Handicaps Network Africa

Establishing a fair and practical handicap system is no easy feat. First, a sound calculation method must be devised. Second, everyone involved must agree – even if begrudgingly –to use the same method. Finally, the values used in the calculation must be accurate and true.

While it is impossible to meet these requirements perfectly, especially the last, each of the six major golf federations have done a good job over the years of calculating workable handicaps for their players.

There has been only one major problem (if we ignore the pesky issue of sandbagging), and it relates to the second requirement: for the longest time, each federation had a unique handicap system. This made it challenging for golfers from different federations to compete against each other on an equal footing, or even just to confidently assert their superiority over their brother-in-law in Auckland.

In July 2011, the powers that be took action. During The Open Championship at Royal St George’s, the R&A and USGA, golf’s two governing bodies, met with other handicapping authorities to explore the idea of a unified world handicap system.

The idea gained support, and after years of extensive research and consultations with golf organisations and individual golfers from around the globe, the World Handicap System (WHS) was introduced in January 2020. To date, 125 countries have adopted the system, including South Africa, which was among the early adopters.


The R&A and USGA have announced the first update to the World Handicap System (WHS) as part of an ongoing review of the Rules of Handicapping and Course Rating System.

The WHS aimed to provide as many golfers as possible with the opportunity to earn a Handicap Index. To this end, they implemented two key measures: they set the maximum Handicap Index allowed at 54, which was considerably higher than the previous maximum used in South Africa and other countries.

Then they mandated that new players only had to submit three 18-hole scores to earn their first Index. This ensured that every new player, with just a bit of effort, could begin to enjoy competitive games against friends and now, thanks to the WHS, even against strangers from across the world.

They also replaced the term ‘Handicap’ with ‘Handicap Index’, which in part was to distinguish it from its close WHS cousins, ‘Course Handicap’ and ‘Playing Handicap’.

A Handicap Index is a numerical measure of your demonstrated ability. Simply put, it’s a number that indicates how well you’re able to play, based on your most recent scores.

A Course Handicap, on the other hand, represents the number of strokes you need to receive to play to par on a specific course. Put differently, it is your Handicap Index adjusted for the difficulty of the course and the set of tees you choose to play. It also determines the maximum score you can record on any one hole. Unlike the Handicap Index, which stops at one decimal point, it is rounded to the nearest whole number.

A Playing Handicap is the actual number of strokes you receive (or, if you’re a very good player, give) during a competitive round to make it a fair game. It is often the same as your Course Handicap but can differ when an additional handicap allowance applies.

If you don’t yet have an Index and all this talk of calculations is giving you anxiety, fret not. Handicaps Network Africa (HNA) takes care of the maths. The official provider of Handicap Indexes throughout most of Southern Africa, they have a centralised system, easily accessible through their handy phone app, website, and handicap terminals, that will provide you with each of these handicaps.

The Handicap Index is calculated daily and is displayed openly on your profile at all times, while Course and Playing Handicaps can easily be obtained by simply entering your round details – club, course, date, colour of tees, and handicap allowance (if one applies).

Before we get to the calculation, we need to talk about Score Differentials. Score Differentials measure the quality of a round. It considers factors such as the relative difficulty of the course that was played, measured by the Course and Slope Rating, as well as general conditions on the day (wind, set-up, etc), measured by the Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC).

To calculate a Handicap Index, HNA averages the eight lowest Score Differentials of a player’s 20 most recent scores (or fewer, if a player has not yet submitted 20 scores). This happens every night to ensure that Handicap Indexes are always as up-to-date and accurate as possible.

To learn more about the handicap system, head over to HNA’s FAQ page for detailed info on the essential rules that every handicapped golfer should be familiar with.

If you are just starting out and are eager to join the ranks of handicapped golfers, the next step is to become a member of a GolfRSA-affiliated golf club. Their handicap administrator will create a profile for you on HNA, order a handicap card for you, and assign you a unique SA Player ID. Then all that remains is for you to submit three 18-hole scores.

The next day, you’ll have your first official Handicap Index.


In June this year, GolfRSA announced its collaboration with Handicaps Network Africa (HNA) for the Caddie Handicap Initiative, which was launched in July.