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myth of the college golf scholarship

The Myth of the College Golf Scholarship

I love golf. But not everyone is motivated by love for the Masters and a birdie. A “tiger mom” reads a newspaper article about unused golf scholarships. The next day she has signed her six year old up for golf lessons. A decade of green fees and lesson expenses is an investment that is going to pay off in a big way. Or is it?

There are 289 NCAA Division 1 men’s golf programs and 210 in Division 2. For women there are 235 NCAA Division 1 programs and 128 Division 2 programs. There are 178 NAIA men’s golf programs and 163 women’s golf programs.

That sounds like a lot of opportunity to get yourself a “full ride” golf scholarship.

“Yes! There are opportunities to play and obtain a scholarship for golf, schools are in need of female golfers, colleges and universities are starting or filling programs each year. Finding females to fill scholarships are at a premium. Girls should take up golf and most are in high schools and junior golf programs.”

NJCAA Coach Ed Bethea, Women’s Golf of Dodge City Community College

Well, hang on. Let’s take a closer look.

NCAA Division 3 schools do not have any athletic scholarships.

Golf Scholarships by the Numbers

Now, let’s look at the NCAA Division 1, Division 2, NAIA, and NJCAA (Junior Colleges). Each division and gender is only allowed only a limited number of scholarships per team.

  • Division 1 men: 4.5 scholarships
  • Division 2 men: 3.6 scholarships
  • Division 1 women: 6 scholarships
  • Division 2 women: 5.4 scholarships
  • NAIA Men: 5 scholarships
  • NAIA Women: 5 scholarships
  • NJCAA Men: 8 scholarships (rarely all used by individual schools)
  • NJCAA Women: 8 scholarships (rarely all used by individual schools)

Here are the roster sizes for the two finalists in each division in 2014:

  • Men’s Division 1
    • Alabama, 8
    • Oklahoma State, 10
  • Men’s Division 2
  • Women’s Division 1
  • Women’s Division 2
    • Lynn, 9
    • Rollins, 12

Golf is an Equivalency Sport, Whatever that Means

There are two types of recognized sports for scholarships.

Headcount sports are those in which any scholarship to a player, whether it is one dollar or a full scholarship, counts toward the program’s number.

Equivalency sports, like golf, are those sports in which the coaches have a certain dollar amount that can be split among multiple athletes in any proportion they choose. And what does this actually mean? A full scholarship is rare. It is in the coach’s best interest to get as many high caliber athletes as possible and so the pot is divided.

Give me the Full Ride

You will notice that there are more golfers than there are scholarships. Look at the Division 1 men, Alabama and Oklahoma State. They have 8 and 10 players on their rosters, but only 4.5 scholarships to hand out. That translates into each player receiving about half of the cost of tuition and room and board. These are the very best golfers in the nation.

Not all Division 1 or 2 schools give out all of their allotted scholarships. Don’t expect a “full ride” golf scholarship. They are few and far between.

How good do you have to be?

What kind of scores do you need to be shooting in order to play golf in college?

If you look at NCAA Division 3 women’s tournaments, you will find the range of scores is in the low 70’s for the top golfers and the low 90’s for the golfers who are finishing at the bottom of the sheet. If you want to compete at a Division 1 program, the scores range from the high 60’s to the low 80’s at tournaments.

For men’s NCAA Division 3 tournaments, scores range from the high 60’s to the low 80’s. Men’s Division 1 scores range from the high 60’s to the high 70’s.

“I’m always an advocate for girls taking up the game of golf! It’s a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and it’s a great networking tool in the business world. However, college scholarships are not given out freely, they still have to be earned. Female golfers need to consistently post tournament scores in the 70s or low 80s to have a chance to get athletic aid. Even then, the notion of a “full-ride” is much more of a myth than a reality. To get even close to a full scholarship, a high school golfer needs to have a strong academic background so schools can combine athletic and academic scholarship.”

NCAA Division 3 Coach Abby Sorensen Men’s and Women’s Assistant Golf Coach of Allegheny College

Outside Golf Scholarships

Not all golf scholarships come from colleges themselves. There are many outside golf scholarships as well that you should look into. Two examples are minority scholarships (golfer specific) from the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association  and scholarships for women from the LPGA Foundation. There are also many scholarships available from regional tournaments and even some from your home golf course.

For good information about finding golf scholarships from outside sources (not from the colleges), does a great job.

The Random Stat Here in the Middle

According to 77.5% of all golfers are male, and 22.5% are females. The average household income of a golfer is $95,000.

The Golf Resume

The resume is very important for a high school golfer. Make sure you keep records of the events you enter. Unlike many other sports, where a coach needs to see the athlete perform, golf coaches can make a decision from your scores.

In fact, the budget for golf coaches is a lot lower than most other sports. They do not have a huge recruiting budget to come watch events.

Let Them Know You Exist

You need to be proactive. College coaches are not going to just see you. You need to research the schools you want to be at and contact those specific coaches.

Most importantly, you need to be contacting coaches and letting them know you exist. Send them an email introducing yourself. Include a resume attachment of your golfing achievement.

  • Event name and location
  • Number of players in the field
  • Your finish
  • Course rating and distance
  • Unusual weather for the event
  • Yardage for the course

(The above list is the work of Frank Mantua.)

Having a Video is Nice

You may also want to provide some video. Sending DVD’s is quickly becoming the thing of the past. Post your video to YouTube and include the link in your resume. The video should be only a couple minutes long.

The video should include a “full swing, a three-quarter swing, a couple of pitch shots and your putting stroke, if at all possible, plus a shot from behind and a swing facing the camera.” Frank Mantua

The Academic Gold Mine

My best advice for you is to do well academically. There is more money in academics. Golf may open doors for you if you are really good, but it is not going to pay for your education. And there is no way you could ever pay back all the green fees and lessons that developed your skills. Compete for the love of the game and find a school and program that you enjoy.

A Final Piece of Advice

I will leave you with a final cheesy pun.

High school golfers who want to continue playing in college: It is time to swing into action!

If you are ready for Recruiting to be Made Easy…

If you want to be a college athlete…

How to Get Recruited If you are ready to get coaches to notice you…

Then the How to Get Recruited Guide will give you a step-by-step plan to turn your talent into offers. There’s a lot to learn about the recruiting process. How to Get Recruited condenses mountains of advice, and converts it to simple action steps that will get college coaches calling.

How to Get Recruited: Got Talent. Get a Plan. Get Recruited.


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4 thoughts on “The Myth of the College Golf Scholarship”

  1. Great article! I have a volleyball player turned golfer and is playing at a junior college in Arizona. She has physical talent beyond belief but is learning how to play competitive golf. Do many colleges, NCAA and NAIA colleges recruit from jc?

  2. Glad to see a dose of reallity into this topic. The notion of thousands of scholarships for women go unused is ancient. In the early days of Title IX enforcement, (the late 1970’s) Forbes published an article illuminating the condition and it quickly became conventional wisdom.
    Parents got the idea that a near freeby was easy to get. Well, that might have been true for all of a few months.
    The truth is that the people who paid the closest attention were living in other parts of the world. The vast majority of newly available scholarships have been granted to young women from mostly Asia and Europe. You’ll be shocked over how good these kids are! Infact, there is a razor thin line between the quality of one of these kids and an LPGA tour player.
    Moral of the story: If you have a child that lives and breaths golf because they love it, they might have a chance. Otherwise, if this is a strategy to skirt the system, you’re in for a big disappointment.

  3. can I get a college scholarship if I don’t play high school golf cause I’m homeschooled and my town won’t allow it?

    1. Hey Paul,

      Good news. Yes you have the same opportunities as all other high school golfers. College coaches don’t care if you play in high school. They will care that you are playing in competitive environments and they will care about your scores. Here is an article that will give you some more specifics: What about the home schooled athlete? Let me know if you have further questions.


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