By Bill Hensley
In 1984, the Blowing Rock Country Club was looking for a golf director, and the list of candidates was long and impressive. The selection committee faced an arduous task, but was relieved that one name on the list stood out.
That was Wayne Smith, a young professional from Florida. His credentials were outstanding, and his personality radiated during the interview. His list of accomplishments at clubs he had served was persuasive and convincing. Smith was hired by an enthusiastic committee.
That decision has proven to be a good one.
For 33 years, Smith has filled the job admirably and with distinction. His long and colorful tenure at the club is a source of pride, and his well-planned golf program has set a standard that other clubs envy. Each year Blowing Rock club members are treated to more than a hundred varied and interesting golf events to ensure an enjoyable summer on the links.
“Wayne Smith is a jewel,” offered Martha Watkins, the Blowing Rock CC general manager. “In my 16 years as a club manager, I have never met a more loyal and dedicated professional. I admire him greatly for the outstanding job he does for us. He is one-of-a-kind.”
“This has been an incredible experience,” Smith said, “one that I could never forget. Not many golf professionals are fortunate enough to work for a club like this one. I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Smith, a native of Coral Gables, Florida, learned to create a full-service golf program that featured numerous one-day tournaments early in his career. For years he worked at Blowing Rock in the summer and at Florida clubs during the winter. He served as head golf professional in Florida at Quail Ridge, Boca West and Aberdeen Golf and Country Club.
Smith said that his golf philosophy is a bit different from other golf pros. “I think the ability to play well and teach well is important,” he commented, “but a golf pro also has to be creative, a good administrator, promoter, and a businessman to best serve the members.”
The popular pro started his career in golf when he was in high school, taking lessons from the renowned Jack Grout, the man who taught the great Jack Nicklaus. “I took lessons for about a year,” Smith recalled, “and was good enough to make the high school team.”
Smith was awarded a golf scholarship to the University of Arkansas where he played from 1969 to 1973. He turned professional after graduating with a degree in Political Science. Smith had no burning desire to play the PGA tour, so he started out as an assistant professional. His first job was the Linville Golf Club under Burl Dale.
“I had never been to the North Carolina mountains.” Smith remarked, “but after three years in Linville I was hooked. And like most Floridians, I couldn’t wait to get back each summer.”
During his career, Smith was fortunate enough to play with a lot of well-known names but two standout in his memory. “Playing with the late great Gene Sarazen was a special thrill. He was such a gentleman and polished professional. I was in awe of him and watched every swing and listened to his every word with admiration.”
The other memorable partner was tennis great Rod Laver. Smith remembers: “He was in town for a tennis match and had no golf equipment with him. He wanted to play so we found him a set of clubs, balls, shoes and other necessities. Then he goes out and shoots and even par 72. What an amazing athlete. He was a lesson in excellence.”
Smith’s best score during his career was a 63 at Blowing Rock and at the Riviera Club in Coral Gables. “I have had a lot of success as a player, but I am probably better known as an administrator than a teacher or player,” he stated. “I take care of golf for the members before my own game.”
In addition to his regular golf duties, Smith has also been involved with developing golf courses and clubhouses. He has been on the team that created five courses and four clubhouse facilities. “I found those experiences most helpful in the other aspects of my job. It is important to build a program that attracts all golfers.”
A project that he took pride in was helping a team of Russians learn the golf business. “I was asked to host a group of Russian students and to teach them how to run a golf club,” he explained. “We spent weeks with them going over every aspect of the business, and they learned quickly.”
“They later opened the first course in Moscow since World War II,” he continued. “I sent one of my assistants to be the pro, and I understand that the course has been most successful.”
Smith is also proud that he introduced golf to the elementary schools in Palm Beach County during the early 90s. “The school program continues to grow and become a vital part of the educational and recreational curriculum,” he remarked.
Smith will be deeply involved in a major golf course change at Blowing Rock which will begin at the end of the summer. “Holes ten through 13 will be redesigned,” he said, “and I am delighted that the improvements will make the course more enjoyable.” Construction work will continue through the winter and will be completed prior to the 2017 season.
Now that he doesn’t work during the winter months, Smith, 65, will have more time to play and to fish, a special hobby. But there are no retirement plans in the immediate future. “Why retire when you love what you do,” he asked.
Smith is married to the former Claudia Thornhill of Houston, Texas, whom he met at the University of Arkansas. They have a grown son, Ryan, and a daughter, Lindsay, a son-in-law Jamie and a granddaughter, Graycen.
One thing that doesn’t nag at Smith these days is the question of who designed the Blowing Rock course, which has been one of golf big mysteries. All club records were destroyed when a fire demolished the clubhouse in 1974, giving rise to a debate that centered on Donald Ross and Seth Raynor, two all-time greats.
“There is no question in my mind,” he said firmly. “All my research has proved to me that Raynor did the course. “The evidence is overwhelming, and I am convinced.”
“The case is closed,” Smith said. “Now, let’s go play golf.”
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