Rebuilding the Saints: The Rebirth of the St. Rays Golf Program
Those of us who play golf and/or work in the game of golf often talk about growing the game of golf.
That is exactly what is happening at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket as the school re-adds a golf team for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.
“We have had a very long tradition of having a golf team at St Rays. This was a decision that came from our Head of School, as well as, our Alumni Association. We previously didn’t have anyone on campus interested in golf, but Nick Emery, who was a freshman (now a sophomore), and his family are big into golf so with the help of them, we got a huge push for golf,” said Athletic Director Erika Paiva.
Emery is the leader of the St. Rays golf program, having already won multiple Jr. PGA events across the New England region and competing in last year’s High School State Championship as an individual.
“Nick is a great player, he could win the State Championship this year,” said Wheeler Head Coach Shane Drury.
Most recently, Emery qualified for the New England Jr. PGA Championship. He was only one of two Rhode Islanders (Will Owens was the other) to make the cut.
“If we can continue to build and see Nick’s success through us putting it out on social media and in morning announcements, I think we might snag a few more kids who would otherwise go elsewhere,” said Paiva.
Building the 2022 Saints
After golf gained traction at St. Rays over the last several months, the school put out a flyer on social media asking for club donations for players.
Paiva tells GolfNewsRI that nearly 20 full bags of clubs were donated to the school, like full sets.
From there, St. Rays brought on retired physics teacher and former Mount Hope golf coach Steve Babiec to lead the program.
“I taught public schools for a number of years, and was golf coach at Mount Hope for awhile, as well as, Bristol Warren. I went to St. Rays, taught there for a number of years. They got away from their golf team for the last several years and now bringing it back this year. Erika asked me if I would help out,” said Babiec.
St. Rays started with ten kids and are now down to seven as the high school season is just getting underway.
“We have kids from all walks of life on the golf team, it’s not your traditional white male golfer. We have one football player, one kid left baseball to play golf, two girls who never played before, and one of them is going to be in our top four,” said Paiva.
Players range from very good to literally just learning the game.
“I have a very good number one golfer (Emery), but the rest of the kids are basically beginners. It’s a work in progress, but the good thing is that they are young, freshmen and sophomores, so I told them to get a junior membership so they can play. Some are already taking lessons which is good. Basically, I’m looking for my golfers to improve,” Babiec tells GolfNewsRI.
At the time of this publishing, St. Rays has already played a couple of matches. Nick Emery led the way in both of them,
For the Saints this season, it won’t be about wins and losses, though they obviously hope to win.
It will be about learning and playing the game and progressing from there.
History of Golf at St. Rays
While the current crop of golfers will be fighting to create their own history, the history of golf at St. Rays is pretty rich.
“I want to say the first team started in like the 30s and 40s, there are generations of Saints grads that caddied at Pawtucket Country Club. Then when out of college they are going back to Pawtucket and becoming members,” said Paiva.
In its history, St. Rays has won two team State Championships and four individual State Championships.
The first Individual title was won by Francis Partridge in 1940.
Following that, Stan Koslowski won back-to-back Individual State Championships in 1941 and 1942, while also leading the Saints to a Team Championship in 1942.
Ten years later, St. Rays would add their second Team Championship in 1952.
That team was helped by James Noonan.
In 1954, Noonan qualified for the National Junior Golf Tournament out in California at LA Country Club, where he played a 15-year-old kid named Jack Nicklaus.
Noonan went on to play golf at Brown University and was inducted into the St. Rays Hall of Fame in 2020, though the ceremony was postponed due to Covid. It will take place this year.
Other notable players to come out of St. Rays include Jack McDonaugh, Justin Fagan and Kim Augusta.
Augusta graduated from St. Rays and made three U.S. Junior and three U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship tournaments.
Starting in 1992, she won the RI Women’s Amateur three straight years and went on to play on the LPGA Tour for four years.
Augusta retired from competitive golf in 2011.
She currently is the Head Professional at Frenchman’s Creek Beach & Country Club in Florida.
St. Rays last State Championship came in the form of another individual title, won by Greg Sampson in 2000.
“After that, things kind of fell apart. The interest dwindled, then wasn’t there, and the socio-economic structure wasn’t there,” said Paiva.
Following the 2010-11 season, the St. Rays golf team was no more…until now.
Paiva added, “I think if we continue to get support from our Alumni Association and people continue to be excited, we can bring back the tradition of St. Raphael being a golf school.”
Growing Golf in Other Schools
While St. Rays is re-adding a golf team, there are some other high schools in the state that don’t have them.
Shea just recently got rid of their team prior to this season and Woonsocket is also not fielding a team this year, though they have been actively trying to get players.
Can St. Rays bringing back their team serve as an inspiration to other schools around the state?
“I think it all depends on what the school wants to give to creating a team. I’ll use us for example, we are a school of 500 kids and most of our kids play basketball, soccer, baseball etc… It’s a completely different game, being in an urban area, we don’t have kids that say I’m going to go to St. Rays to play golf. Since Nick has been so successful, there are about five kids that signed up for the golf team that aren’t that bad, they just never signed up for golf,” said Paiva.
The game of golf is booming across the country and in the state, perhaps St. Rays is the start of the high school boom.