Many golfers are still getting used to all the changes to the rules of golf that took effect in January 2019, and now we hear that there’s another big change—this one to the handicap system. Before you get too stressed, let’s review what you need to know about the new World Handicap System (WHS).

The Basics

First, let’s review your Index. Your Index is a number that indicates your demonstrated ability based on an average of the best 8 of your last 20 scores. It’s what you’re reasonably capable of scoring on your better days. Your Index is then converted to a Course Handicap, which is based on the course and slope rating of the tees you are playing from on that course.

You don’t need to worry about how to calculate your Course Handicap since the Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN) app does it for you when you select the course and tees you are playing from (anywhere in the world!)

Previously, here in the US, we used Equitable Stroke Control (ESC), which was a simple chart, to determine the maximum score we could post per hole. The WHS replaced that ESC chart, and the maximum number a player can post on a hole, by limiting it to a Net Double Bogey.


Net Double Bogey

The only thing you need to learn here is how to determine what your maximum Net Double Bogey would be on any given hole. For this you’ll need to know a bit about “stroking your scorecard” or handicapping the holes.

The printed scorecard at any course will indicate the handicap of each of the 18 holes, ranked from one to 18 (with one being the hardest hole and 18 being the easiest hole.) Since my course handicap is a 17, I get one stroke each on 17 of the holes, and I don’t stroke on the easiest hole on the course. So, on a par 4 hole with one handicap stroke, my max net double bogey would be par + double bogey + any handicap strokes that apply (4 + 2 + 1 = 7).

Don’t I Post My Actual Score?

Yes, under the WHS you will record your actual score on the holes you play; however, there are some situations when a player might not complete a hole.

Situations like:

  • In Match Play, when your opponent has conceded a stroke or a hole to you, and you therefore do not finish the hole
  • Your daughter calls right after you hit your tee shot into the lake on a par three hole, so you take the urgent call and don’t complete the hole
  • You are struggling on a hole and are lying 7 and still not on the green (yes, that one is taken from my own personal experience)

In each of those scenarios, if you were to pick up on a hole before reaching Net Double Bogey, then you would record your most likely score as long as it doesn’t exceed your Net Double Bogey limit. In all other circumstances, assuming you played an ideal round, you would post your actual score.

Post on the Day You Play

Another change is that rather than updating twice a month, our indexes will be updated nightly. There’s a lot of fancy math that goes into this, including potentially adjusting the Differential if a course is playing unusually hardier or easier than normal, but let me just say that you can no longer postpone your posting since it can affect all the other folks who played that course on that day. Start off the year creating a good habit of posting your score immediately after you finish your round (and right before you head to my favorite hole: the nineteenth!).

That’s essentially all you really need to know! Now, like anything golf-related there are lots more juicy details if you’re interested, and those can be found on the USGA website, and check out this YouTube video:


Updated 2/24/2020 for clarity.