Wednesday 23 October 2019

World Handicap System poised to change the golfing horizon

Preparation will be key in rollout of new ratings

Revolutionary: Each course will receive a Course Rating and Slope Rating
Revolutionary: Each course will receive a Course Rating and Slope Rating

Brian Keogh

Fans of the US slope system will be delighted but it remains to be seen how the introduction of the World Handicap System will be received when it comes into operation on November 2 next year.

The governing bodies of amateur golf in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales announced this week that they have signed the licence for the new World Handicap System (WHS), which has been introduced under the auspices of the USGA and The R&A

The current Golf Handicapping System maintained by CONGU will be replaced by WHS which will unify the six different handicapping structures currently in operation throughout the world of golf.

For the first time, handicap systems worldwide will be substituted by a global system where golfers will obtain and maintain a handicap and use this on any course around the world.

In addition, they will be able to compete or simply play a casual round with fellow golfers anywhere on a fair and equal basis.

As well as encouraging players new to the sport to obtain a handicap with ease, the WHS will also modernise the game for those already well versed in the game of golf.

Under the new system a player's handicap will be based on the average of eight best scores from their last 20 rounds and take into account factors currently not fully represented in the existing handicapping procedure through a course and slope rating system.

They will then have a handicap index they can use to calculate their playing handicap, which will vary depending on the difficulty of the course they are playing.

To make the system work, courses will receive a Course Rating (the difficulty of a golf course for a 0-handicap golfer) and a Slope Rating.

The Slope Rating is relative to the Course Rating and will allow golfers to calculate the strokes needed to play at the same level as the scratch or 0-handicap golfer from a specific set of tees.

Sinead Heraty, Chief Executive of the ILGU said: "The transition from an incremental system to an averaging one will be period of great change, however once a planned education process is complete, the new system will make handicapping much more consistent globally."

Her GUI counterpart, Pat Finn, added: "With CONGU adopting the system for Ireland and Great Britain from late next year we need to ensure golfers across Ireland are prepared for the change."

Rating courses is challenging and when Golf Australia adopted the Slope System in 2014, one Australian great was quick to criticise.

Jack Newton, who was beaten by Tom Watson in a playoff for The Open at Carnoustie in 1975 and then tied for second behind Seve Ballesteros in the 1980 Masters, did not pull his punches.

"In my opinion, the Slope Rating of Australian courses appears to be very inconsistent - and that's partly due to the fact they've used an eclectic bunch of course reviewers," Newton wrote in Australia's Daily Telegraph in 2014.

"There is something seriously wrong when Charlestown Golf Club (Slope Rating of 141) is rated more difficult than Newcastle Golf Club (134) from the men's back tees. And when Cypress Lakes Resort (147) has got the highest Slope Rating of any course in the Lower Hunter Valley."

New systems will have teething problems and while the GUI and ILGU will educate golfers on the new system over the next 14 months, the rating of courses will doubtless bring much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

On the plus side we will get some fun rankings of Ireland's toughest and easiest tracks by their Slope and Course ratings and while Leinster Golf has made major progress in rating its courses, much work remains to be done elsewhere by the teams of raters, who have been trained by CONGU.

According to Golf Digest's list of America's Toughest Courses, the most difficult test in the US is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which has a Slope Rating of 155 and Course Rating 79.6 compared to 139 (72) for the Old Course at Ballybunion from the Blue tees.

Waterville has a Slope of 139 and a rating of 77.9 while Royal County Down has a Slope of 142.

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