By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Will Reilly is a two-time PGA of America national award winner, having won the Youth Player Development Award in 2005 and the Player Development Award in 2007. He’s also won several PGA Section awards and is a Quarter Century PGA Member.
Today, Reilly is the PGA Head Professional at Sailfish Sands Golf Course in Stuart, Florida. Any conversation with a PGA national award winner is a privilege – I guess you can say that chatting with Will Reilly was “twice as nice.” Here’s this month’s edition of Five Questions.
Golf Range Magazine: Can you tell us about your start in golf? How old were you and who got you into the game?
Reilly: As soon as I could walk, I had a golf club in my hands. In fact, we have old home movies of me running around the backyard wielding a golf club with my brother Hugh and my sister Sue. But we really didn’t get serious until we were 11 or 12.
My biggest motivation in golf was always to beat my brother Hugh who was then and still is a very good player. We played together at Bishop McDevitt High School and then at Villanova University, where I was blessed to become the head coach of the men’s program in 2008. Hugh is now a Quarter Century PGA Member, as is my younger brother Michael – both work in the Philadelphia PGA Section.
My mother was actually the golf coach at Bishop McDevitt High School and was able to get the rules changed to let my sisters play on the boy’s team since there was no girl’s program. As a coach, she was an excellent recruiter and was way ahead of her time. She would motivate us before matches by telling us we wouldn’t have to do the dishes or cut the lawn that night if we shot below a certain score. And believe me, it worked! All in all, five of my seven siblings would play high school golf for our mother.
Golf Range Magazine: When did you know you wanted to become a PGA Professional?
Reilly: As the son of a PGA Professional – our dad Hugh is a Half Century PGA Member – I think I always wanted to be a PGA Professional as well. Whether caddying, working on the grounds crew or as a cart boy, I was always around the game. All seven of my siblings would go to the golf course with our dad and gain our love for working in the golf industry from him.
Like most kids, I loved playing all sports, especially baseball, and was named county MVP as a catcher at age 15. But my father wanted me to play golf. One afternoon at my sister’s confirmation, my dad’s business partner, Philadelphia Eagles legend Ron Jaworski, and I were having a catch in our backyard. He was taking it easy on me with the speed of his throws, so I asked him to throw the ball faster, as fast as he could. He threw it right through my catcher’s mitt and hit me right below my neck knocking me over. I knew Ron had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a catcher, but I had no idea how fast he could throw a baseball. Jaws advised me that golf was much safer and I could play it for much longer than I could play baseball. That was the beginning of my transition from baseball to golf. I had my first hole-in-one just one week later, which was added motivation to commit to the family business.
Golf Range Magazine: What programs do you have that bring new golfers to the game and enhance the enjoyment of existing players?
Reilly: When I was the Junior Golf Development Manager at the PGA of America, I was in charge of developing the PGA Sports Academy and the PGA Jr. League, programs that we still use in our PGA Junior Golf System (JGS) at Sailfish Sands Golf Course. Our JGS incorporates six programs that all have a synergistic relationship. These two programs are near and dear to my heart, so I enjoy using them in my current role.
Our junior golfers love the PGA Sports Academy because it’s fun and they can share it with their parents through the books for the three different levels. PGA Jr. League is also a lot of fun because of the friendly relationships the junior golfers create with their teammates, as well as the low-pressure scramble format used in competition.
The National Golf Foundation’s Welcome to Golf is also a great program. In fact, we’ve had 92 new adult golfers participate over the past two years. This program helps new golfers seamlessly transition into golf with an easy pathway that makes golf interesting and fun. My wife Jodi, who works at the National Golf Foundation, introduced it to me several years ago and today it’s the most popular program at Sailfish Sands.
Golf Range Magazine: What do you love most about the game of golf? The business of golf?
Reilly: Like most golf professionals, I love to play golf, and playing different golf courses all over the world is really what motivates me the most. I love playing golf in Ireland and have made two separate trips, the last being with my brothers Hugh and Michael and our father Hugh – four PGA Professionals doing what we love. We played some great courses, including Lahinch Golf Club, Ballybunion Golf Club, Tralee Golf Club and Old Head Golf Links. It was great to be able to play with my brothers and father for a week and was an experience I’ll never forget.
Regarding the business of golf, I think the camaraderie that we have with our staff and core golfers makes the job enjoyable every day. I am also very lucky to work at a cutting-edge golf facility, which has a restaurant, 20 hitting bays and Toptracer technology. We also have a reversible nine-hole course and a championship 18-hole golf course that make working there enjoyable because of all the ways I can teach new and existing students.
Golf Range Magazine: What does the future hold for Will Reilly?
Reilly: I love to teach and have actually written a book called Golf’s Power Principle. The power principle is a very simple philosophy that teaches students how they can best harness energy throughout their backswing and transition it into power at impact. I’m now putting the final touches on it with my friend Bob Baal, who was the editor when I was working at the PGA of America.
But the most important thing is my wife Jodi and our four children Brian, Michael, Luke and Emma. We were very blessed to be able to adopt our children from the foster care system in Florida and they have changed our lives dramatically.
Mark Twain once wrote, “The two most important days of your life are when you’re born and when you find out why.” Jody and I now realize why we were born.