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Golf’s Urban Legend: Unused women’s golf scholarships
25 Oct 2019
by Brendan Ryan of Golf Placement Services

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- University of Northwestern Ohio photo
- University of Northwestern Ohio photo

In December 2017, Frank Talarico, the president of Southern California PGA Foundation, declared in his L.A.Times Article Too Many NCAA Scholarships for women go unclaimed to "give a girl a set of golf clubs, and you might just change her life". While part of the message of the article was the positive life lessons that golf can teach young people, the overarching message was that women’s college golf is an easy route to a big college golf scholarship, for just about anyone.

I first read Frank’s article when a friend shared the post on Facebook. As a former college golf coach, and now a reporter and researcher in the field of junior golf development with over 30 academic articles and 100+ popular articles, I was shocked.Inspired by that article, I have sought to understand why so many people believe the urban myth of unused women’s golf scholarships and try to provide better data on the current landscape of women’s golf scholarships.

The urban myth of unused women’s golf scholarships is based on a 2009 NCAA report which suggests that approximately 200 of the 1800 women’s golf scholarships available went unused. On the surface this data looks compelling; however it has several major issues -- not only is it 10 years old, but it assumes that all of the approximate 300 Division I Women’s Golf Teams in 2019 would be fully funded with six scholarships (300 programs x 6 full rides = 1800 scholarships). Anyone closer to women’s golf knows this is not the case; many programs are not fully funded. My best estimate is that there are about 150 fully-funded programs with another 150 programs that average around 4 scholarships. This would mean that there are approximately 1500 full scholarships available in NCAA Division I Women’s Golf. It would also mean that, if the original report accounted for fewer fully funded programs, then there would be no unused scholarships.

The statement also ignores the competitive nature of Women’s Division I Golf. Last year, the final team to make postseason play was the University of Missouri. Their team stroke average, in a format where the 4 best scores out of 5 players count, was 295.4 or 73.75 per counting player. Likewise, the 100th ranked team was Georgetown University, which averaged about 300 as a team or 75 per player.These are not numbers that are going to be accomplished with a set of clubs and a dream.

Armed with suspicions and data, I called Todd Oehrlein, Head Women’s Golf Coach at the University of Wisconsin and the President of the Women’s Golf Coaches Association of America. Together we put together an eight-question survey which would be used to create a better look at the current landscape of unused women’s golf scholarships.

The results? They’re complicated; at the time of signing the data suggests that all scholarships that coaches offered were accepted, but that a certain percentage of those players did not meet the academic qualifications of either the NCAA or the school. This means, in some cases,that coaches are left with some money should a player not be able to enroll in the fall. However, in most cases, this player either tries to enroll in the spring, the coach gets a transfer, or some money is redistributed among current players, rewarding players who have not gotten full scholarship. In rare cases when coaches do have money, the coaches report that it is overwhelmingly due to not being able to find a player who they believe deserves the money and can help them win.

The result of the work with the Women’s Golf Coaches Association is an academic article published in June in the Journal of Sports and Games called The Current Landscape of Unused Women’s College Golf Scholarships. Together with this article, I hope that prospective student athletes, their parents and technical coaches use the information provided to make smart investment of their time in their search of a college golf scholarship.

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