Launched in January 2020, the WHS provides golfers with a unified and more inclusive handicapping system for the first time. Developed by The R&A and USGA in close coordination with existing handicapping authorities, the WHS provides all golfers with a consistent measure of playing ability, with handicaps calculated in the same way wherever they are in the world.
From Andorra to Argentina, India to Italy and Norway to New Zealand, national associations have implemented the new system. Claire Bates, Director – Handicapping at The R&A, takes us on a journey to highlight the success of the WHS and the challenges overcome during COVID-19.
Claire Bates: We’re delighted with the uptake of the WHS to date, with over 100 national associations now having transitioned to the system. Many of the larger national associations went live with the WHS on 1 January 2020, including the USA, Canada, Argentina and South Africa, while others have taken that little bit longer to make sure they had everything in place to ensure a smooth transition. This would have included carrying out education workshops, updating software and, in many cases, translating the Rule book. The latest national association to notify us that they have transitioned to go over the 100 mark was the Cook Islands.
Challenges from COVID-19
A COVID-19 black cloud has been over us almost from the start, given the global pandemic came hot on the heels of our launch. Two months later we were in lockdown in Great Britain & Ireland and, in other parts of the world, COVID-19 was already causing serious repercussions. While our primary consideration was for the welfare of our colleagues and their families, in the back of our minds we did wonder if our implementation year was going to be significantly set back. It has therefore been really pleasing that 100 national associations have still managed to achieve the WHS implementation, given that they will have had all sorts of other challenges to overcome – with championships being cancelled and budgets thrown into disarray. We surmised that priorities and plans would have to change.
The fact that so many national associations still managed to get the WHS underway I think demonstrates the significant support they each had for the development of the new system and the commitment they had invested in its launch. Overall, I think the success is testament to the fact that we have all been on this journey together.
So far, the system has been well received by both national associations and golf club administrators alike. Players are also starting to see its benefits. The WHS has been designed to encourage golfers to submit as many scores as possible and when they do so they will see their Handicap Index responding. As golfers see their handicaps changing through submitting their scores, that’s when they start to see the real value of having a handicap.
Positive impact on the sport
The message that we are hearing is fairly consistent – scores for handicapping purposes are up. That may be to do with COVID-19 and the fact that, in some countries, golf was one of the first outdoor activities to open up after lockdown. However, it may also be due to the greater flexibility and opportunity that is provided by the WHS to submit scores for handicapping. With these factors combined together, it has meant that we are seeing more rounds being played and more scores being submitted which can only be good for the sport as a whole and for handicapping.
A key objective of the WHS initiative was to develop a modern, inclusive system, enabling as many golfers as possible to obtain and maintain a Handicap Index. Once travel restrictions allow it, golfers can then transport their Handicap Index globally and compete or play a casual round with players from other regions on a fair basis. It also indicates the score a golfer is reasonably capable of achieving the next time they go out to play.
As a positive, COVID-19 has accelerated the growth in technology, via submitting scores over apps to avoid the touching of scorecards. If it’s easy to submit scores, then players are more likely to do it. In Scotland, golfers are really starting to take advantage of the opportunity of being able to submit general play scores for handicapping via different formats and that’s all very encouraging.
Our next target is to try and help 130 national associations transition to the new system. We look forward to building the momentum achieved over the last year, despite the challenges faced by us all.
Key Achievements from National Associations
Swedish Golf Federation
With other Scandinavian countries seeing a renewed interest in golf despite the challenges of the pandemic, Sweden reflected on an unprecedented year for growth.
Key figures from the federation in 2020:
• Rounds increased by 3.5 million to 11.6 million (+43%)
• Registered handicap rounds increased by 5.5 million to 6.5 million (using the WHS)
Gunnar Håkansson, General Secretary of the Swedish Golf Federation, said, “Players and clubs really like the handicap changes and we believe the WHS has improved the joy of golf. Overall, it has been a large success. The system is making the correct calculations, while golfers can do their own calculations and understand it.
“It’s really pleasing when we have a season when so many golfers enjoy the system and so many are registering. The old system we had didn’t favour the rapid change of handicapping that we have right now. The introduction of the 54 handicap is also allowing newcomers to play and compete. I see some great development together with The R&A and we hope to be able to develop that further.”