The golf teams include South Carolina and Seton Hall, Iowa State and Mississippi State, Furman and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Among the golfers are those from Australia and Austria, Spain and Sweden, Thailand and Denmark.
The NCAA Division I women’s golf regional, which will begin Thursday at Lonnie Poole Golf Course, will offer 54 holes of shot-making and short-game tests. South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional, hosted by N.C. State, and all 18 teams are hopeful of playing their way into the NCAA Championships.
It’s hardly an All-American affair. On the full team rosters are 56 international players from 25 countries. Not all are playing this week in Raleigh, but many are, and three of the six individual entries – including Frida Gustafsson Spang of East Carolina – are international players.
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While the LPGA Tour has long been the ultimate melting pot of golf talents, the same is true of women’s college golf in the United States, where more and more coaches are looking to Europe, Asia and elsewhere for players.
“With Title IX, there are far more women playing golf (in the U.S.) than have ever played, but golf has gotten so good,” said John Crooks, the longtime men’s and women’s golf coach at Campbell. “If I was recruiting the same kind of player I had 20 or 25 years ago, I could stay in the state of North Carolina. Twenty years ago, if you shot 78, you could play almost anywhere. Now if you can’t shoot even par …”
Campbell’s five players in the regional include Louise Latorre, a freshman from Pau, France. Nadine White is from Brisbane, Australia, and Tahnia Ravnjak from Cordeaux Heights, Australia.
“The international pool is just huge,” Crooks said. “If we’re going to be competitive, a small school in North Carolina and especially in the shadow of the ACC, we’ve got to go somewhere and find some people who don’t think that Duke or North Carolina is better than Campbell but just know it’s a good school and a nice climate and has a good tradition.”
The highest-ranked college player in the Raleigh Regional field is Louisiana State senior Madelene Sagstrom, a Swede ranked No. 2 nationally by Golfweek. South Carolina’s Justine Dreher, ranked fourth, is a senior from Valbonne, France.
Duke’s Leona Maguire is the top-ranked college player by Golfweek. She’s from Ireland and a member of the Blue Devils’ all-international roster.
“Since Duke won the national championship in 2002 with international players, there’s been even more of an influx,” Iowa State coach Christie Martens said.
Spang, a junior from Kinna, Sweden, said she grew up with hopes of gaining a college golf scholarship in the United States. A friend attended East Carolina, she said, and she soon found herself in Greenville.
“We really don’t have a way at home to combine our sport with school in Sweden,” Spang said. “If I had stayed home, I would have had to go pro and I didn’t feel ready for that. I wanted the extra years to prepare myself for a professional career, and the education was important to me.”
ECU women’s coach Kevin Williams is among those traveling to Europe. He said he counted 10 U.S. coaches at the Girls British Open Amateur a few years ago. This past year, he said, there were 43.
“There are always college coaches out and about, recruiting and looking for the best players they can find,” said N.C. State junior Rachael Taylor, who was born in Scotland but raised in Germany, where her father is a head golf professional in Bad Griesbach.
Taylor said she was competing in the British Girls in Ireland when asked by former Wolfpack assistant coach Todd Selders to make an official recruiting visit. She said she had not heard of N.C. State but “always wanted to come (to the United States) and didn’t know where.”
Taylor made the visit. She liked N.C. State. This week, she’s playing in the regional on the Pack’s home course.
The top six teams and three individuals will advance from each of the four NCAA regionals – Duke, the 2014 NCAA champion, North Carolina and Wake Forest all are in the South Bend (Ind.) Regional. The NCAA Championships will be May 22-27 at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
The Wolfpack is seeded 11th, a likely long shot to get to the national championships.
“But we’re not going to worry about anything. Just relax and enjoy it and have fun,” Taylor said.