap Index when an exceptional score of at least 7 strokes better is posted, and account for abnormal course or weather conditions to ensure that scores reflect when a course plays significantly different than its established Course Rating and Slope Rating.

These safeguards help maintain accuracy of a Handicap Index, greater integrity within the system and promote fun and fair play for golfers of all abilities.

WHS – Overview

Coming in 2020: World Handicap System

WHS – Introduction

Why a new WHS?

Educational Resources

WHS – Exceptional Score

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WHS – Calculation of Course and Playing Handicap

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WHS – Timely Submission of Scores

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WHS – Maximum Handicap Index

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Playing Conditions Calculation

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WHS – Maximum Hole Score for Handicap Purposes

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Handicap Committee Review

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Responsive Handicap Index Updates

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Limit on Extreme Upward Movement of a Handicap Index

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Acceptable Scores for Handicap Purposes

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Explanation for each Major change

Topic Explanation Reasons for Change

Course Rating and Slope Rating

The USGA Course Rating System will be referred to as “The Course Rating System” and will join “The Rules of Handicapping” to form the World Handicap System.
  • The Course Rating System will be implemented by National Associations and allow a player’s Handicap Index to be from course to course and country to country.
  • This will enable acceptable scores to be made at any rated golf course in the world to be submitted for handicap purposes.
  • To provide an accurate and consistent measure of the difficulty of a golf course by ensuring that playing length and obstacle factors are evaluated the same way worldwide.

Number of Scores Required to Obtain a Handicap Index

A Handicap Index will be issued to a player after three 18-hole scores are submitted and a revision takes place. Scores can be made up of any combination of 9-hole and 18-hole scores. Revisions will be daily, so a player’s Handicap Index will become active the day after their third 18-hole score is submitted.
  • One of the key principles of the World Handicap System is to enable as many golfers as possible the opportunity to establish and maintain a Handicap Index.
  • Statistics show that players with a Handicap Index play more rounds of golf, so making it easier to get a Handicap Index can help increase participation.

Basis of Handicap Index Calculation

When a score is submitted, it will be converted to a Score Differential based on the Course Rating and Slope Rating of the tees that were played. In addition, a Playing Conditions Calculation will be included to account for any abnormal course or weather conditions.
A Handicap Index will then be calculated by averaging a player’s 8 best Score Differentials out of their most recent 20.
  • Moving to an 8 of 20 system will allow for greater responsiveness to good scores and eliminate the need for a bonus for excellence – which is often difficult to explain.
  • Including a Playing Conditions Calculation will ensure that each Score Differential is reflective of a player’s performance in a given round.
  • Limiting the extreme upward movement of a Handicap Index will ensure that a temporary loss of form does not cause a player’s Handicap Index to move too far from their demonstrated ability.
  • The Exceptional Score Reduction procedure is designed to be intuitive by evaluating all scores as opposed to just “T-scores.”
  • Incorporating these safeguards will add integrity to the system and support Handicap Committees by ensuring the accuracy of each member’s Handicap Index.

Limit on Upward Movement of a Handicap Index (Cap)

A “soft cap” and “hard cap” will be included within the Handicap Index calculation
The soft cap will suppress the upward movement of a Handicap Index by 50 percent if a 3.0 stroke increase takes place within 12 months. The hard cap will restrict upward movement if, after the application of the soft cap, a 5.0 stroke increase takes place within 12 months.
  • A new term, “Low Handicap Index” will be included within the Rules of Handicapping and will be made visible to players. This value will serve as the baseline for the soft cap and hard cap procedures.
  • There is no limit on the amount by which a player’s Handicap Index can decrease, but the soft cap and hard cap will ensure that a temporary loss of form does not cause a player’s Handicap Index to increase to a level inconsistent with their demonstrated ability.
  • The automatic calculation will prevent extreme upward movement of a Handicap Index, as well as assist Handicap Committees as an anti-abuse safeguard.
  • This procedure will favor the consistent player, as players who have significant volatility in their scoring history over a 12-month period will be impacted by it more often.

Exceptional Score Reduction (ESR)

When a player submits a score that produces a Score Differential of 7.0 strokes or more below their Handicap Index, they will be subject to an Exceptional Score Reduction.
When the Score Differential is between 7.0 and 9.9 strokes below their current Handicap Index, a -1.0 reduction is applied to the most recent 20 score differentials. When the Score Differential is 10.0 strokes or more below their Handicap Index, a -2.0 reduction is applied to the most recent 20 score differentials.
Scores submitted after the exceptional score will not contain the -1.0 or -2.0 adjustment (unless they are also exceptional), which will allow reduction to gradually work itself out of a Scoring Record.
  • To simplify the automatic reduction process.
  • Handicap research shows that players who have shot 7.0 strokes below their Handicap Index are more likely to do so again in the future.
  • Under the USGA Handicap System, only rounds played in events designated by the Committee as T-scores can lead to an automatic reduction.
  • Since T-scores under the USGA Handicap System are retained for 12-months and compared to the Handicap Index at each revision, it is possible for T-scores that were not exceptional at the time they were made to become exceptional at a later date. This will no longer take place in 2020.
Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC) When abnormal course or weather conditions cause scores to be unusually high or low on a given day, a “Playing Conditions Calculation” will adjust Score Differentials to better reflect a player’s actual performance. The “PCC” is:
  • An automatic procedure by the computation service that compares the scores submitted on the day against expected scoring patterns,
  • Conservative in nature and applied in integer values, and
  • Applied in the Score Differential calculation of all players – even those who submit their score(s) on a later date.
  • To provide a mechanism that allows a better assessment of the difficulty of a course on a particular day.
  • This is one of the more modern features of the system, but a similar calculation has been used successfully in other parts of the world.
  • The Playing Conditions Calculation will also be used to identify if the Course Rating of a golf course needs to be reviewed by the local Authorized Golf Association.

Frequency of Handicap Index Updates A player’s Handicap Index will update daily, provided that the player submitted a score the day before. On days where the player does not submit a score, no update will take place.
  • To provide players with a more responsive and up-to-date Handicap Index
  • To streamline the process of establishing a Handicap Index.
  • To encourage players to submit scores as soon as practicable, preferably before midnight on the day of play.
Maximum Handicap Index The maximum Handicap Index for all golfers will be 54.0, regardless of gender
  • To make the game more welcoming to new players and incentivize beginners to establish and maintain a Handicap Index.
  • To provide all players with a more precise measure of their demonstrated ability and allow players of all skill levels to track their progress in the game.
  • By encouraging novice and recreational players to get a Handicap Index, they’ll be provided with opportunities to learn about the Rules of Handicapping.
  • Statistics show that players with a Handicap Index play more rounds of golf. Therefore, making the system more welcoming can help grow the game and create a more sustainable future.
  • Although the maximum Handicap Index will be 54.0, the Committee in charge of the Competition can set a lower maximum limit for entry or use in competitions.
  • Although some are concerned that increasing the maximum Handicap Index may lead to handicap manipulation, safeguards exist within the Handicap Index calculation to minimize the potential for it (“Cap” – Rule 5.8; “Exceptional Score Reduction” – Rule 5.9; “Handicap Review” – Appendix D).
Importance and Determination of Par Par will have an important role within the World Handicap System, requiring par values to be more precise. Golf courses fall within the jurisdiction of the Authorized Golf Association, who has the final determination of par based on the following guidelines:

Par Men Women
3 Up to 260 yards Up to 220 yards
4 240 to 499 yards 200 to 420 yards
5 450 to 710 yards 370 to 600 yards
6 670 yards and up 570 yards and up

  • The Course Handicap calculation will include a Course Rating minus Par adjustment, which will enable a Course Handicap to represent the number of strokes a player receives to play down to the Par of the tees being played.
    • As a result, as long as players are competing from tees with the same Pars, no additional adjustment is needed.
  • The maximum hole score for handicap purposes will be a “Net Double Bogey,” equal to Par + 2 + any handicap strokes the player receives. For this adjustment to be accurate, Par values must be correct.
  • When a player does not play a hole, “Net Par” must be recorded as their score for the hole. Net Par is equal to Par + any handicap strokes the player receives.
Course Handicap Calculation and Application A Course Handicap will represent the number of strokes a player receives in relation to the UParU of the tees being played. The formula will include a Course Rating minus Par adjustment:

Course Handicap = Handicap Index × (Slope Rating ÷ 113) + (Course Rating – Par)

  • Under the USGA Handicap System, when players compete from different tees, a Course Handicap adjustment based on the Course Rating difference must take place to make the game fair.
  • Applying Course Rating minus Par within the Course Handicap calculation will allow players to compete from different tees without any adjustment – unless a difference in Par exists.
  • Under the USGA Handicap System, it is common for Course Handicap values to change very little from tee to tee.
  • Beginning in 2020, Course Handicap values will change more from tee to tee, as they will represent the number of strokes to play to Par.
  • Par is a term that resonates with golfers, so setting Par as the benchmark for a Course Handicap adds simplicity to handicapping.
  • A score of Net Par will be used for holes not played, and the maximum hole score for handicap purposes will be a Net Double Bogey. Having a Course Handicap that is relative to Par will ensure that the correct number of strokes are received and applied for both procedures.
Playing Handicap Calculation and Application The term “Playing Handicap” will be introduced within the Rules of Handicapping and will represent the number of strokes a player receives in a competition. The following formula will be used to determine a Playing Handicap
Playing Handicap = Course Handicap x Handicap Allowance
If players are competing from tees with different Pars, then the player(s) competing from the tees with the higher Par will receive an additional stroke(s) based on the difference.
  • By introducing the term Playing Handicap, there will be a clear distinction between two key Rules of Handicapping definitions, where both serve specific purposes:
    • A Course Handicap will be used to adjust individual hole scores (Net Double Bogey and Net Par procedures)
    • Playing Handicaps will be used for net competition purposes – including determining the results and winner(s).
  • Under the current system, confusion exists because there is only one defined term that often represents two different values.
  • The defined term Playing Handicap will be intuitive and ensure that both terms are applied properly.
Maximum Hole Score for Handicap Purposes (Net Double Bogey) The maximum hole score for each player will be limited to a Net Double Bogey, calculated as follows:
Double Bogey + handicap strokes a player receives (or gives) based on their Course Handicap
  • The Net Double Bogey adjustment is more consistent from hole to hole than the ESC procedure.
  • While this is a change for all who have used the USGA Handicap System, Net Double Bogey has been used successfully in many parts of the world – as it is the equivalent to zero points in the Net Stableford format of play.
  • The 2019 “Rules of Golf” introduced the maximum score form of stroke play, and Net Double Bogey was included as a recommended maximum score.
Treatment of Nine-Hole Scores To submit a nine-hole score, a player must play 7 to 13 holes under the Rules of Golf. When 14 or more holes are played, the score submitted qualifies as an 18-hole score
  • For players with a Handicap Index, nine-hole scores are combined in the order that they are received and used to produce an 18-hole Score Differential.
  • A nine-hole Handicap Index (N) will no longer exist.
  • To ensure that each player has one Handicap Index and one Scoring Record under the World Handicap System.
  • The method for calculating a Handicap Index will be the same worldwide, and this applies whether a player submits all 9-hole scores, 18-hole scores, or a combination of both.
  • To enhance the integrity of the Handicap Index calculation.
    • When a player with a nine-hole Handicap Index (N) competes in an 18-hole competition, doubling their nine-hole Handicap Index (N) is not always fair – as the player(s) doubling their nine-hole Handicap Index (N) are sometimes at a disadvantage and receive one or two fewer strokes than they would with an 18-hole Handicap Index.

Continuing Education

Club Administrators and Facility Staff

The AGA will be presenting detailed World Handicap System education via half-day certification seminars, designed specifically for club administrators and facility staff. For access to the upcoming seminar opportunities and signup, please reach out directly to AGA staff member, Michelle Evens.

Email: michelle@azgolf.org

Phone: (602)-944-3035


AGA Member/Golfer

In an effort to provide a resource that may be utilized for local club member/golfer education, the USGA has produced a club-based educational PowerPoint deck which highlights the most significant WHS system changes. This presentation is anticipated to be approximately 45 minutes in length. Please download and utilize at your discretion at the local level and forward any questions that arise to AGA Staff: Derek McKenzie.

Email: dmckenzie@azgolf.org

Phone: (602)-944-3035


Club Education PowerPoint

WHS Questions