Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK
Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK

It should be seen as a source of pride that our small country at the tip of Africa has been a pioneer of golf’s World Handicap System (WHS), launching the universal handicap system and all its associated changes without hitch, and before just about any other national federation.

One of the recurring criticisms of SA’s national golf handicapping system isn’t that it is patently unfair or overly complicated. Rather, it was the perpetual changing that drove golfers up the wall.

It seemed that no sooner had a golfer become accustomed to the current method for calculating a handicap, or for submitting a score, than those in charge announced a new tweak to the handicap formula. For many, the constant modifications proved infuriating — regardless of whether they served to provide a more equitable handicapping method.

Conscious of the criticism, the SA Golf Association resisted the urge to make any major changes to how handicaps were calculated for the better part of the past decade. And, under the stewardship of Handicaps Network Africa, the efficiency and transparency of the handicap system improved to a point where our system became the envy of many golfing countries.

Not only can golfers submit scores easily at handicap terminals located in the majority of golf clubs, on the Handicaps website or, most recently, on the mobile App, but they can look up the scoring histories of anybody on the system.

A minor downside was that, given how transparent the new digital system was, it became easier for unscrupulous players to massage their handicaps. However, the theory holds that handicap fiddlers will always find a way to cheat, regardless of measures one puts in place.

Then, in 2018, GolfRSA’s announcement that the country would be joining the WHS was met with a collective sigh. Another handicap system change ... just as we have got used to the last one. Yet the move to the WHS — with a number of substantive changes — is significant.

The WHS seeks to unify the six different systems that were in existence in the world by merging them into one universal handicap system. This means that all handicap calculations are consistent and players can compete equitably at any course globally.

Crucial to the success of the WHS was ensuring that all the golf courses across the world were rated according to the same US Golf Association course rating and slope rating system, and this is where GolfRSA truly came into its own.

Led by the irrepressible Wimpie du Plessis, the SA course ratings team assessed, and rated, over 450 courses across the length and breadth of the country in fewer than 12 months. Each set of tees on each golf course was assigned its own course rating for men and women in a move designed to encourage players to play off the set of tees they feel most comfortable with.

A simple adjustment to their course handicap compensates for the relative ease or difficulty of that set of tees. And, on January 1 2020, more than 140,000 club golfers in SA woke up to find themselves officially part of the WHS. In truth, most of the major handicap adjustments had been implemented months before so, other than a playing conditions calculation — designed to factor the weather and course conditions of the day into the course rating — they experienced relatively little change ... for once.

It should be seen as a source of pride that SA has been a pioneer of the WHS, launching the universal handicap system and all its associated changes without hitch, and before just about any other national federation.

In fact, the UK and Ireland, which fall under the Council of National Golf Unions Federation, only recently launched the WHS — a full year after SA. The new WHS is designed to be consistent, streamlined, inclusive and modern.

Those are not exactly the terms one would associate with a sport that originated in the 15th century that still upholds rules, values and traditions dating back to the 1800s, but millions of golfers from 89 countries are already experiencing the new system and new countries are joining each month.

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