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Golf Recruiting Guidelines: How Good Do You Have to Be to Play College Golf?

Here’s the great thing about men’s golf: every division level is extremely competitive. You won’t find a significant variation among the top golfers from NCAA Division 1 to Division 3. So, recruits looking to play at the highest level can find opportunities across several programs, including NAIA. But you may be wondering: exactly how good do you need to be to play college golf? This section breaks down the requirements in each division and provides insight into what college coaches look for when recruiting student-athletes.

How good do you have to be to play college golf?

College golf has only become more competitive—the best golf score 20 years ago is now the average score among NCAA Division 1 athletes. Of the 144,000 high school athletes who play golf, only two percent go on to compete at the Division 1 level, 1.6 percent at Division 2 and 2.3 percent at Division 3. 

From an athletic standpoint, college coaches like to focus on two aspects when building their list of recruits: golf scores and national rankings. First, men’s golf coaches evaluate average scores at multiple-day tournaments and tours. They typically hand pick results from tournaments that are 6,600 yards or more and exclude anything less than that. In other words, they don’t pay too much attention to high school events that are 18 holes because college golf tournaments are usually 36 or 54 holes.

Keeping that in mind, top Division 1 programs tend to recruit players with an average golf score of 72 and lower. Top Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA programs are also selective—college coaches at these schools look for players who average 74 or lower. Most mid-tier Division 2 programs make offers to recruits who average 76 or lower, while you’ll find more flexibility at lower level Division 3 and NAIA programs, which can range from high 70s to low 80s.

In addition to evaluating a recruit’s best scores, coaches also like to see how they rank nationally. Most commonly, they follow the Junior Golf Scoreboard to gauge how a recruit measures up against top golfers from across the country. They will also look at tournament results through the American Junior Golf Association (AGJA) website and Golfweek. Recruits who go on to compete at the Division 1 level earn high rankings on these sites and have top finishes at AJGA, USGA and state tournaments. You may find top Division 2 and Division 3 prospects on these lists as well, while recruits at mid-to-low tier Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA programs compete and place in state, regional and local tournaments.

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What type of national golf rankings do college coaches look at?

When it comes to golf college recruiting, coaches turn to national tournaments and rankings before high school events. The most popular site they follow is the Junior Golf Scoreboard, which compiles scores from more than 2,000 verified tournaments across the country. They also highly consider other associations that have their own ranking systems, like the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and Golfweek (mostly Midwest events). To fully evaluate a golfer’s athletic ability, coaches validate golf scores by analyzing a recruit’s national ranking, and more importantly, their “tournament score differential.” They pull scores from individual multiple-day events that are at least 36 holes and then compare how the recruit played each day. For example, did the student-athlete shoot 72 the first day, and then crumble under the pressure the second day? Or, did they come back from a bad first day to take the lead? There’s a lot that coaches can learn about a recruit by studying rankings and tournament scores.

Student-athletes can do a quick search on Junior Golf Scoreboard to find out where verified tournaments are taking place. The best way to improve your national ranking, and possibly gain entry to other elite junior events, is to sign up for multiple-day tournaments that are at least 36 holes.

Recruits can also see how they stack up against college-athletes by following collegiate rankings on Golf Stat, which tracks individual and team rankings from NCAA Division 1 to NAIA.

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NCAA men’s golf scores and handicaps by division level

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
  High NCAA D1 Low NCAA D1 NCAA D2 and Top NAIA NCAA D3 and Low NAIA
Tournament Handicap*(See notes) 0 to +2 0 to +2 3.5/4 and below 3.5/4 and below
Scoring Average 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)
Tournament Experience 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.

Keep in mind that some players who fall outside these guidelines are still recruited by college coaches.

*Tournament Handicap: Handicaps have become an outdated statistic in the college golf recruiting guidelines—mostly because student-athletes can easily manipulate their handicap by hand picking the events they attended. If a college coach does consider a recruit’s handicap, they only compute scores at nationally ranked tournaments. Bottom line: It’s more important for a student-athlete to focus on their golf scores at tournaments that are at least 36 holes or more.

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What are the average college golf scores?

College coaches analyze golf scores at many different angles. First, they rarely consider scores from courses that are less than 6,600 yards, as the average course yardage in college is 6,600 to 7,300. That’s why it’s important for student-athletes who are interested in competing at the college level to gain experience in multiple-day tournaments.

Then, coaches evaluate the course and slope rating. As a reminder, a course rating tells scratch golfers how difficult the course will be, while a slope rating, a term coined by the United States Golf Association, tells bogey golfers how difficult it will be. For example, high school golf tournaments are typically overlooked by men’s golf coaches as they are significantly easier than college golf courses. Therefore, most college coaches tend to follow student-athletes who maintain scores in the low 70s at competitive national tournaments where course difficulty level truly tests their mental and athletic skill set.

Lastly, college coaches dive deeper into tournament scores and analyze results each day. Specifically, they’re evaluating how a recruit plays under pressure and whether they can bounce back from an off day.

Keeping that in mind, here are the average scores coaches look for in a recruit for every division, from the low to high ends: 

  • NCAA Division 1 golf scores: 70 to 75
  • NCAA Division 2 golf scores: 70 to high 70s
  • NCAA Division 3 golf scores: 72 to low 80s
  • NAIA golf scores: low 70s to high 80s

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What handicap do you need to play college golf?

Over the past several years, handicaps have become an outdated statistic in college golf recruiting guidelines—mostly because student-athletes can easily manipulate their handicap by selecting the events they attended. If a college coach does consider a recruit’s handicap, they only compute scores at nationally ranked tournaments, or a recruit’s “tournament handicap.” At the end of the day, it’s more important for a student-athlete to showcase their average golf scores than their handicap. That being said, here’s a general guideline for what coaches look for in a tournament handicap among recruits:  

  • NCAA Division 1 golf handicap – 0 to +2
  • NCAA Division 2 golf handicap – 0 to +2
  • NCAA Division 3 golf handicap – 3.5/4 and below
  • NAIA golf handicap – 3.5/4 and below

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The importance of golf tournaments in recruiting

The truth is—high school golf alone might not be enough. Men’s golf coaches heavily rely on tournaments and tours, as well as national rankings, to recruit the best student-athletes from across the country. Multiple-day tournaments more closely reflect college course yardage and difficulty level, so coaches look for recruits with top finishes at these events.

  • State Golf Association Championships: Most state golf associations host advanced level junior events throughout the calendar year. They can be an affordable way for student-athletes to attend multiple-day events and garner coach interest from colleges in their area.
  • Junior Golf Scoreboard: The best way for a student-athlete to improve their national ranking is by attending multiple day tournaments verified by Junior Golf Scoreboard. While Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, California and Arizona host several competitive tours, there are more than 2,000 tournaments across the country that student-athletes can participate in.
  • National Golf Tours: The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), Future Collegians World Tour (FCWT) and the International Junior Golf Tour (IJGT) offer multiple-day competitions across the country and attract top recruits and college programs alike. Though, they can be expensive and require a membership to attend.
  • United States Golf Association (USGA) Championships: The most prestigious junior and amateur golf competitions in our country are conducted by the United States Golf Association. Student-athletes must qualify for these events, which can be very difficult. 

Many college coaches will continue to recruit from a specific tournament or a particular region year-over-year. Here’s what you can do: visit the college team’s roster for all the schools you’re interested in and do a little digging. What state or region are the athletes from? What is their tournament and score history? Seeing how you match up and knowing where to golf is the first step to getting on a coach’s radar.  

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What coaches look for in your golf swing 

The best way to showcase your golf swing to college coaches is to send them a swing video. Coaches may not have an opportunity to watch a recruit play or practice at a competition site. In many cases, they probably don’t have the budget to see all of their top prospects in person—this is especially true for NCAA Division 2 and Division 3 programs. But even if a college coach is at a tournament, the course yardage can make it difficult for them to hop from one golfer to another. And that’s where a swing video comes in handy.

While it won’t capture every aspect of a student-athlete’s golf game, a swing video is a great way to generate coach interest and secure a second evaluation. If it’s done correctly, your video will be about 10 minutes long and will capture a wide variety of swings and club selections from different parts of the course, including:

  • Swings with a short iron/wedge, swings with a mid/long iron and swings with driver from both a “down the line” and “face on” angle
  • Include several chips, pitches and bunker shots from these angles as well 
  • Short, medium and long putts from both angles
  • Straight putts from five to 10 feet from both angles

It’s important for recruits to email their swing video, along with their online profile, to college coaches.

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