Steve Napoli was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and raised in Newport, Rhode Island. He attended Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida and graduated from The University of Rhode Island with a Degree in Business Administration. He played collegiate golf at both schools, turned professional in 1977, and has been a member of the PGA of America since 1979. Steve served as the Director of Golf at famed Wannamoisett Country Club for over 15 years and later was presented a lifetime honorary membership by the club. He joined the staff at Liberty National in 2012. Steve was inducted into the New England PGA Hall of Fame in 2013.
MATT WARD: Give a grade average for the efforts to date — from all key golf organizations — in getting more young people involved in taking up golf as a lifelong recreational pursuit?
STEVE NAPOLI: Over the past fifteen years I would give each of the organizations an “A.” Prior to that, growth was focused primarily at the club level. There were also significant challenges with expanding the reach of the game among women and junior golfers, a steady decline of caddie programs throughout the United States and on a broader level, affordability. For generations, hundreds of thousands of golfers were first introduced to the game as caddies where they earned money and played golf on Mondays free of charge.
MW: What do you think is holding back others from doing more?
SN: Investment of time related to the commitment that the game of golf requires, as well as expense. The family unit has vastly changed from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with many parents now both in the workforce, which results in less time for leisure activities. The most successful clubs today are family oriented with a wider range of offerings that have adapted to changing culture and cater to the family dynamic.
MW: What specific role is Liberty National playing in promoting the game for young people?
SN: Liberty National hosts The First Tee Classic, The Liberty National Junior Invitational (US Challenge Cup), participates in PGA Junior League, and works closely with the New Jersey Section on its exceptional “Golf in Schools” program to bring the game to young people. Liberty National and our staff were also instrumental in bringing together The First Tee, Skyway Golf Course and leadership in Hudson County to create opportunities for young people to learn and play golf. All of these programs have a strong impact on life lessons for these students as well, be it discipline, sportsmanship or drive and determination.
MW: What concrete steps do you see happening to make sure efforts to expand the game are making serious headway in terms of cultivating minority participation?
SN: It is the responsibility of each and every golfer to make an effort to expand the game by getting a golf club into the hands of junior golfers providing them an introduction to the game. The First Tee, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and PGA of America along with state golf associations and non-profits have robust programs targeted at inclusion and diversity. Currently there are 180 First Tee Chapters throughout the United States dedicated to cultivating minority participation.
MW: Among the immediate challenges for growth in golf is getting meaningful instruction, access to actually play the game and quality equipment. How are these serious challenges going to be met in the immediate future?
SN: With the advances in technology, computers, launch monitors and video equipment, golf instruction today has improved exponentially. The newest generation of golf clubs and balls have shortened the learning curve to play the game, making the process easier and more fun.That said, golf clubs and courses must continually strive to make access to their facilities more affordable, and if possible, continue to offer rates at off peak times that will acclimate new golfers to the game.
MW: What specific responsibility do you see for individual clubs — especially on the private side — can be doing in widening the pool of players — especially those under age 20 and residing in majority minority communities?
SN: Partnering with The First Tee is extremely beneficial to have a full understanding of the challenges schools and social agencies face and foster the ability to introduce golf into existing programs. Individual members can play a critical role and carry the torch to get their clubs more involved. It is important that all golf facilities – private or public – create a sense of community with each generation of golfers at their respective clubs. Once a club skips a generation of golfers, they will likely face difficulty in attracting future golfers.
MW: What was the genesis for the event being held at Liberty National?
SN: Liberty National founders Paul and Dan Fireman, through The Paul & Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, have generously committed to The First Tee via a $5 million pledge, which positively impacts all First Tee Chapters in New Jersey in terms of added resources and awareness. The Fireman’s civic leadership in this regard also challenges others to embrace our community and make financial contributions to raise funds for our annual event, The First Tee Classic. The tournament is a wonderful event, but the best part of the day is the quality time we all spend with the 50 students with our clinic and skills competition.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it — who was it from?
SN: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. This comes from my Mom and Dad, and may be cliché but it is why I became involved in different charitable and non-profit golf organizations and decided to give back.
MW: On the golf side — Liberty National will host next year’s President’s Cup Matches — how significant an event is that for the club and for the metro NY / NJ area?
SN: This will be the largest and most prestigious international golf event to ever hit our area and promises to bring the global community together in such a powerful way. The Presidents’ Cup will also be a signature moment for Liberty National Golf Club and solidify its standing among the best golf courses in the world. It’s the realization of Paul and Dan Fireman’s dream and ultimate vision to create a course that would host major championships. The greatest players from the U.S., Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Paraguay, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and others will compete near hallowed ground. Liberty National is located a chip shot away from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which for millions of immigrants was the gateway to the new world and a life of opportunity. There’s such a strong symbolism at play here that makes this particular Presidents Cup and what it stands for even more special.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf — what would it be?
SN: I’d like to see more women, children and families play together. Golf is a game that you can play for a lifetime, the bonds created, lessons learned and memories will last forever. However, golf is much more than a game since it provides an outlet to expand our horizon and circle of friends. It’s the one sport that can be played for a lifetime – galvanizing players of all ages, ethnicity and skill level. Golf also provides wonderful mentoring opportunities each and every time a junior golfer heads to the golf course.
Liberty National will host the 2017 President’s Cup Matches September 26 thru October 1, 2017
Tickets go on sale September 29 via presidentscup.com