On Wednesday, the USGA and R&A jointly announced four revisions to the World Handicapping System for 2024.
Three of the changes are decidedly subtle alterations to existing rules and procedures used to generate accurate handicaps, but one of them should have an immediate impact on golfers as soon as it takes effect on January 1, 2024.
From that day, 18-hole golf courses as short as 1,500 yards and 9-hole courses as short as 750 yards will be eligible to be given Rating and Slope figures, with rounds played at such courses becoming eligible to factor into a golfer's official handicap.
“The game of golf continues to evolve and the WHS has embraced those changes in a dynamic way to help all golfers, everywhere they play," said Steve Edmondson, managing director of the USGA's handicapping effort. "It is a monumental time in golf, and improving both the accessibility of obtaining a Handicap Index and leveraging powerful data and technology to easily and accurately track performance is a great step forward.”
As of early 2023, just over 3 million American golfers maintained a USGA handicap - or approximately 10% of golfers across the country. With considerable recent growth in the game concentrated around non-championship golf courses and venues, the USGA and R&A have signaled that they are looking for ways to make more people feel as though they are legitimate golfers.
Short courses have been a particular source of attention, with high-profile resorts, private clubs and municipalities developing small-acreage but still serious - not to mention fun - golf outlets that take less time to play and require fewer clubs at a time when golf equipment has never been more expensive. The notion that someone could own three or four clubs - a putter plus a wedge and/or short iron or two - and be eligible to have a handicap is a welcome departure from the old days, where barriers to entry into the game were stubbornly maintained.
One interesting data point to monitor will be how golfers who submit the majority of their rounds on short courses will see their handicaps affected. When they step out onto championship length courses, will the World Handicap System accurately gauge their games?
The competitive game should also benefit from this World Handicap System Revision. Par-3 golf tournaments have sprung up in recent years, including a Wisconsin State Golf Association championship held annually at Sand Valley Golf Resort's Sandbox par-3 course. The 2023 edition of the event drew 100 golfers - men and women - and Bradley Hill of Menomonee Falls won the event outright by a single shot with a score of 3-under-par 48 on the 17-hole, par-51 layout. Perhaps more state golf associations will hold par-3 tournaments in the future. Regardless, the USGA and R&A's latest announcement helps legitimize these small but powerful engines of golf enjoyment.
Other 2024 World Handicap System revisions from the USGA and R&A
Wednesday's announcement included three other World Handicap System revisions set to take effect at the beginning of 2024.
Expected Score for hole(s) not played
In the past, in the event a golfer was unable to complete a round, he or she could still submit a score for his or her handicap by simply taking a net par on each of the unplayed holes. In 2024, an "Expected Score" calculation will replace this procedure.
More frequent Playing Conditions Calculation adjustments used
If you keep a handicap, you've probably noticed the abbreviation "PCC" next to certain scores and a "+1" or "+2" accompanying days with abnormal weather conditions, like heavy winds. The USGA and R&A use weather data to adjust certain days' scores to more accurately reflect a given day's weather, and these weather-related scoring adjustments will probably happen more often going forward.
More guidance on Handicap Reviews
This is the most inside-baseball of 2024's World Handicap System revisions and gives individual club and associations some extra tools to review golfers' handicaps more efficiently.