England Golf's Head of Handicapping and Course Rating believes that the World Handicap System (WHS) is as successful as it could have been since its launch in November 2020.
Speaking exclusively to GolfMagic, Gemma Hunter outlined the difficulty of launching the WHS during the Covid-19 pandemic with golfers returning to a new system.
The WHS intended to combine the six worldwide handicap systems to enable all golfers to play on an equal basis and to adapt a system to all golfing cultures.
Hunter explained the global nature of the WHS which England Golf doesn't just implement, but the R&A and the USGA implement in each country around the world.
"It was a huge task to go from six different systems around the world to try and create one system that was going to be suitable for every different golfing culture and that’s where the World System comes from," Hunter said.
"It’s really important to understand that it is a global system and it’s not England Golf changing something, or Scottish Golf changing something, it’s the world of golf that is changing and this is what it’s changed to.
"It was a significant change, in terms of success and efficiency, I think it has been as successful as it could have been launching when we did.
"Remembering now and looking back 18 months, we launched in the middle of a pandemic. We launched in the middle of a period where we would have loved to spend six months in the run-up to November (2020) out with golf clubs, educating golfers on the WHS even more than we already had.
"If you look at it in terms of where we are, it’s been very successful. I think we’ve learned a lot and it will only continue to get better and in the last full golfing season, golfers have now started to get used to the system and accept some of the changes that were made.
"Around the world, it’s settled in quite nicely and it will continue to develop."
The WHS has introduced new features such as a handicap index and a playing handicap. Your playing handicap is for competition purposes and it is calculated like this: Course Handicap x Handicap Allowance = Playing Handicap.
Your handicap index is decided by the best eight scores out of your last 20 rounds. This system was designed to give a fair representation of your golfing ability.
Your course handicap is used for social golf settings. This is calculated like this: Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) = Course Handicap. As you can see, the WHS represents a significant change to the previous handicap system with CONGU.
An observation previously made by golfers is that scores could be manipulated so that players give themselves higher handicaps for their next competition, but Hunter explained that individual cases of manipulation are very hard to prevent.
"Any form of handicap manipulation is difficult to address," Hunter added.
"It is very challenging, under the old system and under the new system, to identify manipulation because from England Golf’s perspective and looking at a screen of scores, it’s very difficult to tell if someone is just having a bad day or whether it’s a consistent pattern of bad scores.
"It’s not as simple as you might think to be able to identify it. That’s why handicap committees and people at golf club level play such an important role because they know players on an individual and a personal basis.
"It’s like anything else. If somebody wants to find a loophole, they’ll find it. Then it’s our job to say "OK that’s a loophole, how do we close it and how do we stop that from happening again?" Then we move on to the next one.
Hunter revealed that the use of the My England Golf App, tied in with the WHS, has resulted in increased participation in golf on a social and competitive level.
England Golf has made entering scores easier for golfers across the country by creating the My England Golf App, which allows them to enter scores on their phone.
They can also pre-register general play rounds which can improve their handicap index, keep track of their historic scores and build a network of friends too.
"I’ve got the figures to prove it, which is really good for us. We have tracked scoring and the number of scores that have gone through the handicap system for a number of years, since about 2014, and we have tracked it year on year," said Hunter
"If we look at 2019 versus 2021, we saw an increase of roughly 2.5 million scores coming into players’ handicap records. That increase was seen across general play and competition scores, so it wasn’t just a full-on increase in general play, we saw an increase in competition scores as well.
"We saw about half a million extra competition scores going in and about two million extra general play scores. It is encouraging people to put in more general play scores, but it’s not detracting from people playing competition golf, which is really important."