NCAA, We Have a Problem

The switch to a fledgling site that provides living scoring at events has created chaos across the college golf community
Jordan Perez
Jordan Perez
September 18, 2023

As one of the oldest college sports around, golf is rooted in tradition. Change doesn’t come along often — but when it does, it can hit the sport hard. So when the NCAA changed its rankings and scoring provider before the start of this season, expectations were high. And when those expectations weren’t met, the community was quick to respond.

In July, the NCAA announced it had ended its long-standing relationship with Golfstat, which had provided rankings and statistics for men’s and women’s programs for almost 30 years. The NCAA signed a multiyear contract with Spikemark, a new platform founded by former UCLA coach Derek Freeman, to provide “rankings and live scoring for championships,” Freeman said.

It has become a lucrative business, and it’s primarily funded by the college programs, which pay per event for the service. Consider the number of schools around the country that field men’s and women’s teams across multiple divisions and you get the idea. Much of the tournament scoring is either self-reported by players or collected by volunteers. It is no small undertaking.

 Digitized scoring began with Golfstat. Mark Laesch, who went by the name “Stats,” began recording baseball data before developing a program for college golf stats in 1984. A large-scale rollout didn’t occur until 1989, after NCAA women’s golf experienced an issue with an outside firm. Three years later, the NCAA men also began using Golfstat.

Golfstat would evolve into a family business as Laesch’s sons, Jordan and Brian, began helping their father run the site. In late 2015, Mark was diagnosed with ALS; he died in March 2017. Brian stepped in as president until 2021, but he also died from ALS. Since Brian’s death, Kathy Laesch, Mark’s widow and the boys’ mother, has been president.

In May 2022, Golfstat renewed its contract with the NCAA, but with one caveat: Instead of the three-year renewal that had become customary, Golfstat and the NCAA agreed to a one-year contract for the 2022-23 season. 

Spikemark threw its hat in the ring in the fall of 2022 and began a months-long process of trying to secure the contract. Rumors swirled that Spikemark, whose app was still in development in early 2022, did not have software when the NCAA agreed to its partnership, but Freeman refutes this, saying: “A working database, admin and committee portals, along with a public website, was presented to the committee.” 

As its renewal date approached, Golfstat emphasized one aspect in its negotiations: “We are time-tested, we provide a high level of service and that’s what Golfstat has represented over decades,” Kathy Laesch recalled saying. But on May 13, just before the Women’s NCAA Championships, Golfstat was notified the contract would not be renewed. 

“They said they were blown away by Spikemark and they were moving on,” Jordan Laesch said.

It was something Golfstat had long feared. “Because we had to do this bidding process, we knew it was a possibility,” Kathy said. “It’s kind of stressful not knowing if you’re going to be doing what you’re doing next year when you’re paying a lot of people.” She said Golfstat has had no contact with the NCAA since. (The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment.)

The summer of 2023 was unlike anything Golfstat had experienced. Reorganization required layoffs from a staff that numbered about 10, and by mid-August the company was nearing a shutdown. Marcus El, Golfstat’s director of operations, tweeted on Aug. 17 that he had been let go, saying he was given one day’s notice of the shutdown. “It was designed for a high volume, and it was designed around the NCAA contracts,” Kathy said. “So yeah, we were headed in that direction.” (El now serves as a consultant for Spikemark.)

Also in August, just as they had done with Golfstat, college programs began enrolling with Spikemark’s service. Aside from tournament live scoring and rankings, the company promised to include data such as strokes gained, course statistics and detailed team and player-specific pages — all innovations for the college game.

Coaches had full access to the platform beginning on Aug. 1. Nearly a month later, the platform began providing live scoring for tournaments, or at least tried. Buggy pages, 404 errors and other hiccups prevented the platform from performing smoothly, if at all. “I think we all assumed some bugs would pop up, but it’s been largely non-functional,” one D-I assistant said.

One coach mentioned that the process felt rushed. “We thought we would have a test year where they ran both Golfstat and Spikemark to get their feet wet before just throwing us in there,” the coach said.

Frustrated parents and coaches were vocal. Monday Q Info obtained a copy of a Sept. 1 statement Freeman sent “to the collegiate golf community” in which he acknowledged the first week of operation had been a challenge and that the software’s weaknesses had been exposed. “Our development team is working around the clock to repair and address all of these issues,” Freeman wrote.

The next day, 18 teams played 36 holes at the Transylvania Fall Invitational. Again, Spikemark wasn’t ready for the demand. Pages were slow to load, crashed or never even loaded. Users were greeted with a message: “The leaderboards are under maintenance. Please visit again later.” The user response was harsh: “This is a flop.” “This is highly disappointing.” “Terrible site — clearly you did not test your ability to handle the traffic of college golf followers. Shame on you.”

Before the second 18 began, the coaches voted unanimously to stop using Spikemark and to conduct live scoring the old-fashioned way. Pen, paper, text message screenshots and Google Sheets were posted to Twitter to keep everyone updated.

The Transylvania Fall Invitational was just one of multiple tournaments that pivoted to another scoring method. The Carmel Cup, hosted by Mississippi State, shifted to Golf Genius. By late on Sept. 2, the Spikemark website displayed this message:

Golfstat continued to offer its services to any interested tournament – and events began to populate on its homepage.

Two days later, on Sept. 4, Spikemark tweeted it had been the victim of a cyber attack, leading to the shutdown of the site. 

Freeman said Spikemark had upgraded its servers and its security, but he could not say when Spikemark would be live again. “We hope to have it all back up as soon as possible,” he said on Sept. 5. “We realize this isn’t the answer that people want, but it is important that we get this right.” Spikemark was live again on Sept. 8. (It has yet to release rankings. According to the website, those will be released starting on Oct. 15.)

Golfstat experienced a similar situation during the 2016 NCAA Championships, when its website was hacked. Mark Laesch was in the early stages of ALS and collapsed in a Houston airport when he found out. Jordan Laesch said the breach was resolved within a day. “It was scary but I would say more infuriating,” Jordan said, “and it motivated me to step up in the company right after he died the next year.”

What was intended to signal a new era for college golf has instead resulted in the community going back to basics. Though Golfstat no longer has the NCAA contract, it has largely been business as usual. Plenty of men’s and women’s tournament hosts are using the service again, and its homepage looks almost like nothing ever changed. 

“We’ve been getting a decent amount of calls from schools that have used us over the years, inquiring about doing live scoring again,” Jordan said. “It’s been a real positive outreach from fans, parents and coaches.”

There are a few notable differences with this version of Golfstat. For one, Golfstat’s main focus is solely on live scoring, meaning no rankings are available. 

Also no longer available are results from the 2021-22 season and before. Golfstat made those inaccessible after the 2023 NCAA Championships. “We’re protecting the historic data until we figure out what to do with it,” Kathy Laesch said.

Business is business, after all.

That move has left some preservationists stumped. "It's a frustrating development in an already difficult situation for those of us focused on the historical aspect of the sport,” said David Tenneson, the author of the Substack page “5 Count 4,” an initiative that has invested hundreds of hours to research the origins of college golf. “Researching past results should be straightforward, but even before all of this started it was maddeningly difficult to go back even 10 years without visiting a half-dozen websites at a minimum.”

Tournament results have also appeared on providers such as Golf Genius, BirdieFire and BlueGolf.

For now, everyone will have to wait until the schools settle on one provider. In this day and age, who knew compiling college golf scores and rankings could be so complicated?

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