Handicap overhaul on course for 2020

Golfers to benefit from new universal system ratified by world bodies in landmark move

LONDON • Golfers will be able to take a universal handicap to courses around the world from 2020 in a shake-up of the system announced by organisers on Tuesday.

Developed by the British Open organisers The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA), the new system aims to streamline the current formats which are administered by six existing handicapping authorities from around the world.

Along with being applicable to any course, the universal handicap would also include daily revisions that would take into account course and weather conditions.

Other new features include social rounds counting towards the handicap and an average-based handicap which takes into account the best eight of the last 20 scores.

The announcement comes after an extensive review of the various handicapping systems administered by Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions , European Golf Association , South African Golf Association , Argentine Golf Association and the USGA. The six bodies represent around 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.

Mike Davis, USGA chief executive, said: "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."

A handicap is used to calculate a net score in stroke play and therefore allows players of different abilities to play against each other on more equal terms.

Organisers hope that the new system will encourage more people of varying backgrounds to take up the sport, particularly as there will be a maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender.

Previously, the USGA's maximum limits, for example, were 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women.

One drawback of increasing the handicap limit was that it could lead to slow play and more on-course maintenance, said Singaporean Terry Xu, an amateur golfer.

He added: "Some may not be competent enough to play at a good pace and others might damage the fairways."

The Singapore Golf Association's general manager, Jerome Ng, said in the long term the new system would benefit the sport.

He noted: "The challenges with the new system will be the consolidating of all the handicap indexes of golfers who are currently on different systems, and the fact that not every course is USGA slope-rated, which will make implementation difficult.

"It is not flawless but they have two years before they do in 2020 and it will be a gradual process to get it right."


• Additional reporting by David Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Handicap overhaul on course for 2020'. Subscribe