Champions Tournament Director A Regular at PGCC OrlandoGene Smith is the Tournament Director for the Champions Tour, and he is also an expert on the rules of golf. After being in the business for 42 years, that’s exactly what you might expect of him. Difficult as it may be to believe, everything that can possibly happen during the course of your golf game…he can make a ruling on it based on 34 simple rules. Admittedly, there are subheadings and addendums, but still; how can 34 rules cover everything?
Gene Smith often finds himself at the Professional Golfers Career College Orlando campus explaining exactly this.
The USGA rules book goes through revisions every four years and with its most recent incarnation being published this year, Gene shares some of his expertise on rules of the game, how to get where you’re going in golf, and why he loves swinging by the golf college and talking with the students. “When I’m talking to the students I try to bring the rules to life, to give them real world examples. After 42 years of doing this I’m still learning” Smith shares. “I used to teach USGA Rules of Golf workshops, now I just attend them. Golf rules are a living, breathing thing.” He continues, “Every time I go to one I learn something else. When you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on it, that’s when you’ve got to get your nose in the book again.”
Without question, all of his time spent studying and his love for the game makes him and the students surprisingly simpatico. “I like to ask the class ‘How many of you want to be GM’s, or head golf pro’s at your club?’ because as a GM or Head Pro you wear a lot of hats, and having a wide base knowledge of golf is essential.” Smith continues “I love just opening it up to questions, just having them fire at me” he laughs “most of them just want to know how they can get my job.”
One of his jobs is to keep a close eye on the game during tournament play, not that there’s a lot of pressure in the moment. “We generally have enough time to think about a ruling we’re going to make to make sure we get it right.” And to ensure maximum accuracy, he’s not alone out there “There’s usually 6 or 7 of us out there so if one of us goes brain dead on a ruling we can radio in for help.” So what happens when they do finally decide? Not a whole lot. “Time is not of the essence, there have been times that we have had to call the USGA and inform a player 4 holes later what the deal is with one of his shots. It’s unusual, but it can happen.”
Working closely with players in crucial moments can be very exciting, but is it still that thrilling when you’re stuck being the bearer of bad news? “We hardly ever have calls contested. We have the book to back us up. If we say something will cost a 1 or 2 stroke penalty, we can point to the book and show them.” Surely this is a welcome relief in sports, where referees often have to double as verbal punching bags when a player is displeased. “Golf is a gentleman’s game, it’s one of the reasons I like to be around it. Golfers are class individuals. We don’t have boorish type personalities you can find in other sports. That just doesn’t happen, especially in professional golf.”
Walking the course during tournaments, rubbing elbows with legendary athletes…he’s got a great gig, but it definitely did not come overnight. 42 years ago Gene Smith finished his tour with the USMC and the next day he went out and got a job at Bay Hill Golf Club. “I got out of the Marines on March 10th, March 11th I went out to eight different clubs in Orlando asking for a job. They all said ‘No’ except for number 8. That was Bay Hill; they said ‘Yes’.”
Having exposure to such a positive and energetic force as Gene can be a key element in a student’s success, it gives them all the opportunity to see that success in the golf industry is real, and they are well on their way.
“I like to tell students that if you make up your mind to do something, just go do it” Concluding with what he believes is the key to his, and everybody’s success. “Find something you’re passionate about and then find a way to earn a living doing it. I know I’m lucky. I’ve lived my dream for 42 years, and they can too.”