WHEN the R&A and USGA modernised the Rules of Golf in 2019 – the most comprehensive update in decades – the governing bodies challenged the stereotype that they’re resistant to change. They’re set to do that again with the launch of the World Handicap System, which starting in 2020 will consolidate the half-dozen handicap calculations previously used around the world into a single, portable index. 

Aussie golfers might be relieved to learn the new WHS won’t have any significant impact on their current numbers. “The World Handicap System involves less change for Australia than it does for any other country,” says Simon Magdulski, senior manager – Play Management & Regulations at Golf Australia. “The new Rules of Golf was just one big universal change. When it comes to handicaps, every country is starting from a different position so that’s made things a little trickier to settle on a system that’s going to work for everyone. But we’re lucky that the current system here in Australia was close to what’s being implemented anyway.”

Some places, including the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Portugal and Italy, won’t switch until later in the year. For Australia, it all starts on January 30 and there are a few distinctions with the WHS golfers need to understand >>>  

What stays the same for Australia? 

1. Slope

2. Immediate handicap updates

A player’s handicap will continue to be updated by GolfLink on the same day a score is processed. 

3. No lapsed handicaps

Players will not be required to play a minimum number of rounds each year in order to maintain their GA Handicaps. 

4. Nine-hole

Australia’s regulations for the optional handicapping of nine-hole rounds will continue. 

5. Stableford handicapping

Stableford handicapping of all Stroke competitions will continue. 

6. Social scores

Continued handicapping of ‘pre-nominated social scores’ (when permitted by the home club). 

7. Hard Cap

The Hard Cap of five strokes will continue. There will also be a Soft Cap at three strokes, which will be a new regulation for Australia. 

8. Scratch Ratings

Whole-number Scratch Ratings will continue. 

9. Four-ball

Australia’s regulations for the optional handicapping of four-ball competitions will continue. 

10. Initial handicaps

A player will be required to submit three 18-hole scores (or six nine-hole scores, or a combination of the two). 

11. No matchplay scores

Handicapping of matchplay scores will not be permitted. 

What are the changes for Australia? 

1. Transfer of 0.93 Multiplier (which creates a small change to the formulas for the GA Handicap and Daily Handicap) 

The 0.93 Multiplier will be transferred out of the GA Handicap calculation and into the Daily Handicap calculation. As a result, a GA Handicap will be calculated simply by averaging the best eight of a player’s 20 most recent results. 

Golf Australia statisticians confirm this change will have no overall impact on the handicaps players actually play off (i.e. Daily Handicaps). This is because the slight increase it will cause to GA Handicaps (by being removed from that formula), will be exactly the same as the decrease it will cause to Daily Handicaps (by being transferred into this formula). As a result there will be no overall impact. [See below for the full new Daily Handicap formula.] 

2. Adjustment to Daily Handicap formula when Scratch Rating is different to Par 

Why the change? Have you ever heard someone ask: “So, if I have 36 points, will that mean I’ve played to my handicap?” To which the answer is: “Well, it kind of depends on whether there’s a difference between the scratch rating and the par?” Golf Australia heard plenty of feedback that this is confusing. And the simple change happening under the WHS means 36 Stableford points will become the universal measure of whether a player has played to their handicap. Regardless of the course or set of tees. 

What is another key benefit? Comparing results in multi-tee and mixed-gender competitions will be made simple – Golf Australia also heard the feedback on this and know the current complexities are a barrier for many clubs. The change will help drive game participation and engagement initiatives. It will also make it easier for clubs to manage their legal risk around compliance with the 1984 Federal sex discrimination law. [See the Australian Human Rights Commission publication titled ‘Guidelines for the promotion of equal opportunity for women and girls in golf’ – www.golf.org.au/equality-guidelines.]

So what is the actual change? The Daily Handicap formula will include an adjustment when the Scratch Rating is different to the Par. For example: Scratch Rating 73, Par 70 – Daily Handicaps will increase by 3* (i.e. 73 – 70 = +3); Scratch Rating 68, Par 70 – Daily Handicaps will decrease by 2* (i.e. 68 – 70 = -2). Note: *the Daily Handicap calculation usually produces a number with multiple decimal places, which is then rounded to a whole number; in some cases the rounding will soften the impact of the adjustment by 1. 

3. Daily rating system – PCC 

The WHS will feature a statistical daily rating system. It will be called PCC (Playing Conditions Calculation). 

The WHS daily rating formulas and regulations have been in full effect in Australia since May 2019. 

When the WHS comes into effect, the PCC will be displayed on your handicap record as an adjustment value (e.g. ‘+2’ or ‘-1’) rather than a value such as ‘68’ or ‘72’ as happens pre-WHS under the Australian DSR system. PCCs are permitted to range anywhere between -1 (i.e. easier conditions) and +3 (harder conditions). 

4. Maximum handicaps 

The maximum GA Handicap under the WHS is 54.0 for both men and women. 

Your club’s handicap and competition management software can choose default handicap limits lower than 54 for any (or all) competitions. For example, your club may choose to set Daily Handicap limits at 36 for men and 45 for women for most competitions. And then use a higher limit for beginner competitions or for events for less-skilled players. 

What is new for Australia? 

1. Soft Cap of 3 strokes

A GA Handicap will continue to increase at the current rate of 100 percent of the ‘8 of 20 scores’ calculation until it reaches three strokes above its best point from the previous 12 months. Once in this new Soft Cap zone, a player’s GA Handicap will only be allowed to increase by 50 percent of the calculated amount. 

Example: A player’s ‘8 of 20 scores’ calculation is 17.2, but their best GA Handicap from the previous 12 months is 11.2, which is 6 strokes less. Their GA Handicap calculation becomes 11.2 + 3 + (50 percent of 3) to equal 15.7. 

Statistical modelling indicates that the Soft Cap will impact up to 20 percent of the total number of handicap calculations performed by GolfLink each year. The introduction of the Soft Cap will reduce the percentage of players impacted by the Hard Cap from 5 percent down to less than 1.5 percent. 

Golf Australia has been aware for some time that its pre-WHS handicap system produces a competitive advantage to the inconsistent player over the consistent player and 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. 

2. Bonus reduction for exceptional net score 

GolfLink will apply an automatic additional reduction to a player’s GA Handicap if they have an ‘exceptional score’. If the player’s score is 7.0-9.9 strokes better than what their GA Handicap was at the time the round was played then GolfLink will apply an automatic additional reduction of 1.0 strokes to their GA Handicap. If the player’s score is at least 10.0 strokes better than what their GA Handicap was at the time the round was played, then GolfLink will apply an automatic additional reduction of 2.0 strokes to their GA Handicap. 

To establish whether a score is exceptional, GolfLink will compare the player’s GA Handicap at the time the round was played with the number in the ‘Sloped Played To’ column for that round. (The ‘Sloped Played To’ column is one of the columns that is displayed in a player’s handicap record on www.golf.org.au.) 

When does the WHS take full effect in Australia?

On January 30, 2020. 

Where will I be able to see my handicap record once the WHS goes live in Australia on January 30, 2020?

www.golf.org.au is the only authorised website that will display your handicap record. 

Who can I contact if I have questions about the WHS?

You can go to www.golf.org.au/whs, or speak to your club, or you can e-mail GA at rules&[email protected]