Athletics Explores Developing Women’s Golf Program

Swarthmore’s men’s golf team is nearly as old as the college itself, dating back to the college’s founding in 1864. With the exception of golf, very few women have played on men’s teams throughout the history of Swarthmore athletics. This year, however, Swarthmore athletics is considering adding a women’s golf team, which would mean that female golfers will have their own team at Swarthmore for the first time since its founding.

In an email to The Phoenix, Marian Ware Director of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Bradley Koch briefly commented on the college’s consideration of a women’s team.

“We are very much in the exploratory phase of adding women’s golf over the next few years,” he said. “A timeline has not been established.” 

In an interview with The Phoenix, Syon Bhanot, the faculty director for men’s golf, highlighted Swarthmore’s need for a women’s golf program.  

“[The need for a women’s team] is reflective of the fact that almost in every sport there’s a men’s and a women’s team here at the college. Golf, for some reason, did not have that, there is no obvious reason given that women’s golf is extremely popular. Again, it feels like we’re just a little behind the times, and this is getting us caught up,” he said. 

This year, Ava Chong ’26 is the only female student to play for the men’s golf team. Interested in continuing her passion for golf, she looked for ways to play at Swarthmore. She decided to reach out to Tana Thomas, the head men’s golf coach, prior to the Fall semester to see if she could play on the men’s team.   

“​​I knew that there had been a female player on the men’s golf roster many years ago, so I was interested to see if I could do the same. I contacted Coach Thomas before the term started, and I sent her my golf CV with my tournament history and scores. And she was kind enough to let me walk onto the team,” she said.

Chong joined the men’s golf team at the same time as Thomas, who was officially chosen to lead the program in August 2022. Although Thomas is still navigating the introduction of a women’s team, she is thrilled to have Chong on the men’s team. 

“We love having Ava Chong on our men’s team. She is able to compete as an individual in events where both men and women are participating. She is a trooper, and we love having her around,” she said. 

Bhanot also emphasized that the hiring of a woman head coach and the introduction of a fellow female student happened at the same time — a drastic change for the previous all-men team. 

“This has been a period of transition for the golf team from a long-time coach — Jim Heller — who has been coaching the team for many, many years to a new coach. Not only that, a female coach, which I think is phenomenal for the college as well,” said Bhanot. 

Bhanot also remarks that there have been a few women on the men’s team at Swarthmore, striking a need for a women’s team altogether.

 “There have been women here and there over the years, but I think the college has needed to make a dedicated commitment to women’s golf and it is long overdue,” he said.  

Although she feels very fortunate to play on the men’s team, Chong highlighted some challenges of being on the men’s team. She mentioned that at tournaments, she currently competes as an individual for Swarthmore College, and her scores are not included in the men’s team’s overall score. Introducing a women’s team would allow Chong to participate as a part of a team and contribute her scores to the team’s overall score. Being on a women’s team would also create a more supportive environment.

“The most challenging aspect [of being on the men’s team] is competing as an individual. When I became serious about golf, I competed in many tournaments as an individual. However, in high school, I joined my high school golf team, and I loved the supportive environment that comes with fellow teammates,” she said.   

While playing on the men’s golf team has its unique challenges, Chong hopes she can bring her current experiences with her to the new women’s team, where she is excited about the chance to play with other women golfers. 

“I am looking forward to the camaraderie of other women and being able to develop friendships with my teammates. The current men’s team is really talented and full of amazing golfers, so I am hoping the women’s team can follow in their footsteps,” she said. 

Bhanot highlighted the benefits that a women’s team would bring, mentioning that it would act as a much-needed complement to the men’s team. 

“While I love the collegiality and the positive dynamic that the team has now, I think that will really escalate when we have a more fully representative set of Swarthmore scholar-athletes,” he said. “A women’s team will really bring us that balance.”

Because the women’s golf program is still in its exploratory phase, many logistics remain unknown. Bhanot is still unsure how the women’s team will be incorporated into the NCAA league and who they will play. 

“I would imagine [the team would play] similar schools [as the men’s team][,] but I have only seen the men’s golf team through my work as a faculty advisor and assistant coach for the golf team,” he said. 

Chong still feels grateful to have the chance to play and looks forward to continuing her time with the sport. 

“I feel like golf has taught me so many valuable life lessons about hard work and perseverance. I also love that golf is a life-long sport. I know that I will continue to enjoy golf well beyond my college years.” 

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