New World Handicap System: How will your handicap change and what you need to know
Golf Culture

New World Handicap System: How will your handicap change and what you need to know

Starting in 2020, your golf handicap is likely about to change (slightly) as the game's governing bodies are rolling out a new World Handicap System that will finally standardize handicap indices around the world.

For American golfers, as well those overseas including in the United Kingdom and Ireland, there are plenty of things you need to know about the World Handicapping System to be ready for the changes.

The World Handicap System is the result of a seven-year project involving the USGA, the R&A and other golf stakeholder organizations (Argentine Golf Association, European Golf Association, Council of National Golf Unions, South African Golf Association and Golf Australia) to bring together disparate systems that left international golfers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well around the world, not fully able to discern their skill relative to courses and peers from different countries. The goal, then, was to create a standard system that would welcome more low-skilled players into the handicapping system, be flexible enough to address changing weather and golf-course conditions, as well identify when a player's handicap should change more dramatically with better scoring.

However, the new system will measure a golfer's demonstrated skill through scoring rather than be a measure of a player's potential skill based solely on their best scores against higher-rated courses.

World Handicap System: What you need to know

When does the World Handicap System start?

For American golfers, their handicap index under the World Handicap System is unlikely to change much, if at all, when it rolls out in January 2020. For players in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the system takes root Nov. 1, 2020. Various other countries have different start dates.

How many scores count toward handicap?

The new system will base a golfer's handicap index based on the eight best scores of their last 20 posted. It used to be the best 10 out of 20 for American players, and it was three scores witnessed by a fellow player in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Handicaps could lapse overseas without three scores in a calendar year, but that will no longer be the case. In the UK and Ireland, golfers won't have to enter scores for ever round that isn't played alone.

A minimum number of 54 holes have to be played across 18-hole and 9-hole rounds to generate a handicap index.

The new maximum handicap is much higher

The old maximum handicap index for men was 36.4 and for women was 40.2. Under the World Handicap System, the max index is 54, meaning a player could get three strokes per hole from certain tees on certain courses. The point isn't to allow poorer golfers to pad their index but rather to welcome beginning golfers into the handicap community and encourage them to get used to putting in scores. These players will also be able to compete more fairly with peers with an accurate gauge of their skill level.

Handicap indexes will be published more often

Most golfers are used to getting biweekly emails with updates to their handicap index. However, under the World Handicap System, that's changing. Golfers will see an updated handicap index the day after a score is posted, meaning they won't have to wait for index-changing scores to affect their index. This will make it more difficult for players to game the system with a bad or good score, and it will prove a challenge for operators of handicap tournaments, as they'll require updates the day of an event to have an accurate picture of the field.

It will be harder to be a sandbagger

The World Handicap System system will account for abnormal playing conditions, cap upward movement of an index to curtail sandbagging and significantly reduce a player's handicap index when they score exceptionally well (down by as many as two strokes). Handicap committees will be empowered to change a player's handicap if the index is consistently beat in competition.

The handicap index calculation will account for tougher or easier conditions

When there are abnormal conditions on the golf course, the Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC) will be added to the Score Differential calculation to figure out your performance for the round. The adjustments are conservative in nature and can range from -1.0 when the golf course is playing easier to +3.0 when conditions are more challenging. Weather or course conditions could affect the PCC.

Players will be able to more easily determine a course handicap

In addition to handicap index, players will now have a "playing handicap," which will take into account course rating, course par and slope rating to determine a player's handicap on a particular course from any set of tees. Players can get there now with tools from the USGA, but it will be more refined under the World Handicap System.

Maximum strokes and Equitable Stroke Control is changing

Under the existing handicap system from the USGA, Equitable Stroke Control limits the score a player can take on any hole based upon their course handicap that day.

  • 9 or less: Double bogey, regardless of par
  • 10-19: 7
  • 20-29: 8
  • 30-39: 9
  • 40 and above: 10

However, under the World Handicap System, the maximum number of strokes any player can take on a hole is net double bogey, meaning par plus two strokes minus any handicap strokes for a hole. For example, for a player getting 36 strokes on an 18-hole course, their maximum score on a par 5 is 9, as taking away their two handicap strokes would give them 7. Under the old system, a player getting 36 strokes could take a 9 on a par 3 or a par 4 as well as a par 5, effectively padding their index for them. Meanwhile, better players were limited to double bogey regardless of a hole's par. With the World Handicap System, the maximum score a player can take for handicap is standardized and more fair.


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]

Ryan occasionally links to merchants of his choosing, and GNN may earn a commission from sales generated by those links. See more in GNN's affiliate disclosure.

What Viktor Hovland’s lost golf clubs can teach us about traveling with sticks Vokey SM9 wedges revealed this week on the PGA Tour Trump, PGA of America settle over cancelled PGA Championship The one thing Tiger Woods will never do in a golf tournament The new TaylorMade Stealth driver hits the USGA conforming list