It was back in October 2012 that the EGU completed and posted there Handicap & Course Rating Committee Feasibility Study. Upon conclusion of the report the EGU proposed that “England Golf adopt the USGA System of Course Rating from January 1st 2014.” So is the CONGU system to be replaced by the international slope system? Well kind of, read on.
Unions of the World have been discussing a world handicapping system for many years now. While GB&I use CONGU and have done since the R&A handed over handicap control in 1927, internationally the USGA slope system is widely used. So is Slope or CONGU the better more accurate system? Well:
The first argument for the Slope system is with CONGUs reliance on SSS. SSS is assessed and accredited by County Unions derived from a list of criteria as opposed to the Slope systems compassion against a good obstacle course. The current assessment criteria for setting SSS takes into account the length of holes, how the elevation of the course changes, how many trees are on a hole, how many water hazards are present, how many bunkers does the course have etc. A big argument here against SSS is that many top grade difficult links courses have no trees on the course, no water hazards (other than the sea) and little elevation change so are often rated in SSS terms similar to average parkland courses. This rating discrepancy means that many courses are in fact under-rated while many are over-rated. The CONGU system means golfers from difficult golf courses gain a significant advantage over golfers from average or easier courses as their handicap would be lower on these courses.
CONGU handicaps are devised by a moving model, players score are compared against the score of other competitors, the CSS. This system sees players handicaps reduce, sometimes significantly, when they better the CSS yet increase slowly by .1 when they miss their predefined buffer zone. This system means that on the whole even a semi regular players handicap is defined in part by scores they shot 3 or more years previously, as such this does not accurately represent their current ability. With the stipulation that a golfers only have to return 3 cards annually a once frequent player who for whatever reason becomes infrequent could take 4 years for their handicap to rise by one shot. This has also caused real problems for Counties with CAT1 competitions where competitors enter flagship events often balloted even though their ability no longer matches their handicap.
Where CONGU is a historical representation of a players ability, Slope is focused on a players current ability. In brief Slope calculates a golfers 10 best rounds from his 20 previous competitions to calculate their playing handicap. This means that a players 21st score is no longer counted towards their handicap and so could see larger immediate increases or decreases in handicaps for players.
CONGU is better in the way it applies stableford adjustments at holes where large scores are posted, so a players handicap is not based on any score over a net double bogey. Slope applies a maximum score of 7 in similar circumstances regardless of the par of a hole. CONGU is also better in the fact it calculates handicaps based on the condition of the course and the weather conditions players faced, the Slope never changes in this respect. CONGU is therefore more focused on the players and not the course.
So what is a Slope rating on a golf course? Well courses are given a Slope rating depending on how they rate against a single course, in GB&I the course is St Andrews. The slope rating of a course is between 55 and 155, an average or ‘standard’ course is 113. At a golf course all the tees, including the red ladies tees, are given a slope rating, such as 113 for the white course and 95 for the blue course. This way any player on any given day can play off any tee using their full Slope handicap and without a 3/4 or any other difference being applied. The Slope rating is also applied taking into account the ability of a host of handicap ranges when it comes to hazard relationships instead of CONGUs scratch golfer approach.
So to the question, there are no plans at present for GB&I golfers to move from CONGU to Slope. The EGU, in conjunction with CONGU, have devised a system that will use Slope to rate courses, so getting rid of CSS, while keeping CONGUs decimal handicap system. This has been rolling out since 2013 with the aim of getting all golf courses Slope rated by 2023. This will mean for the GB&I players little in the way handicaps are managed but will change the shot allowance players receive playing away courses. It will also mean that international players can use their Slope handicap on our shores and vice versa.
As 2023 is still a long way off it will be interesting to see if a radical overall of CONGU handicaps will eventually take place or perhaps a full change to the Slope system to create a worldwide handicapping standard.