What’s your handicap? If you play the game, it’s typically one of the first questions you hear when you meet another golfer. Problem is, handicap systems differ in various parts of the world. Your handicap in America, for example, isn’t comparable to those in Europe or Australia. That time you traveled to Scotland and broke 80 at North Berwick? You can’t post that round here in the U.S. because North Berwick hasn’t been rated by the USGA.
That’s all about to change.
Starting next year, it will never be easier to keep up with your USGA Handicap and compare it to others around the globe. Changes are coming, and the World Handicap System (WHS), developed by the USGA and The R&A, is designed to provide all golfers with a consistent measure of their playing ability.
The new WHS will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2020, and follows an extensive review of systems administered by the six existing handicapping authorities: the USGA, Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA) and the Argentine Golf Association (AAG).
Main Objectives
The tenets of the new system focus on three main objectives:
1. To encourage as many golfers as possible to obtain and maintain a Handicap Index;
2. To enable golfers of differing abilities, genders and countries to transport their Handicap Index to any course globally and compete on a fair basis;
3. To indicate with sufficient accuracy the score a golfer is reasonably capable of achieving on any course around the world, playing under normal conditions.
Key Features
The new system will feature the following: 
• Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s Handicap Index is more reflective of their demonstrated ability;
• A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a Handicap Index; golfers will be able to obtain one after 54 holes from any combination of 9-hole and 18-hole rounds;
• A Handicap Index that is portable from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA Course Rating System that is used in more than 80 countries worldwide;
• An average-based calculation of a Handicap Index, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and factoring in memory of demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control;
• A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day;
• Daily handicap revisions, which is a modern and responsive feature of the new system that relies on golfers to submit their scores on the same day of play;
• Net Double Bogey as the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only). Net Double Bogey makes it easier for golfers to understand their maximum score per hole while also helping ensure proper pace of play. Example: A player with a Course Handicap of 18 receives one stroke per hole; the player’s max score is triple bogey on any hole, which equals a Net Double Bogey;
• A maximum Handicap Index limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game. The previous max handicap of 36 was seen as too high of a bar for new golfers. By raising the max handicap to 54, it allows for more new golfers to get a handicap and feel like they are good enough to have one.
Extensive R&D
Quantitative research on the WHS was conducted in 15 countries around the world, through which 76 percent of the 52,000 respondents voiced their support for the system, 22 percent were willing to consider its benefits, and only 2 percent were opposed. This was followed by a series of focus groups, in which more than 300 golf administrators and golfers from regions around the world offered extensive feedback on the features of the proposed new system.
This feedback has helped shape the WHS, which has been developed by the USGA and The R&A with support from each existing handicapping authority as well as the Japan Golf Association and Golf Canada.
“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap.’ We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game,” said USGA CEO Mike Davis. “We’re excited to be taking another important step to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”
When adopted, the World Handicap System will be governed by the USGA and The R&A and administered by national and regional associations around the world, with safeguards included to ensure consistency as well as adaptability to differing golf cultures.
Local Level Impact
The USGA serves as the national association in the U.S. and has been working with Allied Golf Associations like the TGA to get ready for the changes ahead, including a comprehensive training and education program. This includes a significant technology investment that will, for the first time, centralize the computation of all handicaps across the U.S., providing daily revisions to a golfer’s Handicap Index while adding significant data security and integrity components.
For associations like the TGA that also subscribe to GHIN services, the USGA will unveil redesigned Golfer Products, including a new Kiosk, website ghin.com and mobile app. Some new features that will be available to golfers are hole-by-hole score posting, stat tracking and enhanced data visualization.
For more information on the WHS, visit usga.org/whs.