I read with interest an article in the NCAA News last week about ice hockey and the issues coaches in their sport are having in terms of getting recruits, specifically Canadian players, to consider the U.S. college system versus playing in Canadian junior leagues. The perception of some is that the junior leagues provide a quicker, smoother route to the NHL than go to American colleges. The junior leagues are for-profit businesses that have financial stakes in getting young skaters to play for them, and have even begun to reach into the U.S. to try and lure top juniors to come north of the border.
Needless to say, their success in attracting players has a direct impact on college programs. To help fight this, the commissioners of the various Division I ice hockey conferences have created College Hockey, Inc., a consortium that will promote the benefits of accepting scholarships and playing college hockey. CHI won't represent a single school but the overall interests of college hockey and try to educate young players about the fact that college hockey develops them for the NHL just as effectively plus provides opportunities for those who might not have the skills to play the game at the highest level professionally.
"This is overdue," said Paul Kelly, a former NHL players association executive director who will oversee College Hockey Inc. "The colleges desperately need help. They are losing this battle. I won't let that happen."
OK, so what does this have to do with college golf?
I see some parallels between the two sports, and I think college hockey might be on to something that the folks who have a vested interest in college golf might want to consider.
As with Canadian junior leagues to college hockey, the lure of turning pro and taking your lumps on developmental/mini-tours to get your game into shape for the PGA/LPGA/European Tour is the single biggest threat to the continued development of college golf. Who needs to attend school, and have the distractions of studying at a university, if I can compete on a mini-tour, make some money (however small) and learn what it's like to play for pay?
I don't have any hard and fast data to back me up, but it feels as if "turning pro" is becoming a more attractive option of late for junior golfers, particularly for "elite" players in the women's game. Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Esther Choe and Vicky Hurst have all bypassed college entirely in the last five to 10 years. Mina Harigae, Jane Rah and most recently Sue Kim have all in the last two years tried college for a semester and decided it was time to move on.
I'm personally a believer attending college and playing college golf is an incredibly valuable experience. Elite players can indeed sharpen their games with top-notch competition (see Rickie Fowler), and diamonds-in-the-rough can be polished in a relatively low-pressure setting (room and board, books and food all paid for; no need to book your own hotels or plane tickets). However, I also believe there is a large contingent of people who think college golf is at best a risky proposition and at worst a waste of time.
Would it be in the best interests of the Golf Coaches Association of America and the National Golf Coaches Association then to consider creating a consortium similar to College Hockey Inc., to promote the benefits of college golf and dispel myths that continue to hurt the public perception of the game? I'm asking as much as I am suggesting. There might be down sides to this (aside from cost) that I'm not thinking of right now. And yet, the upsides seem great.