Rules of Handicapping World Handicap System

The R&A and USGA announce 2024 World Handicap System™ revisions

(St Andrews, Scotland and Liberty Corner, NJ, USA) – The R&A and the USGA today announced the first update to the World Handicap System™ (WHS™) as part of an ongoing review of the Rules of Handicapping™ and Course Rating System™ with a continued emphasis on accuracy, consistency and equity. The latest revisions will go into effect January 17, 2024.

Many countries have seen significant increases in the number of scores being submitted for handicapping purposes since the WHS was introduced, reflecting golf’s broadening appeal. More than 100 million scores have been posted each year, unifying millions of golfers through a standard measure of playing ability. The 2024 update leverages the performance data gathered from around the world, in addition to feedback received from many of the 125 countries now using the system.

Significant updates to the WHS include:

Since its inception, the WHS has embraced the many ways golf is played around the world by giving national associations scope to apply regional discretionary items, with the objective for greater alignment over time. For this reason, the governing bodies expect countries to continue to shift the way they calculate Course Handicaps so that they are relative to par, making a golfer’s target score to “play to handicap” more intuitive.

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:

The R&A and the USGA have also recently launched a new WHS Software Accreditation and Interoperability Programme to help ensure that there is consistency and accuracy in the calculation of handicaps worldwide, and to assist with the retrieval of a Handicap Index and the return of away scores from country to country. 

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.”

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.”

The R&A and the USGA jointly launched and govern the WHS to provide a modern and responsive system, that gives an accurate reflection of a player’s demonstrated ability. It is calculated by incorporating the Rules of Handicapping and the Course Rating System and is administered by a range of handicapping bodies and national associations around the world.

The more flexible and accessible nature of the system has led to the introduction of successful initiatives from a number of national associations aimed at making it easier to obtain a Handicap Index and be part of the WHS. 

Mirroring the review processes of other areas of governance in golf, including the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status, reviews of the WHS will continue to be conducted at regular intervals, taking into consideration performance data and feedback to help identify areas for improvement.

To learn more about the World Handicap System please visit

Rules of Handicapping

What golfers ought to know about the World Handicap System

World Handicap System

Like many of you, I’ve always been diligent about maintaining an accurate handicap. The reasons are ridiculously obvious: I want to know if my game is improving (or not) and I want to ensure that when I compete in net events, I’m being honest and equitable with my fellow competitors.

I never really thought about the mechanics of the system, perhaps because I was too lazy or disinterested to read through the ponderous Handicap Manual (now called the Rules of Handicapping). I gave full credit to the boffins who came up with the convoluted doorstop but never cared to interview the geniuses behind the curtain.

And then, this year, along came the World Handicap System.

Perhaps because of the restrictions due to COVID-19, golfers had more time on their hands. In any case, I’ve never been asked more handicap-related questions at the course or on social media. So, taking a cue from the manuals that accompany your new car or fridge or TV, here’s my version of a “Quick Start Guide” for the World Handicap System.

Why a new handicap system?

Why not? Golf now has both a globally recognized set of Rules as well as a worldwide handicap system. Even if you never travel outside Canada, you can be assured you are playing the same game as every other golfer around the world. The new system may require some tweaking after it’s been in effect for a while but it’s doubtful there will be another significant revision in the near future.

Highlights of the World Handicap System

How does the new World Handicap System work?

At one of the meetings of the 23-member committee tasked with creating the new system, a USGA delegate compared understanding the intricacies of the handicapping system with air travel.

“I have no idea how an airplane works. I don’t understand jet propulsion, aeronautics and so on, but I trust that when I get on that plane, it will get me safely to the destination I intended.”*

Likewise, the process of coming up with the World Handicap System would make your head spin, so just concern yourself with the final outcome.

But if you’re in quarantine or a masochist or one of those aforementioned boffins, you can review the Rules of Handicapping here.

Has the Course Handicap calculation changed?

Yes. To your benefit. Under the old system, there might have been just a two- or three-shot difference in your Course Handicap from the front to back set of tees, despite the fact that those tee decks might be separated by 1,500 yards.

Under the new system, that difference now might be 10 to 12 shots because the par of the course has been integrated into the calculation.

Why doesn’t my Handicap Index go up when I post a high score?

Under the old system, the low 10 of your most recent 20 scores were used to calculate your Handicap Index. Under the new system, the low eight are used. So that bad score may not enter into the calculation. Similarly, using the most recent eight scores instead of 10 may have lowered your Index.

What the heck is Net Double Bogey?

“Net Double Bogey” has replaced the old Equitable Stroke Control system (ESC).

Now everyone’s maximum score for handicap purposes is net double bogey. Simply put, this is the par of the hole PLUS two strokes (double bogey) PLUS any handicap strokes you may be allowed on that hole.

If you don’t want to have to figure that out when you’re posting your score, let the Golf Canada Score Center do it for you. When you enter your score hole by hole, the Score Center automatically adjusts for net double bogey.

And for those of you complaining about posting scores hole by hole: You play the game hole by hole so why not post your score that way? It takes only a couple of minutes and provides some interesting data.

Here’s my Super Easy Quick Start Guide:

Post all your scores hole by hole immediately after your round. Let the Golf Canada Score Centre take care of the rest. And check out the new app which makes the process even easier.

(*Thanks to Craig Loughry, Director of Golf Services at Golf Ontario, for this anecdote and other invaluable assistance with this article. Loughry was the Canadian representative on the World Handicap Operations Committee.)