NAIA: The highest level of golf that you don't know about
23 Apr 2019
by Brendan Ryan of Golf Placement Services

- Dalton State photo
- Dalton State photo

Recently I got a call from Ben Rickett at Dalton State who invited me to attend their 2019 home tournament at the Farm, April 7-9. The tournament, which is hosted by the same course which is home to Georgia Tech’s Carpet Capital Collegiate, features 8 of the top 10 teams from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

I immediately accepted on the condition I could collect some data and share more information with AmateurGolf.com readers about the NAIA over the coming weeks. Of course, Coach Rickett accepted, and I am proud to start the coverage about the NAIA with an article which gives readers an introduction, the caliber of competition, eligibility requirements and some of my own thoughts. Enjoy!

NAIA – What’s That?

No one reading this article should be surprised that the NAIA (coaches, players and schools) get no coverage and no respect. "Most people have no idea that we even exist," says Rickett. However, anyone with 10 minutes and a computer should quickly realize that NAIA men's golf is no joke! The league which last year featured Walker Cup participant S.M. Lee is home to a ton of great players and competition is fierce with teams and individuals often shooting well under par. Here are some recent examples:

1. Recently at the Battle at Primm in March in Las Vegas, 31 players in the field shot 216 or better with the winner shooting -9 for 54 holes.

2. Keiser University, currently ranked #5 in the NAIA, won the NCAA D2 Saint Leo Invitational shooting seven under par as a team through three rounds, beating perennial top 10 D2 teams Nova Southeastern and Saint Leo University among others. On the season, Keiser boasts a 27-2 record against NCAA D2 teams.

The current best player in the NAIA is Rowan Lester of Texas Wesleyan University. Rowan, a native of Ireland, is currently ranked 96th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Based on my calculations in the fall of 2018, in twelve tournament rounds, Rowan has a handicap of +4.4.

However, it is not only international players who pick the NAIA. In 2016, Dalton State signed then top 10 junior ranked player S.M. Lee of Georgia to a National Letter of Intent. S.M. went on to attend two years at Dalton State and in the process played in the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour and represent the US on the Walker Cup Team.

NAIA also offers very good team competition. According to the current GolfStat data, #1 Coastal Georgia, #2 Oklahoma City University and #8 Northwest Ohio all have adjusted scoring averages of 72 or better, which means that their team average is under par. The highest adjusted scoring average among the top 10 teams is William Cary at 73.76. To put into perspective how good these adjusted scoring averages are, they would put Coastal Georgia, Oklahoma City and Northwest Ohio among the top 20 teams in Division 1 golf, while William Cary would be among the top 70.

According to Brandon Miller at Keiser University, a perennial top 3 NAIA program, "NAIA golf has been getting better every year, and the caliber of golf courses that we have on our schedules is unmatched. We are fortunate to play multiple PGA Tour venues throughout our season all over the country. Every year the scores you need to win on tour venues gets lower and lower under par. We often play NCAA D1 and D2 events, and I truly believe that our NAIA fields this spring are stronger and deeper than any NCAA event we've played. The level of play from top 15 ranked NAIA teams is amazing, I know you will see more and more NAIA names on the PGA and European Tour leaderboards in the coming years."

Oklahoma City University

When discussing NAIA golf, it is important to note the success of one person: Kyle Blaser. Blaser, the coach of the 2018 NAIA National Champion Oklahoma City University Stars, is a 21-year veteran of the NAIA. During his career, he has won 11 national championships, 11 regional championships, 19 conference championships, and 107 tournament titles. However, maybe the most important contribution Blaser has made is setting a high bar for other coaches before his retirement in December.

Tournament Schedules

Not only do NAIA schools feature top competition, they are treated to amazing opportunities at top courses. Here are some examples of teams and courses hosting tournaments in 2018-2020 – Saint Ambrose at TPC Deere Run, Keiser University at PGA National, Dalton State at The Farm, Johnson and Wales at Trump National Doral, Coastal Georgia at Sea Island, USCB at Innisbrook Copperhead, Sterling University at Prairie Dunes, Loyola (NO) at TPC Louisiana, Oklahoma City at TPC San Antonio, and Taylor University at Whistling Straits, site of the 2020 Ryder Cup.

NAIA Eligibility

The NAIA has different eligibility criteria than the NCAA. To be eligible for the NAIA, participants must meet at least two of the following three criteria:

Achieve a minimum overall high school GPA of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Graduate in the top half of their high school class.

Achieve the NAIA's minimum test score requirement:

• 18 composite score on the ACT*
*EXCEPTION: ACT tests taken March 1, 2016 through April 30, 2019 require a composite score of 16.

• 970 on the SAT (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing & Math)**
**EXCEPTION: SAT tests taken March 1, 2016 through April 30, 2019 require a score of 860.

These guys are good

Being at the Roadrunner classic at the Farm hosted by Dalton State gave me the opportunity to see 8/10 NAIA teams in action on one of the best golf courses in America. My take-away; if you went tomorrow and there were no signs or logos, you would believe that you were at a Division 1 event with Division 1 players.

A special thank you to Ben Rickett and the Farm Golf Club for their hospitably and willingness to be involved in this project, as well as to Coach Brandon Miller, both of whom are a wealth of knowledge and constant advocate for NAIA players and teams.

>> More Articles by Brendan Ryan

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