In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our final edition pays tribute to Scott Cartwright, the retiring men’s golf coach at California Polytechnic State University.
Last December, when Scott Cartwright announced that he would be retiring, he anticipated a pretty normal final semester as the Cal Poly men’s golf coach. That all changed when the pandemic forced his athletic director to call him and say, “Pack it up.”
Twenty years ago, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo did not have a golf program. Scott Cartwright was the pro at the local country club and the coach of the local high school golf team. In 2000, he managed to raise enough money to get golf teams up and running at Cal Poly. “Scott took over coaching both the men’s and women’s programs when we didn’t have much to offer in terms of budget and scholarships,” Cal Poly’s athletic director Don Oberhelman said in an interview last year.
In fact, Cal Poly had no scholarships available for golfers. “We started this from nothing,” Cartwright told The Fried Egg. “It was a self-funded program.” For the first year, Tom Moos coached the men’s team while Cartwright finished off a program at San Luis Obispo Country Club. Cartwright took over in 2001, and two years later, he found himself running both the men’s and women’s teams—a grueling task for one person.
Scott Cartwright tending the flagstick. Photo credit: Cal Poly Athletics
Unsurprisingly, the Mustangs struggled out of the gate. The men and women both finished dead last in the 2001 Big West Conference tournaments. But Cartwright did well on the recruiting trail. By 2005, both teams had improved their scoring averages by more than six shots per round. The men’s team qualified for an NCAA Regional twice during that span, and the women won five events. The men would go on to win the Big West Conference tournament in 2006.
For Cartwright, it was validation of his—and his wife’s—hard work. “Recruiting both men and women, I put in a lot of miles on the road chasing players around the West Coast,” Cartwright said. “During the season, there were times when my wife would drive from one direction with the women’s team in the car, meet me while I drove back with the men, and we’d swap out teams, and I’d take off to the next tournament. I wouldn’t even go home between events.”
Cartwright believes, however, that his biggest contributions came off the course. He got involved not just in his players’ golf games, but in their lives. “He really built a community around the golf team,” said Sofie Aagaard, the current women’s golf coach at Cal Poly. “He and his wife Brenda really made the players feel welcome. When you came to Cal Poly as a golfer, you were a part of their family.” The Cartwrights invited players over to their house for barbecues and Christmas parties. “He was, and still is, a father figure to a lot of [his players],” said Aagaard.
The Cal Poly men's golf team at 2016 OGIO UC Santa Barbara Intercollegiate. Photo credit: Cal Poly Athletics
Cal Poly is a demanding school, so Cartwright always had to keep his players’ coursework in mind. He made sure they had adequate study time, and he scheduled practices around classes. “Most of these kids are going to be in the workforce, not professional golfers,” Cartwright said. “I wanted them to come here and study what they want to study.” This past season, the Cal Poly men’s golf team earned its seventh consecutive NCAA Public Recognition for academic excellence.
For the past few years, Cartwright has been laying the groundwork for his exit. In 2015, the golf program secured a large donation from Michael and Sammy Pineau, allowing Cartwright to pass the reins of the women’s team to a dedicated coach. Sofie Aagaard had played professionally before serving as an assistant at Cal Berkeley for three seasons. “I started prodding Scott for the job, and he really pushed for my name,” she said. “It’s a heavy load for one person to run two teams. I have no idea how he did it.” With two coaches on staff, golf at Cal Poly flourished. Aagaard was named Big West Coach of the Year in 2016 and ’17.
After Aagaard came on board, Cartwright had one last goal. He helped the golf program secure funding for a new practice facility at Dairy Creek Golf Course. “That’s kind of my final project,” Cartwright said. “Once it’s all up and running and done, another carrot to recruit players.” With this facility, Cal Poly will have as well-rounded a golf program as you will find in the NCAA.
It bears repeating: 20 years ago, the program didn’t exist.
Cartwright’s official retirement date is June 1—next Monday. His successor will be Phil Rowe, a former assistant at UNLV. “I’m handing it off to someone with a little more energy,” Cartwright quipped. “He’s gotten the team into some great tournaments with his connections from his years of experience and will be a great addition to the school.”
While Scott Cartwright won’t be the men’s golf coach at Cal Poly much longer, his influence on the program, the school, and the community at large will be felt for years to come. Jokingly referred to as “the mayor of San Luis Obispo” by Aagaard, he plans to stay in town. Cartwright’s retirement is likely to be an active one. “Coaching is really never done,” he said.