Both the Cal Poly men’s and women’s golf teams were granted major bragging rights when Golf Digest ranked each team No. 11 nationally for academics and golf in the magazine’s September 2006 issue.
The magazine said the list was “for juniors who are excellent students first, golfers second, these schools provide the absolute best education and an opportunity to play.”
A separate list was also made for “Golf First,” for which the Cal Poly men’s team ranked No. 27 and the women were unranked.
“We ranked the NCAA’s 772 men’s programs and 500 women’s programs in six categories, grading each category on a curve to determine overall scores,” the article said of how the rankings were determined.
The six categories included team-adjusted scoring average, player growth, academics, climate and coaching facilities. The team-adjusted scoring average and academics played the biggest factors in the decision – for “Golf First,” the scoring average counted for 40 percent, while academics were worth 14 percent. For “Academics First,” the scoring average was valued at 15 percent with academics counting for 58 percent, as based on the U.S. News and World Report’s 2006 “America’s Best Colleges.”
Cal Poly ranked in the Top-20 or -30 percent for nearly every category.
“It just brings light to the college as an academic institution,” said Scott Cartwright, the coach for both Cal Poly’s men’s and women’s teams.
Though both teams were ranked below Ivy League schools such as Princeton (which was ranked No. 1 for men’s and women’s “Academics First”), Harvard and Yale, this marks the first appearance for the Cal Poly teams on the list since they came into existence in 2000.
“There were only four Division I schools ranked higher,” Cartwright said. “We were the first public school ranked.”
Cartwright believes the academic rankings pertain more toward admissions rather than the academic status of current collegiate golfers. He plays a role in this when he looks for potential golfers.
“We don’t recruit anyone under a 3.5 (GPA) in high school because they probably won’t survive when they get here,” he said.
Though he maintains that Cal Poly is difficult for anyone to get into, and declaring a major so early plays a part in that, he said there is a difference in how men and women golfers come to Cal Poly.
The men’s team only takes nine or 10 golfers, and though it is difficult when the university cannot provide any golf scholarships, it is an all-walk-on team.
But Cartwright warns, “Just because you’re the No. 1 guy on your high school team doesn’t mean you get to play Division I golf.”
For women, it is more difficult.
“There aren’t as many high-caliber women golfers yet,” Cartwright said. “The really good ones go pro or go to the USCs or UCLAs of the world.”
To get around this, Cartwright seeks out multi-sport athletes instead. He points to Jessica Fortin, an all-state basketball and track star in Nevada, and Allison Wing, who played soccer in Irvine before attending Cal Poly.
Though all the female Cal Poly golfers have substantial playing experience in high school, “once they are devoting more time to golf, they have the ability to improve,” Cartwright said.
As for next year’s Golf Digest rankings, Cartwright said he would like to see Cal Poly move up on the list, but there are bigger obstacles to overcome first.
While the men’s team won the Big West Conference championship last year, things were a bit rougher for the women’s team since most of them were freshmen or sophomores playing what Cartwright considered a tough schedule which featured tournaments hosted by San Diego State and Nevada.
“This year will be deeper (for) both teams,” he said. “We are certainly hopeful that we can keep the Big West trophy at Cal Poly. And the women’s side is getting better with more depth and experience.”