Cork Golf: New handicap system a success

'Golf Ireland ran another handicap awareness week in March and one of the central messages was that a handicap index should reflect your average playing ability in competitions and general play'
Cork Golf: New handicap system a success

Cork's Gary O'Flaherty watched by John McHenry and Mel Deasy during the AIG Senior Cup match last week. Picture: Niall O'Shea

GOLFTERS in Ireland are two years into the World Handicapping System and the WHS still accounts for plenty of talk and opinions on the fairways. Moving to an international system was said to be a major benefit of the new system, and providing an equalised system for golfers across the world. 

New terms including course handicap, playing handicap and handicap index are now all understood. In the past year, the WHS recorded over 2.5 million scores in Ireland, which averages at a very positive 12 rounds per person.

Golf’s handicap system goes back over 100 years and was designed to allow golfers of different abilities to compete against each other. An important part of the system was that golfers were also competing against themselves, trying to match or indeed beat their own handicap.

The old Congu system operated on small movements from a defined handicap. If you went out an had a bad round you handicap would increase by 0.1 of a shot, but if you had a good round you could get cut by one shot or in some cases two or more shots.

The new system differs as it’s based on a moving average, counting the best 12 of you last 20 scores to provide your handicap index. The moving average means that handicaps can now move more quickly and by greater amounts. If you have a particularly good score and this replaces your 20th score which may have been poor that your handicap index will most likely reduce. The main benefit of the new system was that it was designed to make a handicap index reflect you current playing ability more accurately.

As with the previous handicapping system, there were fears that the new system would be open to abuse from those looking to unfairly manipulate their handicap. Since its introduction for the 2021 season, there have been two main complaints from supporters of the previous system. Firstly golfers can now include a nine-hole score for handicap purposes instead of the full 18, and some golfers feel that nine holes do not fully meet the original meaning of the handicap system. Secondly, almost all counting rounds previously came from competitions but the new system allows for casual golf to be included once the score is approved by another member. It was felt that this gave greater scope to include good or bad rounds more frequently and adjust a handicap index up or down as required.


A total of 2.6 million rounds were submitted under the WHS system in 2022 and there were two statistics that might surprise golfers. The first was that over 91% of the returns related to 18-hole scores. There was a growing school of thought that more golfers were submitting nine-hole scores in order to manipulate their handicaps. The second stat was that 89% of scores came from competitions with just over one in 10 coming from general play. This figure might be surprising as there was a feeling that a higher number of golfers were submitting general play scores. Although general play scores need to be confirmed by a playing partner, there was again a feeling that this provided the opportunity to manipulate a handicap up or down.

Golf Ireland ran another handicap awareness week in March and one of the central messages for the initiative was that a handicap index should reflect your average playing ability in competitions and in general play. 

At that time half of Golf Ireland members did not have a full playing record and over 100,000 golfers had less than 10 rounds recorded in their handicap record. Given the number of scores recorded in 2022 it is likely that this has reduced dramatically over the past nine months.

There was one positive change announced for the inter-club competitions. In the summer Golf Ireland announced that any golfer competing in the 2023 events would have to have a full record of 20 scores on their handicap record, in addition to meeting any competition handicap limits. This means that the previous requirement to have three competitive scores in the previous year. Golfers who did not have a full handicap record at the end of 2021 will not be eligible to play in cups and shields events in 2023.

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