Governing bodies praised for supporting shorter versions of golf

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 17, 2023 12:50

The first update to the World Handicap System (WHS) has received praise from golf course designers for helping ‘move away’ from the belief that golf has to be played over 18 holes.

The changes, made by The R&A and USGA, will come into effect from January 1, 2024.

Significant updates include:

Inclusion of shorter-length golf courses within the course rating system: The overall length requirements for course rating in the WHS will be significantly reduced. A set of tees on an 18-hole course may be as short as 1,500 yards to be eligible for a Course Rating and Slope Rating, and a set of tees on a nine-hole course may be as short as 750 yards. This change is intended to expand the WHS to thousands of shorter length courses, including par-three courses, and enable more golfers to obtain and use a Handicap Index.

Use of an expected score for a hole not played: Improvements have been made to the method used to handle holes not played, which will now be based on a player’s expected score rather than a score of net par. This new method will produce a nine-hole or 18-hole score differential that more accurately reflects a player’s ability. As golfers across the world are playing more nine-hole rounds, an expected score can also be used to convert a nine-hole round into an 18-hole score differential. For some countries, this means that nine-hole scores will be considered in the calculation of a player’s Handicap Index immediately after the day of play, rather than waiting to combine with another nine-hole score.

Playing conditions calculation adjustments made more frequent: 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 be complete by April 1, 2024.

Enhanced guidance on conducting a handicap review: The role of the handicap committee is vital to the success of the WHS and 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 reporting tools have been developed that national associations can incorporate into their handicapping software to assist committees in conducting the review process effectively and consistently.

These changes have been welcomed by the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA).

Caspar Grauballe, president of EIGCA, said: “As architects, we have advocated for compact courses for a number of years. They are an important route to growing the game of golf as they cater for a range of skills rather than simply focusing on distance. Compact courses widen the appeal of golf by not only providing a stepping stone for new golfers to get off the range and play on-course, but they bring a fun experience and also cater for those who do not have the time to play a traditional-length 18-hole course or find the distance challenging.

“It is important to move away from the traditional thought that golf can only be played over 18 holes spread across 6,000 yards. Par-three or nine-hole courses require less land so can be sited nearer to populated areas, use fewer natural resources, and are potentially more profitable as they are cheaper to maintain. This recognition of the role compact courses have in the game of golf is vital in safeguarding the future of the game, and EIGCA hopes it encourages more developers and club owners to see the viability of compact courses.”

Claire Bates, director – Handicapping at The R&A, added, “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.”

Steve Edmondson, managing director – Handicapping & Course Rating at the USGA, said, “The game of golf continues to evolve and the WHS has embraced those changes in a dynamic way to help all golfers, everywhere they play. It is a monumental time in golf, and improving both the accessibility of obtaining a Handicap Index and leveraging powerful data and technology to easily and accurately track performance is a great step forward.”

Meanwhile, new data has shown a sharp increase in the number of rounds of golf played in England that were submitted for handicap purposes to the WHS in 2023.

For the first 10 months of the year, 8.51 million rounds of golf were posted, a 460,000 increase when compared to all 12 months of 2022.

This comes as golf participation data for the third quarter of 2023 in Great Britain has found more rounds were played for most of July to September than in any previous year bar 2020, and as there has been a forecast that 26 million rounds of golf will be played in Great Britain and Ireland by members of clubs this year, which will be the highest number ever recorded.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 17, 2023 12:50
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  1. Stevo64 November 29, 09:29

    The WHS system has made a mockery of the handicap system. PCC has not worked consistently and has affected the calculation of handicaps Further degradation of how the game should be played is devaluing the game in general. Rather than adopting the actual rules that the rest of the world have adopted the UK have came up with a different solution which again impacts how a player’s handicap is calculated and maintained.

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    • Lee November 29, 13:02

      “Mockery” is a great word, but doesn’t get close. Its a cheats charter.

      As a Cat 1 golfer I see no chance of ever being competitive in any club or county competition and apart from my own pride there is no incentive to strive to improve.

      Reply to this comment
    • Steve December 9, 09:43

      Not withstanding the comments on how WHS has affected competitiveness in club competitions there is another problem with the idea of ‘growing the game’. It depends massively on the footfall of your course.. Firstly, the layout my home course does not lend itself to playing 9 hole rounds. Secondly, our membership is not only full but also very active. This means that when the tees become available for booking the following week they are fully booked within seconds and believe me that is not an exaggeration. The result is tee times being taken by members who often play as little as 5 holes before walking off, thus depriving members who wish to play full rounds from doing so. Further WHS changes to encourage shorter rounds to give a virtually pointless handicap can only make things worse.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Rob November 26, 17:18

    I’m all for the changes. Our Seniors section haven’t been playing qualifiers through the winter and I’m hoping these changes allow qualifying rounds to be played all year round.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Wilf November 26, 08:29

    I think it’s great to encourage smaller courses, that’s what got me going after retirement. I have now progressed to a bigger club, but find it to much to do 18 holes. So I agree with the game accepting more 9 hole for people like me. And still a choice of 18 if you prefer

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