Twice in recent years, I've been unexpectedly paired with extraordinarily good girl golfers. The first time, several years ago, was in my club championship. To my surprise and that of the other two middle-age men in our foursome, we were joined on the first tee by a 16-year-old girl, Laura Woolgar, who sometimes worked in the pro shop. She was the only female in the event, played from the back tees like us and finished in the middle of the pack.
Then last summer, a buddy and I were paired at a New York City public course with a 12-year-old named Jackie Faldetta, who hit several drives in the neighborhood of 240 yards. She was accompanied by her father, the manager of an East Side apartment building, and shot 82.
Within days, I had told almost all my golf friends about these incidents -- "It was the darndest thing!" But in retrospect, I realize it wasn't their talent per se that was so remarkable; Michelle Wie has taught us all how superb young female players can be. Rather, it was the rarity of such encounters -- which, when it comes to girls earning college scholarships, is a big plus. Ms. Woolgar had no trouble earning a golf scholarship to a Division I school, Siena College. And if the gifted Ms. Faldetta's desire holds up, she will probably be able to claim a scholarship, too.
I've often heard that hundreds of girls' golf scholarships go unclaimed each year for lack of qualified applicants, but apparently this is an urban legend. "Absolutely false," said Dean Frischknecht, who for 20 years has written the Ping American College Golf Guide. He also oversees www.collegegolf.com , a subscription Web site that is the bible for high-schoolers hoping to play on a college team. "Families by the thousands are hammering away at college coaches to get golf scholarships. There's no way they're going to go unused."
But it is true that girls have better odds than boys do. Only a third as many girls as boys play competitive golf in high school and on the junior-tournament circuits (the same gender ratio as for adults), yet there are substantially more total golf scholarships available for girls.
The reason for the scholarship imbalance is Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation mandating gender equity in college athletics. Because revenue-producing, all-male football programs are allowed as many as 85 scholarships, most colleges and universities comply with Title IX by reducing the number of scholarships for boys in other sports. Div. I schools (the most athletically intensive) can award as many as six golf scholarships to girls but only 4.5 scholarships to boys. Div. II schools are allowed 5.4 scholarships for girls but only 3.6 for boys. (Most golf scholarships in both cases are shared by two or more athletes.)
Just how good does a girl have to be to win one? By Mr. Frischknecht's reckoning, any girl capable of breaking 85 most of the time in tournaments on a 6,000-yard course (which is longer than the 5,400-yard set-ups most commonly used in high school) should attract at least a partial golf scholarship somewhere, including two-year junior colleges. Girls capable of posting tournament scores in the upper 70s can usually land scholarship money at midlevel Div. I schools or at Div. II schools.
But unless they can regularly break 75 on 6,000-yard courses, girls shouldn't even think about applying to elite programs like those at Duke or UCLA. Those schools recruit almost exclusively from among the stars of national competitions like those run by the American Junior Golf Association. Winning scores there often are under par, and even 75-shooters finish far down the list.
Traveling and competing at the national junior level is expensive, and some take it a step farther by attending full-time golf academies, such as the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Recent Leadbetter graduates include LPGA standouts Paula Creamer and Se Ri Pak.
Andrea Watts, originally from Denver, enrolled there last year as a junior. "My mom pretty much just picked up her entire life and moved down here with me last year," she said recently on campus. Although she was an accomplished AJGA competitor, Ms. Watts felt her game suffered from lack of year-round practice. The decision paid off. She will play next year for the University of Florida on a rare full scholarship.
The vast majority of girls angling for spots on one of the 749 women's golf teams in the U.S. fall below that talent level and will have to work hard to attract the attention of college coaches. The most important part of the process, Mr. Frischknecht said, is finding the right fit. Many players, he advises, would be better off applying to schools with less-prestigious golf programs, so they can get more playing experience and possibly a better education. Too often overlooked, he said, are Div. III schools, which cannot offer athletic scholarships. Many, such as Macalester College in Minnesota and Amherst College in Massachusetts are academically strong, field excellent teams and have generous need- and merit-based scholarships available.
"The competitive girls around here all start out wanting scholarships," said Claude Hooton of Del Mar, Calif., near San Diego, the father of three golf-playing girls and the publisher of Golfer Girl magazine. "But in the end, a lot of the scholarships available are to schools they don't particularly want to attend." His eldest daughter, Libby, who serves as editor in chief of the magazine, has begun to look on her excellent golf game less as a scholarship vehicle and more as something that will enhance her college prospects and experience, perhaps in the Ivy League.
Some former students from Leadbetter Academy are playing for Ivy League golf teams. And something like that strategy would be just fine with John Faldetta, the Manhattan building manager whose daughter, Jackie, is also learning Chinese. He thinks she may want to go into business. "With both Mandarin and golf, she could write her own ticket," he said.