Playing College Golf
If you’re deciding whether or not you should pursue playing college golf or if you’re the parent of someone who is contemplating playing college golf please read on. I have personally played college golf and would like to share some of my experiences regarding playing golf in college and hopefully this article may help many others that are in high school and still deciding on a college or university and whether or not they should base their decision on playing or trying out for that school’s golf team.
What to Expect Playing College Golf
Playing on an NCAA college golf team was an incredibly rewarding experience in more ways than one. I’d first like to say that playing golf or any other sport at the collegiate level has many rewards. One of the first things that come to mind is the life-long friendships you can make with your teammates and fellow golfers on your team. Many colleges or universities will also help pair you up with a roommate your freshmen year that is also playing on the school’s golf team. This is especially important for those that attend a college that isn’t near home and have no one else they know from their high school attending that college. My freshmen roommate that I met the first day we moved into college also played college golf with me for the same 4 years that I played and became my best friend in college. He was even best man in my wedding and we continue to keep in touch regularly to this day. I bring this up first because this can not only be one of the best things about college golf but one of the best aspects of playing any sport whether in college or at any age for that matter. Golf is a sport that truly gives you the time necessary to build long-lasting friendships with your playing partners on the golf course.
So other than building great friendships, what else can you expect? Depending on the golf program at a particular university or college, or the golf coach, I would say that in most programs you will have a pretty rigorous practice schedule. That not only includes practicing on the course, putting green, or driving range when weather permits, but also an intense indoor practice schedule in the winter that includes hitting balls indoors as well as working out at the gym, doing golf specific exercises, and maintaining golf fitness year-round. These golf-specific fitness programs typically begin at 6 a.m. in the off-season and can be very early in the morning before classes start. All of which is nothing that should cause you in any way to shy away from playing college golf, because it is extremely rewarding, and if you truly want to take your game to the highest level of play professionally one day, I’d say that it’s incredibly advantageous to playing golf in a structured collegiate environment.
Do college golf teams travel a lot? Yes, they do and yes you will miss some classes and have some homework to make up, possibly even meet with tutors, or evening study hall sessions…but it is worth it. Going on college golf trips was one of the best parts about playing NCAA golf. We traveled to so many cities and states from Ocean City, Maryland to Tampa, Florida, to the golf course near the U.S. Marine Corp base in Camp Legeune, North Carolina. You will definitely get to see the country, new cultures, and meet plenty of new people while traveling from one tournament to the next.
Just wait, the best part is that you will get the privilege of playing some of the best and maybe even most prestigious golf courses in the country. While in college I was able to have the honor of playing Oakmont Country Club, the #5 Ranked Golf Course in the country that has hosted the 2nd most major golf championships other than Augusta National. Granted we didn’t play an official NCAA tournament at Oakmont but we did get play the course each year before heading to the NCAA National Championships only because of some amazing alumni connections. Other notables include the very prestigious Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, currently ranked in the Top 100 Golf Courses at #36. Although not in the top 100 rankings, we also had the privilege of playing Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Florida. This private club includes many national members including Joe Namath and more. At Old Memorial you can’t take a riding cart even if you wanted to, they have a staff of caddies that carry your bag for you and give you amazing tips on club selection and reading putts.
All-in-all playing college golf was an extremely rewarding experience. It definitely forces you to increase your playing level and your golf game, the competition not only in tournaments, but just among your own teammates can be intense. NCAA golf teams only travel with 5 players so to make that top 5 roster spot you may sometimes have to qualify and compete against your own teammates at your home course to see who gets to travel to the next tournament. If your next tournament happens to be playing at a top 100 golf course in the country you better believe it’ll push to be on the course, driving range, and practice putting green as often as possible. You will learn much about the values of hard work, dedication, high-level competition, and taking a skill you’ve already tried to perfect to the next level.
How Good Do I have to be to Play Golf in College
If you’re considering playing college golf, whether on the men’s team or women’s team, you may be wondering exactly how good you have to be to make the team and what type of scores you’ll need to shoot to make the top 5 and travel with your team. If you want to play in a Division 1 program on the men’s team you should expect to shoot in the high 60’s to mid 70’s and for NCAA Division 3 colleges you’ll need to score in the range of high 60’s to low 80’s. If you’re trying to play women’s NCAA college golf you’ll want to score in the low 70’s to low 90’s for Division 3 NCAA tournaments and shoot in the high 60’s to the low 80’s. If you’re a senior in high school and are quite close to these scores many golfers can walk-on and still make the team even if you’re not quite there you’re freshmen year I’d recommend you just keep working on your golf game. You can improve quite a bit from your freshmen year to your sophomore or junior year in college. Just keep in touch with your golf coach and keep practicing so the next time tryouts come around you are ready.
What Can I Gain from Playing College Golf
Playing golf in college on an NCAA team can be extremely rewarding in many ways as we have already discussed. However, one point I haven’t brought up yet is the fact that you are not only going to have a great time, making new friends, and playing the sport you love most in an extremely competitive environment but you’re also getting an education that is and will be the most rewarding and important part of your college experience.
When I was being recruited by college coaches, the one coach that impressed me the most when I visited the school was the coach, and only golf coach, that spent the first hour of his recruiting pitch on what an amazing academic program they have. We literally didn’t talk about golf once for the entire first hour; he spoke to my parents and me about how amazing the academic program was for my desired major. At only 18 years of age, it didn’t impress me as much as it did my parents but I could tell at the time that was sort of the tipping scale for me. As in golf and most sports, when it comes to college student-athletes, you are a student first and athlete second and all collegiate coaches take academics and GPA’s very seriously. Coaches know that each golfer on their team may miss 10 days or more of class and that is taken into consideration when they’re recruiting so make sure you study hard for your SAT/ACT tests and keep your GPA up. If a coach doesn’t feel you can handle the level of academics at a particular school they’re more likely to pass you up and move on to the next recruit. So keep your GPA up in high school and take your SAT or ACT tests as often as you can to get the highest score possible. You may even get an academic scholarship on top an athletic scholarship.
If you’ve already been recruited by several schools and each college’s golf program seems similar in the level of competition and success, etc. I highly recommend basing the rest of your decision on the interest in your particular major and how good of an academic program that school has for your particular major. Playing golf professionally and making a great living at it is extremely hard and only a few succeed so by making sure you’re getting the best education possible at the same time is even more important.
How to Get a Golf Scholarship
Yes, a scholarship, free ride, or any type of financial help no matter what type of scholarship or grant, etc. definitely is an amazing selling point when choosing where you want to spend the next 4 years or more of your life and can be extremely important in your decision. If you are looking to play at an NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 college or university you could be eligible for a college golf scholarship from that particular school. Division 3 schools are not allowed by the NCAA to give out athletic scholarships; however in golf many D3 schools do have incredible golf programs as well as academic programs so don’t immediately rule them out. Even though I played for a Division 3 golf program our team was in the top 25 in the country and we got to go the NCAA Final Championship each year and most of our fall and spring tournaments involved playing against D2 schools in which we often out-performed them and won. Our 1-man my freshmen year finished 2nd overall in the NCAA Final Champions and went on to play in the Master’s Tournament twice as an amateur. The level of competition isn’t nearly as different among divisions in golf as it is in other sports such as football or basketball.
There are also less college golf scholarships and money to be handed out for a golf team than some other sports. According to the NCAA, golf is an equivalency sport and each student’s percentage of aid is divided by the true cost of tuition to determine the actual scholarship amount. This also means that schools where tuition is more for out of state students than in-state students, your scholarship may be less. Of course this only is applicable if you’re looking at a public university that has a different tuition rate based on what state or where you reside.
NCAA Division 1 men’s golf programs only get 4.5 full scholarships to hand out so in a lot of cases potential college golfers are given a half or partial scholarship depending on their level of play since teams can have anywhere from 8-12 players. There are very few full ride college golf scholarships handed out to golfers, especially for men’s golf in college, however don’t take even a half or partial golf scholarship that a school provides lightly, especially with the cost of tuition and room and board in today’s day and age. It’s also important to note that NCAA D1 schools are not required to hand out all 4.5 full scholarships so that may be a question you want to ask your coach ahead of time if you are looking for an athletic scholarship for golf. With women’s collegiate golf there are a lot more full rides given, the NCAA allows up to 6 full scholarships so it is much more common for women to get a full college golf scholarship.
So unless you’re a true phenom in junior golf at the national level, which if you are, you probably won’t need to even read this, if you’re not, you’ll have to be proactive in order to find the right college to play NCAA golf. You will want to create your own “golf resume” and make sure that you get it in the hands of as many collegiate golf coaches as possible. This isn’t a sport that you can expect to sit back in high school and wait for college golf coaches to contact you. Create your golf resume by listing any and all golf accomplishments through your junior and high school career. This includes playing in your high school, district, regional, and state golf tournaments, any junior tournaments, or any regional or national junior golf leagues or tournaments.
An example of a regional golf league would be the NCJT (North Coast Junior Tour) in northeast Ohio. They host tournaments each week throughout the summer in a particular region; it used to be every Tuesday and Thursday at a different golf course. It’s highly encouraged to play in these types of leagues to gain competition experience and add to your golf resume while in high school. Golfers from the NCJT include PGA Tour Players Jason Kokrak and Jason Dufner.
You can also play in national junior golf tournaments, such as the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association), and although it may be tougher to qualify for these tournaments I’d highly encourage you to look into them further. The AJGA currently has more than 6500 junior members and over 300 AJGA alumni play on the PGA Tour and LPGA tour earning 600+ tour wins. Some notable AJGA alumni include Tiger Woods, Sergio
Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley, Davis Love III, and many more. And just from the LPGA, golfers such as Paula Creamer, Katie Futcher, Julieta Granada, Inbee Park, and more are AJGA alumni. Also 25 of the previous 30 NCAA D1 men’s champions and 23 of 30 D1 women’s champions are AJGA alumni. So as you can see the AJGA is one of the best places to get noticed by a potential college coach or recruiter.
If you’re truly serious about playing college golf and you know this early on, even as a freshmen in high school, it’s never too early to start looking at schools. You should make a broad list of potential schools anywhere from 25-50 schools, which you can continue to narrow down over your next two years of high school. You can even start calling or emailing those college golf coaches so they begin to know who you are and continue to update them as your junior golf career excels. You can even send them a video of your golf swing, which is highly recommended, as well as your junior tournament golf schedule so they can follow your progress.
By the time you’re in your late sophomore year or early junior year in high school you should have narrowed down your potential colleges or universities and have already made some unofficial visits to your top schools. At this time you can continue to contact college golf coaches and ask them where you stand as a potential recruit, this interaction may also help you get to know each coach more, as well as each golf program, and narrow your search down even further. In your junior year of high school, college coaches can start to contact you, D1 coaches can begin to call you July 1st before you start your Junior year. On September 1st before your junior year D1 and D2 coaches can begin to send emails or letters to you. Then by the time you are a senior you’re allowed to make 5 official college/university visits, talk through this with the coach because if it’s an official visit you may be entitled to some expense reimbursement and you only get five. Then you can start to apply to each school, apply for financial aid at fafsa.gov.edu and eventually sign and commit to school. Just remember that if you do get a golf athletic scholarship the university or college only has to guarantee it for one year. After that first year they can take it away or even increase it if you’re breaking course records left and right. Take it seriously if you do get an offer.
In Conclusion: So Is Golf Truly Right for Me at the College Level
This is gut check time, whether you’re a freshmen or about to start your senior year of high school, if you truly want to play golf in college it’s time to take your maturity to the next level and truly improve upon your skills. Otherwise forget about golf and get the best education possible, but if you do want to play an NCAA sport or receive any type of college golf scholarship you need to commit to it. Go play in as many junior golf tournaments as you possibly can, the competition only makes you play better under pressure. Go to as many golf clinics as possible, see your local PGA teaching professionals for lessons, and if that’s not possible for financial reasons, ask your parents to drop you off at a golf course that has a driving range or field where you can bring you own shag bag and literally practice your golf game all day long. That includes everything from your driver off the tee, to chip shots, bunker shots, and putting on the practice green. Prove to your family, your high school golf coach, potential college golf coach, and most of all, yourself, that you’re putting your best effort possible into becoming the best golfer you can be and if you truly put in the time and effort you will find a place to play golf in college.
Author: Joe Zumpella is not only an avid golfer but has played in many junior tournaments, high school golf, as well as 4 years of golf at the collegiate level. He has played at the high school state tournament in Ohio as well as the North Coast Junior Tour. He is also currently the Director of E-Commerce at Golf Headquarters – GolfHQ.com.