As junior golfers approach the conclusion of
their recruiting process, they may be presented
with an opportunity to join a college golf team
as a walk-on player—specifically, a walk-on
player (i.e., nonscholarship) at a school that
offers golf scholarships. Through my
interactions with aspiring junior players, they
often ask me if an invitation to be a walk-on is
a good option to accept as a college recruit?
The answer depends on the circumstances that
have led to the walk-on offer, as well as a
recruit’s goals and criteria for a best-fit
Let’s take a step back for a moment and look
at how and why walk-on spots come about in the
first place. Although college coaches tend to
add very few, if any, walk-on players to their
rosters during a given year, there are certain
scenarios that result in walk-on openings. For
- A coach believes a recruit is a “late
bloomer” and offers a walk-on spot knowing that
his golf program is currently a competitive
reach for the recruit, but it may become a fit
in the near future.
- A new coach decides to establish a new “team
culture” by adding many recruits in a given
year, but he has limited or no scholarships
- A coach at a school with extremely high
tuition/attendance costs may use all available
athletic scholarship money for the top five to
six team members and offer walk-on positions to
several quality players who would be willing to
pay a higher cost.
- A golf program is not funded with the full
allotment of scholarships allowed by the NCAA
(due to budgetary limitations or other factors)
and uses walk-ons to fill many of the roster
- A player really wants to pursue a “dream”
school and is willing to accept a formal
invitation to “walk on” the team (or even
participate in a walk-on tryout tournament).
For those junior golfers considering any of
the walk-on options mentioned above, the
following key points might be worthy of
consideration to help make the best decision:
- Make a conservative assessment of your golf
skills. If your junior golf scoring average
(plus two to three strokes) in national
tournament play is not in the range of the top
four to five members of the college roster, you
will likely face bigger competitive challenges
to make the travel team.
- Ask yourself if you can remain mentally and
emotionally resilient if you do not make the
travel team even though you are putting in the
same amount of practice and playing time as
other team members.
- Discuss the details of the golf team’s
qualifying system with the coach and team
members. A system that provides ample
opportunity for players to make the travel team
based on qualifying scores is best.
- Know that walk-on positions can be less
secure than scholarship positions. Walk-on
players can be invited to join a team and also
uninvited at the coaches discretion.
- Understand that coaching changes can occur,
and walk-on players may encounter more
challenges due to the new coach’s management
system or opinion of walk-on players.
- Attempt to obtain a written invitation from
the coach offering the walk-on roster position.
Although this document is not legally binding,
it may encourage the athletic administration at
the school to stand by the invitation if the
coach leaves the golf program prior to your
- Obtaining academic or merit scholarships can
help make a walk-on opportunity more financially
- Consider pursuing a “post-grad” or “gap”
year instead of a current walk-on opportunity.
Deciding to “extend” your recruiting timeline by
using this strategy would allow you more time to
develop skills, gain tournament experience, and
potentially attract additional college golf
offers at schools of interest.
Remember, college placement is all about
finding a best-fit school. If a walk-on offer
matches your criteria and affords a manageable
and motivating competitive environment, it may
be a reasonable college golf opportunity to
consider. Use the keys I have provided to guide
your due diligence; at the end of the day,
you’ll make a well-informed college choice.