It’s the start of a new decade: out with old USGA handicap system, in with the new, supposedly simplified, World Handicap System.

Effective in the US January 2020, the WHS puts an end to the half dozen systems used around the globe in favor of one standard calculation. In an effort to make it easier for anyone to get an official index, the new system only requires 56 holes to be recorded (down from 90), and only the top eight of 20 rounds count (down from 10) — meaning a couple blow up rounds won’t hurt as much. The WHS is updated daily, too, which is certainly a nightmare for tournament committees but convenient for players keeping a close eye on their index.

Among the other changes, the old Equitable Stroke System is no more, replaced with the “net double bogey” standard (Double Bogey + any handicap strokes received on a hole). And the WHS even takes weather into account with the “playing conditions calculation.” The PCC determines the impact of your score based on the average of all scores posted at that course on that day (emphasizing the importance of daily updates and other player data). Lastly, soft and hard caps are now in place to safeguard your index should the wheels start to come off — as they so often do. Explained by Golf.com and Steve Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of handicapping and course rating, if your index worsens by three points in a year, further decreases will only be calculated at 50%. That’s the soft cap. The hard cap comes into play when your index worsens by five in a year.

By all accounts, American golfers won’t see a dramatic change to their existing indexes under the new WHS — one or two stokes if anything, according to the USGA — but the new system could change how many strokes you’re getting or giving out on the tee box by a lot.

Here’s the old USGA formula to determine strokes: Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113)

And here’s the new WHS formula: Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) + (Course Rating – par)

The biggest change to the formula is, obviously, the addition of course rating and par. This change is an ode to regions predominately playing Stableford, where points are counted as opposed to strokes. According to Dean Knuth, the USGA’s former Director of Handicapping — who has the badass nickname “The Pope of Slope” — the new formula creates a problem for American players, mostly because par is hardly indicative of how difficult, or easy, a course plays.

From his op-ed in Golf Digest:
“Where this issue becomes noticeable is how the new formula changes course handicap values from tee to tee … For example, where once a course handicap was a 12 from the back and middle tees, and an 11 from the front, under the new WHS calculations there will be much larger variations — as many as 18 shots in some instances — between tees. Part of the reason for this is that during the calculation, an approximation is being approximated again by adding Course Rating minus Par, creating an imperfect “over-spreading” of the course handicaps. Golfers moving to longer tees will think this is a logical change (they’ll be getting more strokes). Golfers playing shorter tees won’t be so happy.”

Knuth’s column, The flaw in the new World Handicap System, is definitely worth a read whether you’re excited about the changes or not. He touches on several issues he sees with the new system and offers and incredibly informed perspective on the new system as a whole. If you’re looking for a crash course, read GD’s rundown of the the new system, and the USGA’s WHS FAQ, too.

Finally ready to make the jump and get an official handicap? Check with your home club or the Allied Golf Association in your state to get started.