New World Golf Handicap system means someone can play off 54!

Golf's new handicap system will come into force from November 2, 2020.

Andy Roberts's picture
Thu, 19 Sep 2019
New World Golf Handicap system means someone can play off 54!

Golf's governing bodies the R&A and USGA have revealed a new unified World Golf Handicap system that will come into effect from November 2, 2020, meaning amateur golfers can play any golf course around the globe and use their club handicap. 

The new WGH system will replace golf's current CONGU handicap system.

While a little complicated to understand on first look, there a number of key changes everyone that you will need to know about...

The biggest change is that players will no longer own a fixed handicap figure that is used on all courses in all conditions.

Golfers will have a handicap index used to calculate their 'playing handicap' for each course - so for example, a golfer could play off an 8-handicap on one golf course, but then play off 9-handicap on a different course. 

The maximum handicap will become 54 in a bid to attract as many players to the sport as possible.

An amateur's handicap, as of November 2020, will be based on the EIGHT best scores from their last 20 competitive rounds. 

The R&A and USGA claim that if you already own a handicap then it will be used to calculate your initial 'handicap index', resulting in your new exact handicap figure.

Here's how the R&A summarises the new World Golf Handicap from its official website:

  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability 
  • A recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with some discretion available for handicapping authorities or National Associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction
  • A consistent handicap that is portable from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA Course and Slope Rating System, already successfully used in more than 80 countries 
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and factoring in memory of previous 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, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation 
  • A limit of Net Double Bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only)  
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game 

Worldwide stakeholder engagement

Quantitative research was conducted in 15 countries around the world, through which 76 percent of the 52,000 respondents voiced their support for a World Handicap 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 different 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 R&A and the USGA with support from each handicapping authority as well as the Japan Golf Association and Golf Canada.

A modern and more accessible sport

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We are working with our partners and National Associations to make golf more modern, more accessible and more enjoyable as a sport and the new World Handicap System represents a huge opportunity in this regard.

“We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers. Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”

Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA, commented, “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. We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernising Golf’s Rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

Objectives of golf’s World Handicap System

The tenets of the new system focus on three main objectives: to encourage as many golfers as possible to obtain and maintain a handicap; to enable golfers of differing abilities, genders and nationalities to transport their handicap to any course globally and compete on a fair and equitable basis; and to indicate with sufficient accuracy the score a golfer is reasonably capable of achieving on any course around the world, playing under normal conditions.

Given worldwide alignment towards a single system, all parties will now embark on a two-year transition period targeting implementation in 2020.  When adopted, the World Handicap System will be governed by The R&A and the USGA and administered locally by the six existing authorities and National Associations around the world, with safeguards included to ensure consistency as well as adaptability to differing golf cultures.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.   


The announcement is the latest step in a multi-year collaboration between The R&A and the USGA, handicap authorities and national and regional golf associations around the world to introduce one set of Rules for handicapping, aimed to support modernising, growing and supporting accessibility of the sport.

As an extension of their support of the Rules of Golf worldwide, Rolex has made a commitment to support The R&A’s and the USGA’s efforts to implement a World Handicap System. The Swiss watchmaker’s contribution to excellence in golf is based on a rich heritage stretching back more than 50 years, forged through pivotal partnerships at every level of the game, from the sport’s leading professional and amateur competitions and organisations, to players at the pinnacle of their sport worldwide.

To provide feedback on the new World Handicap System or for more information, visit