The Chairman of Golf Australia, John Hopkins, has announced that the World Handicap System is to be adopted in Australia.

The WHS is an initiative that the R&A and the USGA have been working on for a number of years together with golf’s major handicapping authorities.  GA is one of the organisations that has been integrally involved.  In October 2017 the R&A and USGA issued a formal invitation to GA to adopt the WHS.  GA has now accepted this invitation.

The decision by Golf Australia to adopt the World Handicap System follows a period of extensive consultation with the industry.  In announcing the move, Mr Hopkins advised that key factors in the decision were:

• “The WHS will result in just two changes of substance to the user experience of Australian golfers and administrators (these two changes are explained below).  The two changes are both considered strong improvements to Australian handicapping.  GA’s chief statistician is also strongly supportive of both changes.

• Golf is played globally with one set of playing Rules; it makes sense for there to be only one handicap system.

• Every other major country will adopt the WHS.  Given this we believe it is important that GA align its operations with the global standard and with world’s best practice.  We do not believe strong governance is best served by continuing to invest in a stand-alone handicap system when resources could instead be directed to supporting the sustainability of golf clubs and facilities.

• Golf NSW, Golf NT, Golf Queensland, GolfSA, Golf Tasmania, Golf Victoria, GolfWA, and the Board of Golf Management Australia all previously recommended adoption of the WHS.

• GA commissioned respected industry consultant GBAS to poll the views of individual golfers.  This polling displayed the following sentiments on the WHS.  Change to Daily Handicap calculation – 65% strongly in favour, 27% slightly in favour, 6% neutral, 1% opposed.  Introduction of Soft Cap – 56% strongly in favour, 26% slightly in favour, 13% neutral, 4% opposed.  Should Australia adopt the WHS? – 81% strongly in favour, 13% slightly in favour, 4% neutral, 2% opposed.

• Despite the invitation to all clubs to provide comment on the proposal to adopt the WHS, no clubs advocated against its adoption.”
What will the WHS changes of substance be for Australia’s clubs and golfers?

1. There will be a Hard Cap of 5 strokes as per GA’s current regulation.  There will also be a Soft Cap currently set at 3 strokes which will be a new regulation for Australia. The Soft Cap will allow a player normal increases in their GA Handicap unless it increases to 3 strokes above their best GA Handicap from the previous 12-month period.  Above this point the GA Handicap will only be permitted to increase by 50% of the calculated amount.  [Example: A player’s ‘8 of 20’ calculation is 17.2.  Their best GA Handicap within the trailing 12-month period is 11.2.  Their GA Handicap is 15.7 (ie 11.2 + 3 + (50% of 3)).]  Modelling indicates that the Soft Cap will impact up to 20% of the total number of handicap calculations performed by GOLF Link each year.  The introduction of the Soft Cap will reduce the percentage of players impacted by the Hard Cap from 5% down to less than 1.5%.  GA has been aware for some time that our existing system produces a competitive advantage to the inconsistent player over the consistent player and we have been looking for a way to soften this outcome.  The Soft Cap will improve this situation and will improve the equity of Australian handicapping.

Click here to see a Q&A on the new Soft Cap regulation.

2. The Daily Handicap calculation will be changed to incorporate the difference between the Scratch Rating and the Par.  This is all that needs to happen to enable 36 Stableford points (or net par) to become the equitable measure of whether a player has played to their handicap, irrespective of the course or set of tees.  To determine a WHS Daily Handicap GOLF Link will start by performing the exact same calculation as currently occurs under the existing GA Handicap System.  And then it will simply adjust this amount by the difference between the Scratch Rating and the Par.  This change will eliminate the significant complexity involved with scoring for multi-tee and mixed gender competitions, and as a result will be beneficial from a game participation and engagement perspective.

Click here to see a Q&A on the changes to the calculation of the Daily Handicap.
What other changes will there be for Australia?

There will obviously be changes to technical regulations but the above two regulations will be the only changes of any substance to the user-experience of Australian clubs and golfers.  A WHS handicap index (ie GA Handicap) will be calculated by averaging the best 8 of the most recent 20 scores.  We will continue to use the .93 multiplier.  Stableford handicapping of all Stroke competitions will continue.  GA’s existing pre-nominated social scores regulation will continue without amendment.  The WHS will include a statistical daily rating mechanism (which will feature different formulas to the existing DSR formulas) and Slope.
Will there be a change to handicap limits under the World Handicap System?

There will be a maximum GA Handicap under the World Handicap System of 54 for both men and women.  However the WHS will specifically provide the flexibility for Australia to build default handicap limits into our software of 36 for men and 45 for women (which is what they currently are).

• The findings of GA’s 2016 national handicapping survey suggest that most Australian clubs wish to retain the status quo on handicap limits.  The software solution option described above will be crafted to enable clubs to do this.

• GA has also received feedback from some clubs indicating they would like to be able to increase competition handicap limits.  The software solution option described above will be crafted to provide clubs the flexibility to achieve this outcome.  This will allow for better engagement with many new players and with older members as average Australian ages continue to increase.
When will the WHS come into effect?

On a global level, the WHS is scheduled to take full effect in January 2020.  One theme of feedback that has repeatedly been expressed to GA is that the WHS changes are very positive and that implementation in Australia earlier than 2020 would be preferred by many.  As a result, GA is now investigating an earlier roll-out.  GA is mindful that extensive involvement of various software providers will be required to bring the WHS changes into effect.  Whilst GA is hopeful of an earlier implementation than January 2020, nothing has been confirmed and we will keep the industry updated on any new timelines.
Click here to see a media release on the World Handicap System from the R&A and United States Golf Association.