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10 Best Colleges for Students Who Love Golf

July 19, 2016

Last week our friends at Money released their annual ranking of the top universities in the country. There’s not a bad school on the list, assuming that you’re into, you know, studying and stuff. But what if, like us, you’re also really into golf? For that, you need a slightly different kind of ranking, based on the following criteria: quality of campus course, quality of nearby layouts and legacy of the golf program. Here are 10 schools from Money’s list that make the cut for our roster, too.


You couldn’t rightly say it draws the best collegiate golfers, but you could reasonably claim it has the finest campus course. Crafted by the famed architect C.B. MacDonald, the Course at Yale is the kind of layout that sends design nerds into a happy lather, with its sweet collection of template features, most notably the par-three 9th and its Biarritz green. MacDonald was of Scottish heritage, as was Yale’s former men’s golf coach, Dave Paterson, who held the post for 33 years and was known for helping organize epic spring break golf trips across the pond. His successor, Colin Sheehan, who arrived eight years ago, has kept up the Scottish connection; he helped plan, design and build Castle Stuart Golf Links. So the school has that going for it, which is nice. Also worth noting: the campus sits within a 15 minute drive of Wintonbury Hills, one of Connecticut’s top public courses.


George C. Thomas is best known in golf circles for his work at Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club, but he also designed Stanford Golf Course, which has welcomed a few others whom you’ve likely heard of, too, including Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie, Tom Watson, Lawson Little, Bob Rosburg and Mickey Wright. The men’s golf team has won eight national championships (the third most in history after the University of Houston and Oklahoma St.), and the Cardinal women claimed the national title in 2014-15. You could say fate smiles on Stanford. So does the sun. As a student at this school, you can be a year-round golfer. And if your folks buy you a car (small potatoes, compared to tuition), life gets even sweeter. Pasatiempo, an Alister Mackenzie gem, awaits in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Another hour south gets you to Pebble Beach.


When it comes to golf alumni, Jack Nicklaus looms largest. But Tom Weiskopf was a Buckeye. So were John Cook, Ed Sneed and Joey Sindelar. The track that they called home was the Scarlet Course, which was designed by Alister Mackenzie in the early 1930s and restored by Nicklaus 10 years ago to recapture the original look and feel. As an Ohio State student, on a golf scholarship or not, you can reserve a tee time up to four days out. If the Scarlet’s booked, a good fallback is the Gray Course, the university’s other 18-holer. But you could also go off-campus to such top public tracks as Champions Golf Course, an old-school Robert Trent Jones Sr. design.


Highlighted by Phil Mickelson, the roster of top Sun Devil golfers—Paul Casey, Billy Mayfair, Chez Reavie, Jon Rahm—reads like a PGA Tour leaderboard. Throw in female stars like Grace Park and Anna Nordvist, and you’ve got the makings of a great mixed-pair event. In Lefty’s day, ASU played its home events at Karsten Golf Course, a terrific Pete Dye layout in Tempe, but the school now has a deal with Papago, in Phoenix, which was built by Billy Bell and rates among the greatest sleepers in the West. Not that kids on campus don’t have other options. ASU is a short skip from golf-mad Scottsdale and primo layouts (Troon North, Talking Stick, and on) too numerous too count. In the Money rankings, ASU is listed at No. 155. But it belongs solidly in our top 10.


As the second-best school in the country, according to Money, Michigan is a great place to study, which is all the more impressive when you think of the distractions. The Wolverines have not one but two campus courses. The younger of the two, Radrick Farms, is reserved for faculty, staff and club members. And lucky them, since the course was one of Pete Dye’s earliest works. Yet the other course—the U-M Golf Course—is open to students, and it’s arguably more prestigious. Designed by Golden Age icon Alister Mackenzie, it’s been restored to its 1930s glory. The land it sits on has so much character and contour that the course also serves as the home track for the University of Michigan cross country team.


In 1970-71, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw starred on a national championship-winning Longhorns side that is widely regarded as one of the greatest college golf teams in history. A lot of other fine players—Jordan Spieth, Justin Leonard, Harrison Frazar and Bob Estes among them—have passed through since. Both the men’s and women’s teams play out of the University of Texas Golf Club, but that course is private, so ordinary students get nothing and like it. What they do get, however, is intimate proximity to Lions Municipal Golf Course, also known as Muny, the scruffy but delightful Austin track where Crenshaw cut his teeth. The university owns the land where Muny sits, and its regents have shown interest in developing the property into something else. That would be a bummer. Until that happens, though, we’re keeping the Longhorns on our list.


Any Georgia student (heck, anyone at all) can play the school’s fine 18-hole course, the only university-owned track to host a Web.com event. And a number of those students can play very well. The PGA Tour is loaded with former Bulldogs, including two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. When Bubba showed up at Augusta in 2015, it must have felt like a school reunion. Chris Kirk was in the field. So were Brendon Todd, Brian Harman and Russell Henley, not to mention Patrick Reed, who was a Bulldog, briefly, before transferring to Augusta State. There are always lots Bulldogs among the patrons, too. And no wonder. It’s just a two-hour drive from campus to Magnolia Lane.


Two words: Arnold Palmer. OK, a few more words: Curtis Strange. Webb Simpson. Lanny Wadkins. Jay Sigel. Jay and Bill Haas. Taken together, Demon Deacons account for 11 major championships, a FedEx Cup and three NCAA Championships, one of which (1975) they ran away with by a silly 33 strokes. The men’s and women’s teams play their home matches at Old Town Club, a high pedigree layout that was designed by Perry Maxwell and restored in 2012 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It’s one of the best courses in North Carolina, and though the general student body isn’t allowed to play it, they don’t have far to go to an even better course. Pinehurst is less than two hours away.


The conversation here should probably start Eddie Merrins, aka the Little Pro, who served as men’s head golf coach for 14 years, mentoring 16 All-Americans, including two NCAA players of the Year: Corey Pavin and Duffy Waldorf. He helped build a program that has since drawn such talents as Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Chappell, Spencer Levin and Scott McCarron. On the women’s side, you can add Kay Cockerill, Mo Martin and Alison Lee. But never mind the legacy. Let’s talk about location. The Bruins play home matches at these three courses: Bel-Air CC, Brentwood CC and Los Angeles CC. Not exactly dog tracks. And for those not on the golf team, there are lots of public options, including Rancho Park, a grand old muni where the Tour used to stage the L.A. Open. Yes, it’s packed on weekends, but for good reason. Greens fees top out at $45.50, and drop as low as $14 at twilight. If you’re on a student budget, the price is right.


Florida checks in at No. 16 on Money’s list, but we’re bumping it higher for a few reasons. First, check out the alumni. Former British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia; FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel; plus Chris DiMarco, Brian Gay, Matt Every and Camilo Villegas. This being Florida, there’s plenty of public golf within easy striking distance. Then again, why would you stray? The Gators’ home track, which sits at the edge of campus, is the Mark Bostick Golf Course, a Donald Ross design that was artfully restored by Bobby Weed. It’s a private club, but students can play unlimited golf for a modest $375 per semester fee (there’s a cart fee with each round, or you can walk at no extra cost).