The National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) is the governing body for collegiate club golf. Club golf is competitive non-varsity golf in college for both men and women (women play in the same tournaments from shorter tees). Similar to other club sports, such as club baseball or club quidditch, club golf teams compete regionally and nationally against other colleges under the direction of a national governing body. The NCCGA helps colleges start and maintain club golf teams, and it also facilitates club golf tournaments regionally and nationally. The NCCGA is one of the tours managed by Nextgengolf, the leading entity for Millennial golf. The NCCGA was established in 2006 to provide an outlet for college students who wanted to play golf outside of the varsity framework.
Approximately 350 colleges are actively competing or in their formative stages. A list of participating schools is found here. The organization also has a fundraising platform for clubs as well as member deals on equipment and apparel through its partners.
The NCCGA has two seasons throughout the year: a spring season (February to April) and a fall season (September to November). Each season there are two regional tournaments (each two days long) followed by a season culminating in Nationals held at prestigious courses. The best teams and individuals across the country qualify each semester for Nationals; there were 348 college club golfers competing at the Fall 2017 NCCGA Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are also other events hosted, such as the Spring Break Open held each March in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The ultimate goal of the NCCGA, and Nextgengolf as a whole, is to help Millennials remain engaged in golf in a fun, inclusive team-based environment.
Sports Destination Management: Is club golf only found at large universities where there would be more competition for spots on the varsity team?
Matt Weinberger: Not at all. Some of our clubs are at large institutions, but there are also a lot of clubs at smaller colleges as well as community colleges. Students at any institution are eligible to compete in club golf under NCCGA.
SDM: How did NCCGA come about?
Weinberger: We looked at the numbers. There are 226,000 high school boys and girls playing varsity golf. Only 17,000 of those go on to play varsity golf in college, which is about eight percent of that number. We know there are a thousand different reasons kids don’t play varsity in college. They might want to focus on academics or play multiple sports or have a different campus life – everyone has their own reasons. But our goal was to try to engage that other 92 percent because that is a lot of golfers and we want them to stay in the game. We offer them an opportunity to keep playing.
SDM: Club sports are good options for many kids because they provide flexibility and lack the pressure of a varsity program.
Weinberger: Right – we see a lot of our players play other club sports such as club soccer or club tennis. We also hear stories of students who are grateful club golf doesn't have the same time requirements as a varsity sport, giving them more time to complete a tough class schedule. In hindsight for me, I was an engineering major and it would have been very difficult to balance my schoolwork with a varsity athlete life with morning workouts or daily practices. There are a lot of students out there like that. Don't get me wrong: many club golfers put pressure on themselves but there is no doubt varsity would be more pressure and more of a commitment.
SDM: How do you help students get clubs started?
Weinberger: We have information on our website to help students start a club. One thing we do is recommend they work through their campus recreation office, which can give them guidance on how to recruit students and how to structure the club. A lot of schools have rec fairs and that’s a good place to advertise a new club.
SDM: What kind of success stories have you seen in club golf?
Weinberger: We’ve seen some clubs just grow organically. University of Delaware’s club golf program started with about 20 students and now it has over 200. It took a few years, but they really worked to develop it.
SDM: Do you have a range of skill levels?
Weinberger: Yes – we have people who are really competitive and we have some who just enjoy the game and come to practices. Club golfers last semester shot between 65-115. We mean it when we say "all swings are welcome."
SDM: Once students have graduated, are there any alumni groups or programs for them?
Weinberger: The other tour we manage at Nextgengolf is the City Tour, which has local tournaments in major cities for golfers in their twenties and thirties. We see that as bridging the gap after college.
SDM: How many events per year do you put on at Nextgengolf?
Weinberger: About 180.
SDM: How do you go about selecting locations for your college NCCGA tournaments?
Weinberger: We have a form on our site that shows what we’re looking for, and courses can use that to express interest in hosting. That page sets out what the NCCGA will provide and what the course will provide, and what the student coordinator will do. All our tournaments take place over a weekend, and they are 36 holes, 18 each day. Play is co-ed and team-based. We also have many courses that want to host NCCGA or City Tour tournaments contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have established great relationships with hundreds of courses over the years.
SDM: Do you have an equal number of men and women playing?
Weinberger: No, it’s still predominantly men in the club golf scene. It’s actually that way overall – there are golf scholarships for women that go unused. At the NCCGA, we’re trying to grow the women’s involvement by raising awareness that women are certainly able to compete. We have a student from Marquette serving as the ambassador for women’s golf and she reaches out to clubs and educates them on why to get more women involved. We have had women win our local tournaments and I expect to see more and more women competing in the future.
SDM: You talked about the number of high school golfers earlier. Does Nextgengolf do anything to make them aware of club opportunities before they go to college?
Weinberger: We just launched a new program for that last year, the National High School Golf Association, at www.highschoolgolf.org. Junior golf is huge, but the importance of high school team golf is oftentimes overshadowed by great individual tournament tours like the AJGA. We really like the AJGA and they do a great job celebrating the best of the best but we really want to help recognize "the rest" as well. There are more than 200,000 high school students playing golf but no one way to connect all of them. Our website includes national and state rankings for all state high school golf tournaments and gives information on playing golf in college. We’re working to raise awareness for team-based golf.
SDM: Does it bother you when people say golf is losing players?
Weinberger: It’s easy to say the industry is doing poorly, and I think a lot of people assume the trend is downwards. At Nextgengolf, we are striving to make a positive dent in Millennial segment and help the industry grow.
SDM: There has been a lot of talk about engaging Millennials in golf. What is the biggest misconception about them?
Weinberger: That they’re all the same. Everyone is different. One person might wear the backwards hat and not tuck their shirt in and another might look completely different. There are so many different types of golfers and consumers. We try to cater to them all, whether they are competitive or recreational.
SDM: Does everyone want to communicate on social media?
Weinberger: No, they’re different there, too. Some people prefer calls, some want texts or e-mails, some want social media. You have to have a strategy in communicating with them because if you spam them, they’ll get tone deaf.
SDM: What are their spending habits like when it comes to their equipment and apparel? Are they driving the market more, or less, than varsity players?
Weinberger: People who are paying for club golf are often paying their own way – many get some support from the rec office or their parents, but they’re not supplied with all the things varsity players receive. They’re choosing their own equipment so they are actually buyers of equipment. They don't expect handouts.
SDM: And they love the sport.
Weinberger: They’re golfing because they want to golf. We get a lot of people each year who, completely unsolicited, will say that club golf was the best part of their college experience.