CONGU announces new handicapping changes

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham November 26, 2015 11:23

The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) has announced that its revised handicapping system has been updated and the new changes will come in on January 1, 2016.

The changes include:

Club handicaps: A new ‘Club Handicap’ of up to 54 will be introduced for adults as well as juniors. Handicaps higher than 28/36 will only be valid at the player’s home club for use in club-run events and cannot be used in opens and so on.

Nine holes: It will be possible to put in supplementary scores over nine holes for handicaps. Nine-hole scores will also be taken into account for an ‘Exceptional Scoring Reduction’.

Reinstatement of handicap status: The reinstatement of a competition status handicap requires a player to submit three qualifying scores, which could be 18-hole competitions, nine-hole competitions or supplementary scores both at home and/or away.

‘Four Ball Better Ball’ handicap allowance: In both stroke play and match play the back marker will concede strokes to the other three players based on 90 percent of the difference between the full handicaps rather than 75 percent (3/4) as at present.

Continuous handicap review: The introduction of a process to flag players with seven consecutive 0.1 handicap increases so that Handicap Committees can review and apply an immediate handicap increase if required.

Dates: The handicap year will now follow the calendar year of January 1 to December 31, and a player’s handicap will be based on scores returned within that period.

Jim McArthur, CONGU board chairman, said: “The CONGU Unified Handicapping System does not stand still and, as a result, we again have a number of further refinements to the system reflecting both experience and new evidence.

We continually review the system to encourage participation in both competitive golf and social golf whilst at the same time trying to ensure that the system is fair for players of all abilities.”

England Golf will host a series of Handicap Roadshows in January and February to help clubs understand and implement the changes by the deadline of March 1 2016. The two-hour sessions will be led by Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s handicap and course rating manager, and are free to attend for up to three delegates.


Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham November 26, 2015 11:23
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  1. John macdonald February 26, 20:57

    I am 65 and off 5.8
    I have play in 30 opens with my playing partner off 8 also 65
    This year we have never seen such a ridiculous changes to handicapping system to 90% where
    Nearly all 4 ball better ball are being won with 48 up to in one even 56
    Please explains why I am throwing my money down the toilet

    when in Lancaster and Cumbria we love our golf to be played on a level playing field

    Reply to this comment
  2. Frank Clapp December 3, 18:18

    CONGU and the new “Recommendations”/ Rules. Possibly about time for club competitions Clubs disregarded the fiddling of CONGU. Having administered handicaps since 1981, pre the 1983 system, over the years there has been a lot of fiddling around with the handicap system. When will those in the authorities realise that any system is flawed with a game where one day you can go out and shoot 78 and the next day or even same day then shoot 90. The vast majority of players do not play consistently from day to day, albeit the better players seem to have more chance of doing so. Even the Pros do not so how can anyone expect amateurs to do so. Increasing handicaps to 54 for club members means those people are going to go round in say 124 shots on a par 70 course, how long is that going to take them if they are all in the same fourball, so much for the R & A trying to sort out slow play! The rush to get people in to playing golf at any price/cost will force those away who wish to play at a reasonable level and at a reasonable pace of play. Having played for nearly 50 years the decline in pace of play is dreadful. Power trolleys do not help as by observation in the winter when they are banned players appear to play quicker pulling/pushing a “pull” trolley rather than walking at a pace set on the power trolley, those carrying are even quicker. Come on organisations do not have policies which contradict.

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  3. Denis Divot November 27, 12:13

    I am prompted to make these observations following two incidents some 30 years apart. In the first, the club course record of some 10 years was broken by a two handicapper by three shots. This particular competition was not in divisions and there were three prizes. His score of 67-65 against an SSS of 70 was not good enough to win, in fact it did not even put him in the prizes. The second, this year, occurred in the ‘Seniors’ Open Individual Stableford’. A six handicap visitor (with 20 qualifying scores on his record during this season) knocked it round in one under par gross off the yellow markers, producing a most creditable score of 44 points. This was nowhere near good enough to take the winner’s prize which went to another visitor who had 47 points off a handicap of 17. Of his five scores on his club playing record over the last two years, four were suplementary and the other was in another Seniors’ Open at a club other than his own, in fact he had not played a qualifying score over his home course in the last two years.

    It is my contention that the CONGU system is not fit for purpose and requires a complete overhaul.

    The problem lies on page eight of the scheme and I quote:

    ‘A high level of unifomity can be achieved, however, if all parties honour their obligations by observing the spirit and intent of the system.

    ‘The UHS is based on the fundamental premises:

    • Every player will endeavour to make the best score he can at each hole in every qualifying round he plays and will report all such rounds for handicapping purposes.

    • Every player will return a sufficient number of qualifying scores to provide reasonable evidence of his playing ability’.

    In addition only individual medal / stableford / bogey qualifying scores may be used for handicapping purposes.

    The above is wishful thinking. No amount of detailed statistics / tables / CSS calulations and decisions on them can rectify the basic fact that the above premises are being circumvented by the ‘bandits / pot hunters’. They maintain a handicap well above their playing ability by returning only the minimum three scores for a handicap each year and this allows them to win prizes in open four-ball better balls, team events and mixed competitions. The term bandit applies equally to women as men.

    The honesty within the game has almost been destroyed by the small number of golfers who operate in this manner, knowing that they can do it with impunity, and that as scores in the above events are not returned to their home clubs and even if they were, within the CONGU rules, there is nothing that clubs could do to reduce their handicaps.

    The first letter I wrote after becoming a member of the AGCS was to Ray Burniston asking his to use his influence within the game to reduce some of the more blatent abuses of the handicapping system. I receceived a polite letter back informing me that the AGCS had no representation on CONGU, but he would forward my letter. No response was ever received. At the national conference that year Alan Thirwell, then the secretary of CONGU explained that the expectation was that the major change was from the three best scores of the old system to an average of eight qualifying scores under the new. At the end of the season I conducted a review on behalf of the AGCS of the percentage of members at a club that had returned the expected eight cards and the percentage returning the minimum of three.

    Although the response from various clubs was limited, those that returned their figures were remarkedly consistent: 33 percent returned eight or more cards and 50% returned three or more. For my own club this season (2015) the equivalent figures were 29 and 65 percent respectively. When the system was first designed, it failed to operate in the way it was intended for two thirds of club playing members. I commented at the time that anyone in professional employment who was asked to design a system that turned out to be only 33 percent efficient would not have been paid. That system is still in force today.

    If you ask anyone outside the game (and I suspect) the majority within the game ‘what is the purpose of a handicap?’ the response is likely to be ‘to give each player an equal chance of competing’. If we are to keep club members and attract new recruits to the game ‘the powers that be’ need to ensure the fairness and honesty of our sport by taking steps to clip the wings of the ‘bandits’ and devise a simple system of handicapping that is applicable and can be monitored for all the various permutations of competitive golf, not simply the scores in medal golf.

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    • Adrian Stiff November 27, 14:48

      100% right. At the end of the day it is cheating. Sadly I don’t know if there is a nice answer, I have heard many times golfers being pleased that their handicap has gone up. Not enough is done to cut peoples handicaps that do 47 points, the .1, .2, .3 or .4 decrease per shot needs to be increased after you break the CSS by four; so if you go -5 nett or more each of those decrease the handicap by .2, .4, .6 and .8 that hits the high handicap bandits more fairly IMO, instead of him winning 3 events because he was still off the wrong handicap. As you say the purpose of the handicap is to give each person and equal chance.

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      • JerryDi November 28, 21:07

        I have umpteen years experience in running competitions at my club. Back in the early 80’s, my club had experienced members with a deep understanding of the game who mentored me in my early years on the committee. Sadly, what I see now in clubs are golf committees run by people who “parachute in” having had no grounding and frankly have no idea of what they are doing. They dispense ridiculously generous handicaps to new members, shrug their shoulders when they walk off with multiple competition wins, and refuse to correct their errors by applying the exceptional play rule. It matters little what sort of handicap system we have if it is applied by people who simply don’t have a sound grasp of the game. The senior management in golf clubs have, it would seem, taken their eye off the ball and need to ensure those committees charged with managing the handicapping scheme are qualified to do so. If they can’t find anyone they should get the Pro to do it.

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    • GolfSec November 28, 12:11

      While I agree that the current system is not necessarily fit for purpose, what would be your alternative? It is all well and good calling for a major overhaul to the handicapping system, but until someone decides that the best thing to do is go with the way it is done in the States, or on the Continent, or something completely new, there is just no point in going on about it. Problems or merely opportunities to improve, but if you do not suggest how to improve then you are not exactly aiding the situation.

      As for your first two situations, I see your point, but it is poorly made. Someone with a nett 65 when the par is 70, whilst a fantastic gross score and a very good nett to go with it, does not necessarily a winning score make. Someone playing off a higher handicap who has been practising and is looking to come down could quite feasibly shoot the lights out of the course one day with it all clicking into place and shoot 6 under their handicap. Your second is a little more disconcerting, as a 17 handicapper playing to 6 is a little less credible, but who is to say it could not happen?! Your suggestion to cut them by more than they is currently the case is a little bizarre. So many people are being cut to levels that they cannot consistently get near, take years to go back to what they should be due to the fact that they had one anomalously good round, and end up losing interest in the sport. Great for numbers in the game, don’t you agree?

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      • Adrian Stiff November 29, 17:13

        Denis: I think the active/inactive rule was a bad one, competitive is better, but I think it should be extended to two years not one, so if you go two years without posting three cards you lose the ‘c’.
        I think there are two problems with handicaps, at the 4-14 level many people are too low, the ‘not more than a two over rule’ has factored a lot of this. At the 15 and upwards people are not cut quick enough. I think if somebody 21-28 (cat 4) beats his handicap by one 0.4 shot by two he should be cut 0.8 by three he should be cut 1.2 and by four he should be cut 1.6, then he beats CSS by 5, why not 2.4 and by 6 why not 3.2 and by 7 why not 3.8, by 8 he gets cut 4.2 by 9 he gets cut the full 100% so it is 5.2. I am sure we agree people that beat the CSS by 9 strokes deserve a good cut.
        At category 1. The first four strokes inside CSS get cut 0.1 per shot five to eight inside get cut 0.2 strokes nine or more inside get cut 0.3 strokes At category 2. The first four strokes inside CSS get cut 0.2 per shot five to eight inside 0.4 strokes per stroke, nine or more inside get cut 0.6 strokes. Category 3 get cut 0.3 strokes for the first four inside, from five to eight inside they get cut at 0.6 strokes and nine or more they get cut 0.9.
        That goes a long way to stopping the 23 handicapper that’s really a 13, his nett 60 in the medal sees him cut 6.8 strokes (hcp 16). It is the category 3 and 4 golfers that should be trimmed greater.
        People masquerading off a false handicap in order to win prizes in pro-ams is nothing more than cheating, full strokes make it worse. I hope clubs diss the full handicap change and stick to 3/4 strokes, surely you can play competitions outside medal play under your own competition rules.

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  4. Brian Cook November 27, 11:24

    Neil Sjoberg, who wrote to GCM recently, you are not alone in your exasperation at CONGU’s fiddling (a system designed for elite / competition golf and for deterring the bandit golfer) while Rome burns. For we poor citizens it remains, at best, a bastion of red tape and, at worst, totally unfit for purpose.

    My sole requirement of a golf handicap is to provide a level playing field that permits golfers of widely varying playing abilities to compete on a fairly even basis. To do that I accept that player ratings need to reflect a player’s potential and current playing ability. While appropriate at the highest level of the game, the CONGU system acts as a barrier to attracting new golfers and a source of total frustration to many hackers like myself (saddled with an out-of-date nine handicap but unable easily to get it back to the mid-teens where it should be).

    This brings me to more fundamental issues. To be accepted as ‘the citizens’’ handicap system in my opinion it must be:

    1. available to all golfers, not just affiliates

    2. applicable to all full and partial rounds that the golfer cares to score

    3. usable on all golfing facilities including par three, pitch and putt, academy and even quality simulators

    4. capable of self-assessment as well as peer-reviewed

    5. easy to use.

    While some of these issues go to the core of many perceptions of golf being elitist, item 4 simply contradicts the integrity of the game. Although I am trusted by my government to self-assess my tax affairs, it seems that I cannot be trusted by my golf club and governing body to record my golf scores despite the fact that they trust me to self-police my rounds according to a shed load of R&A rules.

    Although now retired, I still manage the handicaps of 150 golfers at an unaffiliated nine-hole course in the West Country. CONGU systems being unavailable to me I simply employ an app on my smartphone to rate each score submitted by players and to adjust their handicap appropriately. This is amazingly easy and freedom from CONGU is an absolute blessing. Also, my faith in the integrity of my 150 citizens to record scores with total honesty will lead me in 2016 to encourage those with smartphones to use the same app to self-assess their handicap and to share it with my ‘Master Handicap List’ (which is highly visible to them both in the clubhouse and online).

    The app that I use and thoroughly recommend can be down-loaded free of charge from and I recommend you all to try it. It works … because I wrote it with both my and Rome’s citizens’ interests and needs at heart.

    Keep up the good work Neil.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Adrian Stiff November 26, 21:41

    The idiots that have come up with the 90% idea should be ashamed of themselves. This is killing the game. Entries will be down for 2016 knockouts which will lead to less members. Well done Pickleheads.

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