College Coaches Offer Perspective on the “Dream School Trap”

We get it. When you grow up going to football and basketball games at your parents’ alma mater and you’ve been wearing that university’s colors since birth, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere else after you graduate high school. If your dream is to play college golf at that school, there’s a lot more to consider than making it into that one program you’ve put on a pedestal for so many years. Two golf coaches share their insights:


TCU Associate Men’s Head Coach Cole Buck often calls on his own experiences as a collegiate player when advising juniors on their path to college golf, suggesting that fit involves more than choosing the very best team that will take you. Going where there’s a chance to play throughout one’s college career should play a big factor in the decision process, he suggests.

“If I could go back and have a conversation with 15- or 16-year-old me, I would favor being more realistic or understanding of what I was getting while selecting a program,” says Buck. “I was super excited for the opportunity to play college golf for TCU. They were a top-10 team at the time, but if I was being honest with myself, I wasn’t that caliber of player right then. I thought being around elite college players for a couple of seasons automatically would make me ready to fill that role my senior year. That’s a lot harder than it sounds because it’s a lot harder to improve when you’re not playing. You want to get as many tournament reps as you can get to stay sharp.

Now, having coached college golf at every level, I see that programs at every level have great facilities, outstanding coaches, and opportunities to play. You want to go to a program where you can play and get better and have camaraderie in the van with your team versus falling for the flash of top 10 programs and maybe missing a rewarding playing experience.”


Former UCLA Women’s Head Golf Coach Carrie Forsyth says there can be a peril to a Dream-School-or-Bust mentality as juniors weigh their collegiate options. “Go where you can play and compete” is a common refrain from coaches who understand the best college golf experience is one in which players can enjoy every phase of college golf life, including a great education and on-campus lifestyle.

“I met a young girl once at a camp we did on campus, probably 10 years ago,” Forsyth shares. “I was talking to the group, saying there’s a place for everybody if you’re willing and able to look beyond just your dream school. Sure, everybody wants to go to Stanford. I was saying to the group, ‘Some of you guys, your game isn’t the level that needs to be to play high-level Division I or, academically, maybe it’s not the right fit for you. Look into these other programs.’

So, flash forward to me receiving this letter from this very, very successful woman who is writing me to say thank you for that message because she says, ‘I went to your camp, and I thought I wanted to play at UCLA, my dream school.’ She basically wasn’t good enough to go to UCLA as a golfer and we encouraged her to look into other options. She ended up at a small school like Amherst, somewhere on the East Coast. She focused on academics and played golf for that program – actually got to play – and she had an amazing experience. She got her degree and now she’s a super-successful real estate agent, and she writes me this letter just to thank me for telling her there are other places to go.

Just because School A is your dream, doesn’t mean this is the right place for you. Don’t be afraid to look somewhere else, because you can find your perfect fit and you can be successful. That was just the nicest gesture.”

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