How to play golf in college without playing 'college golf'
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The beauty of college is that there’s always an extracurricular activity to match your interest. If you want to play golf, but you’re not good enough to make the varsity team or you don’t want the sport to consume your life, club golf could be the way to go. Like varsity golf, club golf provides competition among schools. It’s an opportunity to be part of a team in a new home, make friends with students in other majors and keep your “golf career” going without a big time commitment.
“A lot of high school golfers don’t know about club golf, and if they did, they’d have a great reason to bring their clubs to the dorm,” says Branden Thompson, commissioner of the PGA National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA). “It’s an opportunity for a group of students to get together and shape what they want the club to be, and they can kind of create their own culture.”
More than 400 universities have coed club teams of all shapes and sizes, but even if your school doesn’t have one, you can start your own. Zach Van Dorn started a golf club at Northwest Missouri State by making deals with local courses and recruiting through the school’s club fair and fliers at the student rec center. Alexandra Hatsios and Lydia Merck established a women’s team at the University of North Carolina that designs merchandise and volunteers in the community. The NCCGA will even help market these new teams and advise on how to secure financial backing from the university sports or rec department.
The NCCGA is owned by the PGA of America and has tournaments on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings and boasts that “students will never miss a class.” Since the pandemic, club golf has gained popularity with more than 8,000 entries into events last year and teams in all 50 states. Students pick their golf schedule just like their classes. Two to three regional tournaments culminate in a two-day, 36-hole stroke-play national championship with the top 25 teams vying for team and individual titles.
Most programs require dues. The Cal-Berkeley Golf Club costs $300 a semester, and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix can be $1,400 to $2,200 for the year. To show gratitude for their university’s financial support, some teams, like UNC, ask golfers to volunteer at football and basketball games.
ROUGHLY 400 CLUB TEAMS OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES EXIST. IF YOUR SCHOOL DOESN’T HAVE ONE, YOU CAN START YOUR OWN.
Some teams are informal, with pairings for events built on the fly, and others are more structured. Grand Canyon, for example, has a head coach. Ryan Woodworth, the assistant golf professional at Grand Canyon Golf Course and a former varsity volleyball coach, puts together a spreadsheet each season, keeping scores and separating the team’s best 32 players into four eight-man teams for events.
“Typically we’ll have roughly 60 kids try out for the travel team. Then those kids that don’t make the travel team, they will play on our local team,” Woodworth says. “It’s pretty set for the year, and then we’ll have a couple of players leave. So usually I’ll have another tryout in the spring just to fill in those empty holes. It’s very competitive.”
Cal-Berkeley Golf Club entices its players to practice with internal competitions like the team’s Alvarado Cup, which is awarded on a FedEx Cup-style points system. “We don’t do anything where, ‘Oh, you are on the A, B or C team,’ ” says Jonathan Delmendo, Cal-Berkeley senior and NCCGA regional ambassador. “Everyone gets to sign up and be part of whichever team they want. Then you get to mix it around with the different players that you play with.”
Despite the more laissez-faire nature of club golf, the talent is serious. Last year’s winner of the national individual title, George Eubank Jr. from the University of Tampa, shot rounds of 67 and 69. He was a former varsity player who joined the Tampa golf team while in the second year of his MBA program and found the more relaxed environment beneficial for his game. “You didn’t have workouts or designated practices,” Eubank Jr. says. “When we did go out on Fridays, it was a big group of guys. We would enjoy ourselves for sure, a little bit more than we did in varsity golf—either the games we played on the course or the smack talk between one another.”
During the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, former club golfer Rui Chang made it to the round of 16. He played on the University of Virginia club team before rising to varsity. “Increasingly, many of the best college programs don’t even offer tryouts and instead use the club as their JV team. Win the club tourneys, and then they’ll give you a look,” says Kris Hart, senior director of growth and ventures for the PGA of America.
Ryann Breslin was another varsity hopeful who hedged by making sure to look at club golf programs at schools that matched her academic profile. She ultimately chose club over varsity and is now president of the UNC club golf team, plays on the club tennis team, assists with her sorority’s recruitment and emphasizes her business major.
“If you’re considering varsity or club golf, I’d encourage you to take a look at how you spent your time in high school,” Breslin says. “If you trained for golf every day and like structure, I’d probably recommend varsity golf. If you have other interests but want to get better and meet people, I would suggest club golf.”