Read on to learn more about Gene Smith's passion for golf leadership.
You have displayed incredible dedication to the game of golf and to the North Florida PGA Section. What is it that motivates you to show such dedication and devotion to the game?
It is more of a personal thing for me in that, as much as I have given to the game of golf, to the section, and to the PGA of America, I have received back tenfold of what I have given. I am in my 50th year of being a PGA Professional and it has been a charmed life because of what the PGA has given me. I am lucky as hell to have received the job I got at The Bay Hill Golf Club for 7 years and working with Arnold Palmer. Right after the military, not even 24 hours after I got out, I began my career at Bay Hill and became a PGA Member. I turned that into a 50 year career that has allowed me to travel the world, meet new people, and do so many neat things as the officer of the section and eventually, as the tour director for the PGA Tour of Champions.
What would you say is your most significant playing achievement thus far or achievements in general, over the years?
I was lucky enough to qualify to play in the Bay Hill Golf Tournament back in 1981. Playing was very low on my list of priorities because I was more interested in being a leader and making a difference. It is a memory that I will always have and cherish. I was absolutely petrified to play in that tour event. It was a terrifying experience! I had two goals for that tournament. One was to get the ball to stay on the tee and the other was to get the ball airborne. I accomplished what I came there to do, so it was a major achievement for me.
Other than that, I am more proud of being involved in the politics of the PGA. As an Assistant Pro at Bay Hill, we lost our head golf professional, so Mr. Palmer asked me and the other assistants to run the club until he could find a replacement. This was a 7 month period when I was running the club and received zero credit towards my membership. So I wanted to make a difference and do something about it. I decided that I was going to get involved and make changes, and I did just that. I am the one who created the A9 classification. In 1984, I went to the annual meeting and passed the A9 classification. Years later, I went to the annual meeting to create a resolution to create an A10 classification and after being shot down multiple times, the classification finally passed in 1990.
Aside from that, when they came up with the PAT program, you had to attend PGA business school before you could even take the PAT. At the time, I was the head pro at Cypress Creek and conducted the PAT. What was ticking me off is the fact that we had so many of these young men at the time that had already paid all the money to go to business school, but they could never pass the PAT. Why should they have to go to school before the PAT? At the annual meeting I passed that you passed the PAT FIRST before attending the business school.
For the section, as a chapter officer, I went to the board of directors meeting and presented an idea to support a passport program to make some money for the section! It was then that I decided that I was going to run for office. I am the last treasurer of the NFPGA and I then became the vice president, two years as president, and 2 years as the honorary president. I went to the board and said, “This is what we are going to do!” I finally was able to create the North Florida PGA Passport. I generated $765,000 and 250 golf courses signed up at the end of it. We made $18 on every passport sold. By year six, 18,000 PGA passports were sold.
What would you say is your worst golf habit or biggest pet peeve?
SLOW PLAY. I have no tolerance for slow play. As a rules official and tour director, my hands are tied because the rules are not written by the rules officials. They are written by players and staff. I could eliminate slow play in two weeks on the PGA tour, but even though there is a penalty for slow play, we cannot apply that penalty in the section.
If your golf ball could speak, what would it say to you or what would it say about you?
“Swing hard in case you hit me.”
“You ought to be watching your son play his guitar instead of trying to hit me!”