STEVE NAPOLI, PGA
Men’s Golf Coach
College of the Holy Cross
Steve Napoli is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Business Administration, he played collegiate golf and was elected to PGA membership in September of 1979.
Steve spent the majority of his career at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rhode Island, site of the 1931 PGA Championship and the annual Northeast Amateur Championship. He lived in Jersey City, New Jersey from 2012 until 2016 while serving as the Director of Golf position at Liberty National and General Manager in 2013. He was named by “Golf Digest” as the top teacher in Rhode Island and has been recognized by US Kids for having one of the top 100 Junior Golf Programs in the country.
Steve held many leadership positions before being elected President of the New England PGA from 1999 until 2001. He was appointed to the Board of Control of the PGA of America from 2006 until 2010. He also served four terms as President of the John P. Burke Memorial Fund, the second oldest caddie scholarship program in the country and also served on the Advisory Board of the Golf Academy of America.
Steve also received the National PGA of America Bill Strausbaugh Award in 2003 for his role in mentoring youth, fellow golf professionals, and for community service. He was inducted into the New England PGA Hall of Fame in October of 2013.
THE NAPOLI STORY —
I grew up playing golf at a classic Seth Raynor designed golf course, Wanumetonomy Golf Club in Middletown, Rhode Island. While I was attending college, Bill Barry the longtime PGA Professional at Wanumetonomy discussed his life as a club professional and encouraged me to consider golf as a career.
You wake up each morning, what the driving passion for you each day?
I try to make a difference in the lives of others by making their day more enjoyable. Every day, we are charged with making the world a better place, in my own small way I try to do so for others.
The person who had the greatest influence on your professional development was who?
There’s not one person, but two. The late Fred Bruno, PGA Professional at Rhode Island Country Club created an opportunity for me to teach junior golfers. He also showed me the value of a tireless work ethic. Later, I was fortunate to work for New Jersey PGA Hall of Fame Professional Billy Ziobro at Salem Country Club in Massachusetts. Billy was recognized as an outstanding player and club professional who promoted his assistants to key jobs throughout the country.
You’ve been very active in junior golf promotion in a range of ways – particularly through “Buttonhole” to name just one outreach effort. What key lessons did you learn in getting golf on the agenda for kids in urban locations?
When I first became involved, “Buttonhole” was a startup operation, a nine-hole short course and practice facility which pre-dates The First Tee. I learned very quickly that children have a strong desire for education, including learning to play golf. However, there are inherent challenges for the underprivileged when it comes to golf. First, the children tend not to live in the same neighborhood or location for extended periods of time. Affordable rent and housing creates the need to move more often than families with more wealth. Second, the children’s parents often have no familiarity with golf and the life skills that are inherent to the game. Third, many come from families who are first generation immigrants. Parents sometimes are not fluent in in English, their children are bi-lingual and often when speaking to a parent you are in affect working with their child as a translator. Founder Ed Mauro, Executive Director Don Wright and PGA Professional Dan Gaughan have successfully brought the game of golf to 15,000 juniors in Rhode Island. They are the real hero’s, I played a role in the early years with creating programming and some oversight as a board member.
You were Director of Golf at Liberty National in Jersey City, NJ for several years starting n 2012. Why the desire to take the Men’s golf coaching duties at Holy Cross.
I’ve always had a passion for working with young people and teaching strong players. After forty years working as a club professional, I wanted to step away from the day to day duties at a golf facility. Coaching Men’s Golf at Holy Cross provides me with the opportunity to follow something I’m passionate about while also keeping me connected and current in the game of golf.
If someone comes to you and says they want to be a golf professional – not necessarily one looking to make the PGA Tour – but one active in the local and state arenas, what would you say to them?
That’s happened many times throughout my career and my response has been varied, since not everyone has the ability to manage their career as a golf professional and their personal life. It’s well known that golf professionals often work sunrise to sunset, six days per week and sometimes seven. I’d explain the challenges of maintaining a stable family life, while working a rugged work schedule. I’d also explain that accountants, business owners, CEO’s, Senior Executives and those striving to work up the corporate ladder have similar schedules. I’d ask if they have a “Servants Heart”, meaning do they want to serve others and does the idea of doing that every day inspire them. If so, I’d encourage them to pursue a career in golf. The game will open doors that you are unable to open on your own, introduce you to an endless amount of people and will create a lifetime of friendships and memories.
Your biggest accomplishment in golf is what?
I’m proud of playing a role in the advancement of young men and women that came into my life.
Your biggest regret?
You get a mulligan to do one thing over – what would it be and why?
Spend more time with my wife Mary Ann and children; Stephen Jr. & Sarah, family and friends. Sometimes my duties at work required that I missed activities.
Golf is going through issues of overall future player development – especially as Baby Boomers fade from the lead position. In your view is the industry really on top of what is happening given the sagging player numbers and the continuation of golf course closings across the board?
I do think the industry has a good handle of the mistakes from the past and the challenges that lie ahead. Course closures relate to supply and demand; too many courses where built in the 80’s and 90’s, some were tied to struggling or failed real estate developments. Designs were often far too difficult for beginning or average golfers. Affordability has always been an issue for golf, an extensive and expensive design relates to high guest fees which eliminates course access for many golfers.
Golf takes time to play. In today’s fast paced world, many do not have 4+ hours to play golf. Women now play key roles in the workplace and also manage the household, still bearing the largest responsibility in raising children. Golf needs to attract more women to the game at an early age, they in turn will bring their families to golf in the future.
On the junior front, PGA Junior League is the finest program I’ve ever seen to connect young people to each other and the game of golf. It will pay dividends in the years ahead. Former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman suggested that the demise of youth caddie programs throughout the United States adversely impacted the game. Golf courses became strapped for cash and some relied on golf cart revenues, driving caddies away. While that formula worked for a number of years, eventually courses had fewer golfers riding in golf carts and things spiraled adversely. While I’d love to see caddie programs return, PGA Junior League may be able to fill the void of bringing young players into the game that was created as caddies began to disappear.
Curious to know given your years of involvement in golf, is there anything on your bucket list that you still wish to do?
I’ve always had the utmost respect for military veterans. My dad will be 93 years old in January and is the last surviving sailor on the USS Ballard, which he proudly served on in the Pacific during World War II. The sacrifices made by his generation and those who served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan need to be shared and made known to young people today. Coaching at Holy Cross requires that each team engage in community service, I’d like to connect some of these veterans to the Men’s Golf Team. It’s important for young people today to learn life’s lessons from prior generations.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?