R&A and USGA unveil major changes to the WHS for 2024

Everything you need to know about the first (and much needed) update to the World Handicap System (WHS).

Martin Slumbers told us that some big changes were coming to the World Handicap System. Now we can reveal that a number of updates are coming into effect as early as January 1, 2024, as part of an ongoing review of the Rules of Handicapping and Course Rating System by the R&A and USGA.

Although these revisions will not apply to club golfers in Great Britain & Ireland until April 1, every national association around the world will be changing the way scores are submitted and processed in 2024 (and beyond) in a bid to ‘improve the accuracy, consistency and equity’ of handicaps. The most significant changes include:

The inclusion of shorter-length golf courses within the course rating system

The overall length requirements for course ratings will be significantly reduced. A set of tees on an 18-hole course may be as short as 1,500 yards, and 750 yards for a nine-hole course.

This change is intended to expand the WHS to thousands of shorter-length courses, including par-3 courses, and enable more golfers to obtain and use a handicap index.

The use of an ‘expected score’ for holes not played

This will change the way nine-hole scores are adjusted for 18-hole score differentials.

The current system uses net par to calculate a score differential for holes not played, but a gender-specific ‘model scoring formula’ has been created for every handicap index. This will be applied to your handicap index and create an ‘expected score’ for any holes you may have missed.

More frequent PCC adjustments

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 now be complete by April 1, 2024.

The WHS has never been easy to understand.

More stringent handicap reviews

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 tools have been developed for national associations to incorporate into their handicapping software to assist each Handicap Committee in conducting the review process more effectively.

Golfers will receive shots based on the course difficulty (GB&I only)

This is perhaps the biggest change and it refers to how your course handicap is calculated. Currently, the formula used is Handicap Index x (Slope/113), but the new calculation for course handicap from April 1, 2024, will be Handicap Index x (Slope/113) + (Course Rating – Par)

On paper, at least, it sounds more complicated, but without it the target score for a golfer to play to handicap is the course rating. This updated formula will move that target score to net par/36 points for all handicap indexes.

Basically, this means if the course rating is higher than par, players will receive additional strokes. Whereas, if the course rating is lower than the par, they will lose strokes.

For example, a male player currently playing the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa from the white tees, with a handicap index of 10.0, would have a course handicap of 13 (10.0 x (151/113) = 13.362831)

However, using Course Rating – Par, the course handicap would be 15.

10.0 x (151/113) = 13.362831
74.4 – 73 = 1.4
13.362831 + 1.4 = 14.762831 (15)

Fourball formats will count towards handicap (GB&I only)

Currently, only scores from certain singles formats of play can count towards handicap. From the start of April, however, scores from fourball competitions (such as strokeplay, Stableford and par/bogey) will also be accepted.

The only caveat is that one player of the pair must have scored on a minimum of nine holes, and the total pair score must be at least 42 points (or six under par).

If these triggers are hit, however, the golfer who has scored on the minimum nine holes will have an upscaling value added for their un-played holes, based upon their playing partner’s score. If this score equates to 36+ points (level par or better), a score differential will be calculated and recorded for handicap purposes.

You can now get an official golf handicap even if you're not a club member.

Each revision to the WHS leverages performance data gathered from around the world, in addition to feedback received from many of the 125 countries now using the system. The R&A have also reiterated that regular reviews of the WHS will continue to take place at regular intervals.

Claire Bates, Director – Handicapping 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.”

Golfers are encouraged to visit their national association’s website to learn more about the discretionary items that apply to their region. Contact details for national associations can be found on the WHS website here.

About the author

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling – Features Editor

Michael Catling is an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.

Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with the game’s biggest names, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, Martin Slumbers and Justin Thomas.

Get in touch with Michael via email and follow him on X.

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