A new world golf handicap system is coming; what's changing for the USGA and GHIN
Golf Culture

A new world golf handicap system is coming; what’s changing for the USGA and GHIN


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The world of golf will finally have a single, consolidated handicap system starting in 2020, and there are some pretty significant changes on the horizon for American players who have used the USGA's handicapping system, including those players on GHIN.

The USGA and R&A jointly announced the new World Handicap System on Feb. 20, outlining some of the changes to come.

The biggest change that will stand out to golfers is probably the new maximum handicap of 54. That's right. 54. Three strokes per hole. The idea behind this change is to get more people to have handicaps and see the benefits of using one in playing with more experienced, more skilled peers. After all, at the current max of 36, getting two strokes per hole may not be enough for a player new to the game to feel on level with others.



Obtaining a handicap will also be easier, needing only 54 holes from a mix of 18- and nine-hole rounds to establish an index. The prior minimum was 10 rounds. Players will only be able to take a net double bogey for handicapping purposes.

“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,’" said USGA CEO Mike Davis. "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 modernizing golf’s Rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

While the maximum handicap is going up, however, most skilled golfers should see their handicap index go down in 2020. There are two reasons behind the likely drop

  1. The new system will count your best eight of the last 20 rounds you played, taking more into account a player's potential talent (instead of our suggestion of focusing more on median scores, which are most likely outcomes). This will more accurately rate players who don't play often.
  2. The new system will also revise handicaps daily, accounting for weather and course conditions in prior scores and for the current day's round(s).

For golfers outside the United States, being able to enter scores from recreational rounds should also drive down handicaps as that's not an option for many non-American and non-Mexican players.

The USGA's course rating and slope system will be used worldwide now, helping players understand course handicaps globally.

This change will impact the 15 million golfers in 80 countries that carry some form of handicap index.

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About the author

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]thegolfnewsnet.com