This article aims at being simple, clear and providing practical advice for how to go about getting recruited to play college golf.
College golf recruiting is very competitive and most College teams only have a small handful of spots to fill each year. As a result, for junior golfers not who are not nationally ranked and in the top 10-20 junior scoreboard players in their year in their State, it is often not a simple process at all and may require a lot of diligence and a little luck. That said, keep in mind that there are almost 1,300 college golf programs across D1, D2, D3, NAIA and NJCAA.
The most recent numbers by the "2aDays" College Recruiting Blog show that less than 2% of high school golfers go on to compete at D1 schools, and approx. 2% at each of D2 and D3 schools for a total of approx. 6% across D1, D2 and D3. Getting a full ride is even more rare. Since teams can have anywhere from 8 to over 12 players and Division I men’s golf programs only get 4.5 scholarships to use, in almost all cases college golfers are awarded a partial scholarship depending on their academics and level of play. In addition, schools that recruit international players (very common in golf) often have to use more scholarship money to entice those players.
We have found that many parents are focused solely on D1. This is a trap easily fallen into. Many D2, D3, NAIA and NJCAA schools have great golf programs in addition to excellent academic opportunities and should not be ruled out. We personally know many players that have moved from D2/D3 to D1 and also from D1 to D2/D3 and depending on the individual either can be great move. With the advent of the college transfer portal moving from one school to another has become much more commonplace and significantly easier than it was in the past.
The odds of getting recruited may seem stacked against you but keep hope, many juniors are recruited every year. The journey to D1 golf for our oldest was a long one but very worthwhile. It can be done. It takes hard work, talent, preparation, luck and most of all, in the words of the great Arnold Palmer himself: Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.
College Sport Division Levels
D1 schools are the biggest schools, often with the biggest budgets and coaches usually recruit early. Within the D1 schools there is also a breakdown of high major, mid-major, and lower D1 conferences. There are approx. 300 D1 golf programs.
D2 are usually solid schools with good athletes but with generally smaller and with lower budgets. D2 programs get 3.6 scholarships and have an average size of 10 players on a team. There are approx. 215 D2 golf programs.
D3 schools are typically smaller private schools and normally recruit local talent. Athletic scholarships are not awarded at D3 schools but coaches typically work with admissions to obtain scholarships and financials aid packages that can rival a sports scholarship. There are approx. 300 D3 golf programs.
NAIA stands for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes. There are approx. 200 NAIA golf schools across the country. Like NCAA Division 1 and Division 2, student-athletes at this level compete for sports scholarships. The average NAIA team is made up of 10 golfers, and coaches can award a maximum of five scholarships per team. NAIA schools are often good options for student athletes who decide to pursue golf later in their high school career as these coaches often recruit well into senior year.
NJCAA is the National Junior College Athletic Association (Aka JUCO). Junior college can be an excellent steppingstone for athletes who want to continue to develop athletically or academically before attending a four-year institution. NJCAA have the most scholarship opportunities with coaches having up to eight scholarships available per team (the average team size is seven players). There are approx. 215 NJCAA golf programs.
What do College Coaches Look At?
Scores and Ranking
The first thing coaches look at is scores and national ranking. Players looking to play any level of college golf must have built up a profile of multi-day tournament scores (36 holes or more) that are ranked on Junior Golf Scoreboard. For players wanting to be recruited in the D1 ranks, they will need have solid finishes in regional and national tournaments and generally also a Golfweek ranking.
If you are wondering what you should be scoring or what a typical handicap index is for recruitment purposes, ncsasports.org has put out the useful information in the table below. A general rule of thumb to gauge your fit in a school's program is to take the average of the last season's top 4 players' scores and subtract 2, then compare that to your own average multi-day tournament score.
High NCAA D1
Low NCAA D1
NCAA D2 and Top NAIA
NCAA D3 and Low NAIA
0 to +2
0 to +2
3.5/4 and below
3.5/4 and below
72 and under at courses over 6,700 yards
74 and under at courses over 6,600 yards
Low end: 74 and under High end: 76 (Courses over 6,600 yards)
Low end: 74 and under (top NCAA D3 programs) High end: High 80s and lower (Courses over 6,600 yards)
Top finishes at the national and state level. Several years competing at AJGA, USGA and State tournaments, resulting in a high national ranking. Full summer golf schedule with multiple-day tournaments.
Competes at the regional and state levels. Ranks nationally. One to two years of being recognized First or Second-Team All-State.
Competes at the regional and state levels. Experience competing in multiple-day event tournaments.
Competes in state, local and high school tournaments.
College coaches are looking for players who are strong academically. A high GPA is very important as well as strong test scores. If the player is academically sound it gives the coach confidence they can handle the pressure of being a student athlete and opens the door for merit based scholarships to reduce the need for the amount of athletic based scholarship. Given the choice between two similar levels of players with pretty much the same ranking, a coach will generally go with the player with the more solid academic record.
Golf Resumes and Online Profiles
It is important for juniors to have a golf resume and ideally also a good idea to have a website for the student athlete. The resume and/or website should include amongst other things:
- Name, school and contact information.
- NCAA eligibility number (you will need to register on the NCAA eligibility center).
- Handicap Index.
- Golf rankings: Junior Gold Scoreboard, AJGA, Golfweek.
- Summary of all recent competition scores. Include all scores, don't leave off the bad ones. Coaches will easily see them if they are truly interested and omitting information does come across well.
- Academic scores: GPA, SAT, ACT
- Community Service and other sport involvement.
- Swing videos.
Contacting College Coaches
Timing for Contacting Coaches
D1 college recruiting starts early. Elite juniors whose goal it is to play at the highest college levels need to start preparing early with a solid Junior Scoreboard Ranking, online profile and good academic results. Most top Division 1 programs make verbal offers to recruits the summer after sophomore year and typically only add one or two players to the team each year.
Division 1 and 2 coaches can make official contact with players from June 15 of their sophomore year and make verbal offers from that point.
There are no limits on when Division 3 and NAIA coaches can contact potential recruits.
Making Contact with a Coach
You can’t wait for a college coach to find you. Juniors should be proactive and reach out to coaches. Before you do, however, have a good idea of what you want out of the experience. Know yourself and your ability.
Do a lot of research of prospective colleges. Would you want to go there if you didn’t play golf? Look at the roster. What scores are the team shooting? Are those scores in your reach (be sure to add at least 2 strokes to your average to make up for the difficulty of college courses)? Make a list of 10 to 20 colleges you would like to target. You can find the coach’s name and email on their team website.
There is also a recruiting section on college websites - fill that in as well, and in your email let the coach know you have submitted it. Follow the schools’ golf teams on social media, they will often follow you back. Post golf tournaments you play in with results.
What Should My Letter Say?
First of all make sure to address the coach by name. There is no harm in addressing your letter to both the head coach and assistant coach.
In the subject line write something to the effect of: Players Name (Class of 20xx) - Introduction.
In your letter to the coach make sure to include the following:
- A short introduction - name, high school.
- Your strong interest in tending xxxxx University and why.
- A short paragraph on what your golf strengths are and who coaches you.
- Your academic record.
- Recent golf results.
- Upcoming tournaments.
- Let coach know you will keep them updated on how the upcoming tournaments go and that you would be open to a brief phone call to get to know the program better.
- Sign your name and include your phone number and social media tags.
- Include your online profile and link to swing videos.
If you are a driven golfer with a good ranking, solid tournament scores and strong academic history you should not let the odds deter you. Fortune favors the brave. Write that email, let the coach know exactly why he should recruit you, and keep ahead of the calendar.