5 reasons your handicap will be more accurate than ever this year

A golf scorecard and a pencil

With official scores now being posted in every region in the country, updates to the World Handicap System are fully in play.

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The Masters is over and the federal tax deadline has arrived. But it’s not all gloomy news on this Monday morning. As of today, golf season is fully and officially underway. 

With every region of the country having kicked into swing, you can now post a score to your Handicap Index no matter where you are in the United States. (Don’t have a handicap? You can get one here.)

And no matter what you shoot, your index will be more accurate than ever, thanks to updates to the World Handicap System (WHS) that went into effect on Jan. 1. In case they slipped your mind, here’s a refresher on those tweaks.

9-hole rounds now count

Nine-hole rounds are a fun, fast way to get your golf fix. But in many countries, the United States included, it used to be that you couldn’t count a single nine-hole round toward your handicap index. You had to wait to play another nine, and then combine those two scores into an 18-hole total. 

Not anymore.

Under the updated WHS, you can post a nine-hole score immediately, and the system will automatically translate that into an 18-hole tally that combines your score for the holes you completed with your “expected score” on the rest — an “expected score” being what a player of your ability would be expected to shoot on a course of standard difficulty.

Rounds of 10-17 holes count, too

Every now and then it happens: due to weather, darkness or a sudden, unexpected obligation, your round gets interrupted and you wind up playing somewhere between 10 and 17 holes. The new system has a better way to handle those scores, too. For starters, you no longer have to finish 13 holes to make it official. Prior to this year, if you didn’t get through 13, your scores on 10, 11 and 12 didn’t count. Now, they do. What’s more, instead of using net par to calculate an 18-hole score, as the system used to do, the updated WHS will add your Score Differential from holes played to your expected Score Differential for holes not played. There’s some math involved here, but you don’t have to crunch the numbers to account for the holes you don’t get to. The WHS will do that for you, in a manner that’s more accurate than it was before.

So do short courses!

For years, short courses got short shrift. Because many had not been assigned a course and slope rating, scores on them could not be posted toward your handicap. That, too, has changed. Under the new system, the length requirement for inclusion in the WHS has been substantially reduced, with courses as short as 750 yards for nine holes and 1,500 yards for 18 holes brought into the fold. 

To prepare for this change, the USGA — with help from its allied golf associations around the country — has been busy rating short courses from coast to coast. As of this spring, roughly half of those courses have been rated. Plans call for the rest to be rated by the end of the year.

More accurate adjustments for abnormal conditions

This just in: unusual conditions, like high winds, standing water and ground under repair can affect your score. The old WHS accounted for such variables. But the governing bodies wanted to make that accounting system more precise, and they have. The updated WHS is now more sensitive to abnormal conditions, and the adjustments it makes are now more accurate.

Additional guidance for handicap committees

Most of us don’t play golf for a living. But a lot of us play in handicapped events. The new WHS provides increased guidance to handicap committees that oversee those competitions, giving them new tools to help account for outlier scores and other inconsistencies. Think of it as a greater guarantee of a level playing field.

Still don’t have a handicap yet? Register for your own Handicap Index here.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.