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.
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.
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.|