On average, 5,687 fans attended each Columbia football game in 2018, 1,526 attended men’s basketball, and 785 attended women’s basketball. The average number of spectators at golf tournaments? Under 10, according to players.
“Mostly it’s just parents who fly out to the tournaments because they’re in the middle of nowhere,” senior Emily Chu said.
To get to Levien Gymnasium, students need not go father than 120th Street; for Baker, it’s a 20-minute ride on the 1 train. To attend the closest Columbia golf tournament, this season, one must rent a car and drive an hour to Montclair, New Jersey.
Chu also noted, however, that this is not the case at all Ivy League schools. “It’s kind of hard when we go to places like Princeton or Yale, where they have home courses because all of those players’ friends will be watching. It’s hard when it’s them with their friends, and it’s just us.”
For sophomore Daniel Core, the lack of school spirit toward golf differs dramatically from his hometown, and coming to a university without a strong golf culture was a big transition.
“Growing up, I was in a very golf-centered community, and all my friends played golf. So coming in, I wasn’t used to going to a school where football and basketball were the main priorities. I hope we can get golf to the same level of recognition,” Core said.
First-year Christine Shao expressed that for her, seeing people on the course—either other members of the program or spectators—breaks her out of the cycle of negative thinking.
“I think it’s always a positive to have someone there to boost up your morale, even though its a game that requires silence and concentration. It’s always good to have your teammates pass by and give you a high-five or your friends coming out to support you.”
But despite this distance from basic necessities, team members still chose to become Lions because of the vast opportunities that Columbia provides.
“If you ask me to drive to a course and live in New York City, I would prefer that to being near a course and not being in New York. The distance never affected my decision,” sophomore Marlene Tartaro said.
But still, members of both golf teams noted that it is harder for them to bond with the other student-athletes, who practice at Columbia’s facilities on campus.
“We need to put in more effort to find that larger student-athlete community because we don’t go to Baker, we don’t go on buses, we don’t work out at Dodge nearly as much as other teams,” senior co-captain Nick Brisebois said.
However, golfers have taken advantage of opportunities to meet other athletes by joining athlete committees, going to athlete-specific events, and utilizing the various resources that Columbia provides for them, such as sports psychologists.
Many team members cited that while Columbia Athletics culture is not as spirited as it would be at a larger state school, the small athletics community that the University provides has allowed them to bond with other athletes in a way they would be unable to at a bigger university.
“Walking across campus, I am always seeing people I know from other sports teams, and there’s an acknowledgment of other people you know on other teams,” Brisebois said. “You’re pretty friendly with the other athletes because you know what you’re going through is what they’re going through.”
In addition, the golf programs have strived to create a more positive environment for not only their team members but also other Columbia athletes.
“Just because people aren’t able to come to our tournaments, it doesn’t mean we don’t go to cheer on our friends at the tennis match, or the volleyball game, because we know we would want that done for us,” sophomore Alexis Florio said.
While the largest struggle for Columbia’s athletes is managing daily training with a full Ivy League course load, the golf team acknowledged that for it, specifically, morale often is a challenge in a sport where spectators are not allowed to speak, and golfers often play with two or three strangers for five to 10 hours straight.
“Sometimes, you’re just stuck there thinking about your mistakes for 10 hours,” Chu said.
Brisebois and junior co-captain John Robertson spoke about ways that the men’s team specifically has tried to combat poor spirits on the team, beginning with a new positive team mentality from the locker rooms to onto the course. To Robertson, it is imperative for team members to keep a positive outlook in order to inspire others to do the same and to give the program a good reputation.
“Raising morale only goes as far as seeing the mannerisms you see your teammates having. That’s something we’ve stressed a lot in our team meetings, to make sure you’re expressing yourself in a positive way when you’re on the course,” he noted.
But what does the golf program want? Recognition from the Columbia community.
Chu reflected on a time when people were not even aware that the program existed, despite its Division I status.
“I once was at the airport, and someone came up to me and said, ‘Golf? I didn’t even know we had a varsity golf team,’” she said.
While both teams acknowledged that expecting Columbia community members to drive to tournaments was “too much to ask,” they still wanted students to recognize the commitment and hard work that goes into golfing.
When asked what was one thing that they wished the Columbia community knew about their sport, both the men’s and women’s golf teams immediately responded with, “Golf is a sport.”
However, Brisebois claimed the lack of golf culture on Columbia’s campus doesn’t bother him. While he expects greener pastures with a more competitive team this year, at the end of the day, it is the passion of his teammates that makes him proud to be a Columbia Lion.
“We’re a very close group, and we motivate each other a lot to get into the competitive spirit. When we get closer events, like [the] Ivies this year, we expect this year we might get some follow. Ultimately all of us just really love golf, and we play for the sport itself,” he said.
According to Core, moving forward the men’s golf team hopes to gain a reputation through its accomplishments. Last season the team came in second at the Ivies, but this season it has its sights set beyond just the Ancient Eight crown.
“We are not able to get the same amount of spectators on the course or get the same hype as football or basketball, but we try our best to get results and work hard every week,” Core said. “Our goal is to make nationals next year and be the first Ivy League team to do so. Our team is in a position that we are very capable of doing it. It’s a very interesting time in Columbia golf.”