• Alistair Tait

The times they are a changing for British golf club members

The biggest change British golf club members have ever seen is on its way. Most probably don’t realise how profound it will be.

No, not the fact we can play in three and four balls from Monday but, as of November 2nd this year, the majority of golf club members are probably going to be given a new handicap. It likely won't be an improved handicap. Undoubtedly it will be just the opposite, according to R&A director of handicaps to Claire Bates. Most golf club members will see their handicap rise on 2nd November this year. That’s when the World Handicap System comes into effect, or should come into effect: there are those who think it might not happen on that date given the enormous task of replacing the current system.

It’s a story that hasn’t received much press coverage. Most golf club members have scant knowledge of what’s coming down the line. Indeed, there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the new system for those aware of the coming change.

The old system of only submitting three cards played in competitive rounds, plus supplementary cards, goes out the window. From November, British handicaps will be based on the average score from the eight best rounds of their previous 20. Golfers will no longer be placed in categories, as per the current system. Handicaps will no longer lapse.

All courses will have slope ratings for each set of tees. Handicaps will be adjusted depending on the tees used. It potentially means players can play off different tees in the same competition.

While the Council for National Golf Unions, CONGU, will implement the system, it will abide by rules the R&A has set down. Bates said CONGU will not require players to return a score for every round despite what many golf club members think. Returned scores must be played within the rules of golf.

Scores from medal and stableford competitions, and supplementary scores will still provide the basis for golfers’ handicaps.

“Players won’t have to submit a score every time they go out,” Bates confirmed.
“For a score to be acceptable for handicap purposes, you need to have played your round of golf in accordance with the rules of golf. If you’re playing stroke/medal play, stableford then you would need to hole out.”

As with the current “supplementary card” system, players must signal their intent before submitting recreational scores for handicapping purposes. Said scores must be witnessed and attested by another player.

“Golfers must pre-register before going out to play (recreational) rounds for handicapping purposes,” Bates said.

The bottom line is that most golf club members will experience a handicap change. Most will probably see a rise.

“On balance, our research and analysis says if you’re a higher handicap golfer you’re likely to go up one or two strokes,” Bates said. “If you’re a single figure golfer the chances are you might stay the same or might go down a little bit.”

Only a small majority of golf club members play off single figures, which means likely handicap increases for most. I can already hear the howls of protest from single-figure players at having to give even more strokes than they do now.

Mark down November 2nd as a monumental day in the life of British club golfers. It’ll probably be the biggest change they've experienced since they took up the game.

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