The Ball State Women’s Golf Team has seven players on their roster – four of whom are international players.
Sophomore Payton Bennent, Sophomore Sarah Gallagher, and Sophomore Madelin Boyd are all from Ontario, Canada. Jasmine Driscoll, first grader, is from the Land Down Under, coming all the way from Sydney, Australia to play college golf at Ball State.
“College sport really isn’t a thing in Australia,” said Driscoll. “So if you wanted to play at a high level, you would just play alone. They would register for tournaments alone, travel alone, and practice alone. Although you do everything here as a team.”
Golf in the US has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 500,000 people played golf in America in 2020, according to GolfDigest. Chain stores like PGA Superstore have seen sales increase 70% over the past two years due to America’s Gulf craze, Forbes reported.
In Bennett’s sections, there was only one other girl to compete with and the players held their ground very easily. Here in America, asserting yourself in golf is a bigger deal.
“People are excited about it, but in a different way,” Bennett said. “High school golf is nowhere near as competitive as anything I’ve seen here [compared to Canada]. High school golf here is comparable to college golf here.”
Gallagher played for Team Ontario and several other Canadian golf series.
“The culture of golf [in Canada] is a bit like here in the US. The youth program is growing,” said Gallagher.
As golf is on the rise in America, the distance between Muncie and Australia can also be the difference between golf cultures.
“Golf is more accepted as a sport played by younger people [in America]’ Driscoll said. “If I told someone at home at my high school that I play golf, they would say, ‘Why do you play golf, it’s for old people.’ Everyone plays golf here. You say you play golf and people actually think it’s cool. Here I find more women playing while at home it is still on the rise for women.”
At the height of the pandemic last year, Canada’s border was closed to entry and exit to America, and the border did not fully reopen until September 7, 2021.
With the border closed, Ball State players have had issues with family visits.
“So my parents couldn’t come down,” Bennett said. “Nobody could really come to me when I needed something. It had to be shipped to me. So that was difficult right from the start and it really showed how big the difference was, even though it’s just Canada, you don’t think it would be a big difference, but then when the border closed and it couldn’t come, it was a great fight.”
For Boyd, learning about college golf in America sparked her interest in coming to America and competing.
“I went to a golf tournament in the States and there was a banquet and a lot of different varsity coaches came in and talked about it [college golf in the U.S.]’ Boyd said. “That’s when I decided it was a lot bigger and a pretty cool thing. All my junior events have been in Canada, I mean it’s similar here.”
Driscoll said she was also inspired by a college golf conference in America that she attended.
“One day we had camp and someone came and talked about college golf and their life in America,” Driscoll said. “[They spoke about] her life in America and that it was so much better than in Australia. I started searching [into college golf in America] from there.”
Bennett’s original plan was to play hockey in America. She grew up playing hockey at a super competitive level, and her friends committed to playing here in the States. She spoke of not having as many opportunities to get recruited since college coaches didn’t travel from America, so her process was more “virtual.” .”
Whether it’s Australia or Canada, every player is now in the United States, far from home and family.
“This is definitely the longest I’ve been away from home and my parents,” Gallagher said. “I’m away for two weeks at a time, but it’s not comparable for that long. Luckily I was able to get used to it well.”