The taproot of Northern Arizona University’s women’s golf team runs straight to the East Valley.
Five of the seven golfers competing for the Lumberjacks this season come from high school programs in this area, including Chandler Hamilton’s Alexa Kim, Mesa Dobson’s Lauren Halstead, Phoenix Mountain Pointe’s Ali Carter, Phoenix Pinnacle’s Bethany Leclair and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows’ Meghan Bremer.
Check out the rosters of the local community colleges and NAIA program Grand Canyon and there are even more local players who have taken their golf games to college.
With the increased availability of scholarships thanks to Title IX gender-equity laws, golf may have replaced diamonds as a girl’s best friend.
“Of all the women’s sports there are in college, I think golf is the easiest to get some help,’’ Scottsdale Desert Mountain coach Jack Wesolowski said. “There are not as many girls playing golf out there. If they are willing to go somewhere maybe they didn’t think about, they can get a scholarship.”
Girls aren’t going crazy over golf at every high school, and golf in general is a sport on the participation decline.
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of people playing golf has not risen in any year since 2000 and has fallen from 30 million at the start of the decade to 26 million now.
But at some local schools, girls are realizing golf can help determine their future.
At Gilbert High School, coach Richard Swanson said more than 15 girls came out for the team this season, a significant increase from past years.
Several other schools also reported participation numbers in the double digits.
At Gilbert Highland, coach Stephen Franklin said two of his younger players, sophomore Shelby Phillips and freshman Alexa Schendelman, are already working toward a college scholarship.
“They’ve pretty much geared everything toward playing collegiately,’’ Franklin said. “Both of them have even expressed interest in playing after college.”
A freshman, Phillips was one of the better players in Arizona, finishing sixth at the 5A-I state championships last season. This is Schendelman’s first experience with high school golf but definitely not her first go-round with competitive golf.
“She’s played a lot of junior golf,” Franklin said.
It is easy to determine which high school program produces the most college players. Phoenix Xavier, which has won the last 10 5A-I state championships, sends almost every player to college.
The reigning college player of the year is Xavier graduate and now Duke Blue Devil Amanda Blumenherst.
Last year’s state champion, Cheyenne Woods, is at Wake Forest. Katie Allare, who was recently named was the National High School Golf Coaches Association Girls Golfer of the Year, is at Notre Dame, and another Gator, Margarita Ramos, is at the University of Arizona.
Phoenix Desert Vista golfers also have a knack for moving on and moving all over the place. Former Thunder player Melissa Smith is at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Brianne Espinoza is at Colorado State and Brittany Stewart is competing for Oregon State.
Next year, Thunder senior Stephanie Kim will be playing somewhere.
In two years it may be Cady Espinoza’s turn. The younger sister of Brianne is a freshman and already one of the top players on the team.
Desert Vista coach Pierson Hamilton said Cady has simply been paying attention to the opportunity before her.
“She has seen what her sister is experiencing,’’ Hamilton said. “In her case, I think she would like to follow that.”