This article was written in collaboration between Brendan Ryan and Estefania Acosta. To research more on the subject of college golf from these authors, please check out their book, The College Golf Almanac, that is now for sale on Amazon for $19.99.
Prior to the formation of Division III athletics, the NCAA was split into two divisions. Larger, more funded schools were placed into what is now considered Division I, while smaller schools that wanted less expensive, but still competitive athletic programs were grouped into the “College Division.” This division split in 1973, with colleges who wanted to continue giving out athletic scholarships being placed into Division II, and colleges who chose not to offer athletic scholarships being placed into Division III.
The absence of athletic scholarships from DIII schools is what sets it apart the most from DI and DII. Because of this, Division III colleges offer smaller, very limited athletic programs. At these colleges, athletics teams are non-revenue-generating, extracurricular programs that are barred from using endowments or funds whose primary purpose is to benefit the athletes. While this can seem constraining to many, it is not necessarily a reason to discard DIII schools from a junior golfer’s search for a college team. DIII programs can still offer a fulfilling athletic experience at a comfortable level of competition for golfers who are looking to play for a team, but wish to direct most of their focus towards academics or other aspects of their college experience.
Just as with Division II men’s teams, top Division III men’s teams still play at a high level. The average scores of the top 5 and 25 Division III teams are a respectable 72.79 and 74.36 strokes per round, respectively. These scoring averages stay consistently in the 70s until around the 50th best team that has a scoring average of 80.14 strokes per round. For the next 50 or so teams, this number stays relatively consistent, with the 100th best team shooting an average of 80.52 strokes per round. While these numbers certainly aren’t anything impressive in the grand scheme of college golf, these players are still performing well above-average for their division, better than some DII programs, and in some cases better than bottom-tier DI programs. Following the 100th best teams, there is a steep drop off of the average scores of teams. The the 150th best team holds a scoring average of 82.39, while the 200th best team shoots a whopping 88.84.
Despite the fact that some teams are far more skilled than others, true competitiveness of DIII golf lies mostly on an individual level. For example, three Division III players have placed in the Golfstat Cup Top 250. The Golfstat Cup compares all college players’ scoring averages versus par regardless of division level. The #96 player from No. 2 UT Tyler has a scoring average of 71.43, the #139 player from No. 1 Huntington has a scoring average of 71.44, and the #168 player from No. 5 LaGrange holds a scoring average of 71.27. If these players are considered the top collegiate golfers in the country and out-performing DI and DII players alike, DIII golf is clearly nothing to disregard.
If you are interested in being recruited by a top Division III school, feel free to take a look at who they are recruiting to see how you match up. Once again, I took a look at this year’s 2017 List of Signees on Golfstat to see how good recruits at the top 25 DIII schools are performing. The average JGS ranking was 750. The player with the lowest ranking of 150 is a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps recruit from California, while the player with the highest ranking of 1768 is a Texas-Tyler recruit from Wisconsin. From this data I gather that a player should have a JGS of about 775 or better to be considered by a top 25 DIII school.
As far as Division III men’s golf goes, a player is only going to get out what he puts in. If he wants to take his game seriously and play at a high level there is certainly room for him to do so. There is undoubtedly a substantial group of superior golfers to compete against and utilizing practice time and team resources will definitely give him the opportunity to rise to their level. At the same time, if a player is looking to add athletics as a non-serious facet of his college experience Division III gives the player the chance to do so. Whatever the case, I would never discourage a player from playing golf at a collegiate level. It is a unique, enriching experience and an impressive feat regardless of college division.