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4 Changes Coming To World Handicap System In 2024

By CM Chaney · November 9, 2023

In brief…

  • WHS updating to boost inclusiveness and accuracy based on early data.
  • Rating requirements easing to add more short courses.
  • Improved calculation of partial round scores.
  • Phasing in through 2024 to allow smooth transition.
The World Handicap System is set for 2024 updates to make handicaps more inclusive and accurate by incorporating learnings from its initial years of worldwide use.  Photo by Sugar Golf on Unsplash

The governing bodies of golf, the USGA and The R&A, have announced the first major update to the World Handicap System (WHS) since its launch in 2020.

The changes, taking effect January 1, 2024, are aimed at making handicaps more inclusive and accurate based on analysis of early usage data.

A major update is reducing the minimum course length requirements for obtaining a Course Rating and Slope Rating. This enables courses as short as 750 yards for 9 holes and 1,500 yards for 18 holes to be rated and issue WHS Handicap Indexes. The change has the potential to expand WHS to thousands of new courses and recreational golfers.

The system for calculating scores on partial rounds will also be improved. Instead of waiting to combine two 9-hole rounds, the new WHS will generate an 18-hole score right away using the player’s actual 9-hole score and their “expected score” on holes not played. This better reflects ability and gets scores into the system quicker. The same method will apply to rounds of 10-17 holes.

“When we look at trends and pore over data, and we see things like the popularity of short courses and the number of 9-hole rounds that are being played, you can bet we’re going to do our best to be responsive,” Steve Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of handicapping and course rating, said. “The goal is to be as accurate as possible, and to meet golfers where they are.”

Women and men new to golf, respectively, accounted for 45% and 21% of 9-hole scores posted this past year.

The updates also include refinements to the Playing Conditions Calculation, making it more sensitive to abnormal days, and new tools for handicap committees reviewing members’ indexes for accuracy.

While changes take effect January 1, 2024, related handicap adjustments won’t appear until mid-month to allow for a smooth transition. Short courses will be phased into the ratings system throughout 2024.

The overarching goal is greater global alignment on implementing WHS while providing flexibility to national associations.