World Handicap System will have a unifying effect for golfers

No, Tiger Woods didn’t win his record PGA Tour record 83rd tournament this week to break a tie with Sam Snead. In fact, Woods didn’t even play in the Sentry Tournament of Champions – the PGA Tour’s first event of 2020 that concluded on Sunday with Justin Thomas’ playoff win in Hawaii.

What did happen this week is — in many ways — more important to more golfers than all that. The new World Handicap System went into effect.

A five-day blackout throughout the U.S. for posting scores came to an end on Monday following the updating of computer systems world-wide. Players who have their handicaps computed now have different numbers to use in competition.

CDGA executive director Robert Markionni was part of the 25-member committee that spent four years creating the World Handicap System.
My handicap climbed a half-stroke in the transition, and locally the change will affect 80,000 players in Illinois and parts of Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan who have their handicaps computed by the Chicago District Golf Association. The CDGA has been computing handicaps since the 1930s, but the way of doing it is different now.

Robert Markionni, the executive director of the CDGA, was on the 25-member committee that implemented the transition to the World Handicap System.

“It was about four years worth of work, but a privilege to sit in on this committee and see how the world came together,’’ said Markionni. “The handicapping system was the last aspect of golf to be globally administered.’’

Golf is a global game, and the various organizers had already dealt with alterations to the Rules of Golf and requirements for amateur standing. Six different associations, however, had their own methods for handicapping the players who form the bulk of the game’s participants. Now the associations are operating under the same set of guidelines.

Here are the major ways the new handicap system will affect the most serious Chicago golfers:

The maximum score accepted on a hole for handicap purposes is now net double bogey, regardless of ability. In the past some players (me included) could post a triple bogey. For high handicap players this would seem to make a major difference, but Markionni downplays that.

“When all the research was done by a bunch of PhDs who calculated all this stuff the reality was that it probably will have little effect,’’ said Markionni.

Handicaps will be posted on a daily basis instead of the every-two-weeks system the CDGA had been using, and it’s doubly important for players to post scores on the day they play rather than wait a day or two.

“Computers will now calculate playing conditions into the handicapping process,’’ said Markionni. “This is new to the U.S, but not new in other parts of the world. It’ll intrigue people.’’

Post late and a player’s score won’t reflect the playing conditions on the day he played his round.

Eight rounds, instead of the previous 10, will be used to calculate a handicap and a cap will go into effect to determine how high a handicap index can climb in a 12-month period. A soft cap is three shots and a hard cap is five.

There is no need for American courses to be re-rated, as the World Handicap System adopted the course rating system that has been used in the U.S. for many years.

“The important thing is that it’s good for the game,’’ said Markionni. “I’m not sure it will have a huge impact, but it brings consistency. We will all play under the same rules.