Golf Handicap Updates – 2024

Guest post from golf trainer, Allen Jackson, explains the basics of the handicap system and the new changes set by the WHS. (World Handicap System)

Golf handicapping has taken a significant turn due to efforts to make golf more user-friendly.

In simple terms, a golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s skill. It is a leveling system for players of different abilities.

  1. The first step in determining a golfer’s handicap is to calculate their Handicap Index. This index is based on the golfer’s recent scores from various courses, adjusted for difficulty and course rating. The Handicap Index reflects the golfer’s potential ability rather than their average score.
  2. Course Handicap: Once the Handicap Index is calculated, it is then adjusted for the specific course being played. Each golf course has a Course Rating and a Slope Rating, which reflect its difficulty for golfers of different skill levels. The Course Handicap is derived from these ratings and represents the number of strokes a player receives on that particular course.
  3. Net Score: During a round of golf, players can subtract their Course Handicap from their gross score (actual score) to calculate their net score. This net score reflects how well they played relative to their expected performance based on their handicap.
  4. Competition: In competitive play, golfers with different handicaps can compete against each other by using their net scores. This allows players of varying skill levels to have a fair chance of winning, as the handicap levels the playing field.

The purpose of the golf handicap system is to promote fairness and equality in golf competitions, allowing players of all abilities to enjoy the game and compete against each other on an equitable basis.

Before 2020, golf handicaps were distinct between men and women. Men had a maximum
allowable handicap of 36.4, and women were slightly higher at 40.4. Historically, there were perceived skill differences between genders.

However, in 2020, golf handicapping took a significant turn due to efforts to make golf more
For all players, regardless of gender, the WHS established a universal maximum
handicap limit of 54.0. There’s no longer a gender-specific handicap limit.
Through the introduction of the World Handicap System (WHS), handicap calculations were
standardized globally. As a result of the WHS, handicaps are now determined with consistency,
flexibility, and fairness across golfing regions.

Significant updates to the WHS:

  • Inclusion of Shorter-Length Golf Courses Within the Course Rating System
  • Use of an Expected Score for a Hole Not Played
  • Playing Conditions Calculation Adjustments Made More Frequent
  • Enhanced Guidance on Conducting a Handicap Review
  • Read more about the 2024 Revision Announcement.

FYI: How Do You Calculate Your Handicap*?

  1. You’ll need to record your gross scores (total strokes taken) for at least eight rounds played on courses with a Course Rating and Slope Rating. The governing body of golf in your country assigns these ratings. They reflect the difficulty of the course for scratch golfers (those who consistently shoot par) and bogey golfers (those who consistently score over par on every hole), respectively.
  2. Determine the adjusted gross score for each round using the following formula to calculate your handicap differential:
    Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating
    (Course Rating is the expected score for a scratch golfer on the course you just played) Slope Rating reflects the relative difficulty of the course for bogey golfers compared with scratch golfers.)
  3. Once you have differentials for 8 rounds, find the average score, multiply by 0.96 to get your handicap index which represents your potential scoring ability over a long term.

If all this seems overwhelming, use a conversion chart. Many conversion charts are available online that convert your average score relative to par into a handicap index. These charts typically provide a conversion for 18-hole rounds and 9-hole rounds. Check with the pro at your golf course for more assistance.

Handicap Improvement Tips for Women Golfers

  • Develop your short game: Distance doesn’t matter! You should improve your chipping, putting, and pitching within 100 yards. By concentrating on these areas, you can save the most strokes.
  • Choose the suitable course: Develop course-management solid skills. Choose the right clubs for each shot and consider factors like wind, hazards, and distance to the pin.
  • Pick your perfect fit: Make sure your clubs fit your swing and body type. Lighter, shorter clubs make it easier for women to generate clubhead speed and improve accuracy.
  • Get expert advice: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a qualified golf instructor. They can analyze your swing, identify improvement areas, and provide tips and drills.
  • Select the right tee for your game: Your score will improve by hitting par 3s in two shots from appropriate tees. Don’t be afraid to move up or down as your handicap improves.

What is the highest golf handicap for a woman?

The average handicap for female golfers in the US is 27.5. In other words, they usually score 27.5 strokes above par on a standard course. Around 70% of female golfers fall into the 20-36 handicap range, focusing on basic skills and having fun. In the 0-9 handicap range, female golfers score in the 70s and lower as their skill levels improve. Only 10% of female golfers reach this level of skill. ️‍

Golf handicaps are not gender-specific! Since 2020, the World Handicap System (WHS) has used a unified maximum handicap of 54.0 for all players, regardless of gender. This represents the estimated number of extra strokes a golfer might need compared to par on a standard course.

Remember, your handicap is a personal journey, not a gender competition.

Allen Jackson, Golf Trainer