A Tribute To Dick Smith Sr., Past President of the PGA
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Dick Smith Sr., the 27th President of the PGA of America and one of the greatest players ever to hold the Association’s highest office, didn’t leave his competitiveness on the golf course.
Smith brought that tenacity to the boardroom and his passion for programs that benefit aspiring PGA Professionals. Smith was the president of PGA Member education and professional development. PGA Membership almost doubled during his time as an officer.
Smith, one of the most prominent members of the Philadelphia PGA Section passed away March 8, in Voorhees (New Jersey) after complications from a stroke. Smith was 80.
“He was a grassroots golf professional,” said his son, Dick Smith Jr., the PGA Director of Golf at Kingwood (Texas) Country Club. “He truly cared about the PGA Member and the PGA of America. It wasn’t about him. It was about making the PGA and the PGA Member better for everyone that followed him.”
Smith participated in 13 major championships throughout his career. His highlights were a tie for 44th at the 1970 U.S. Open, and 17th at the 1992 Senior British Open.
“Dick had a great influence on our sport, both as a leader and a competitor,” said PGA President John Lindert, the PGA Director of Golf at the Country Club of Lansing in Michigan. “One of the finest playing presidents in our Association’s history, his service as PGA President from 1991-92 was extremely impactful on our membership, the game and the golf industry.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Smith family, including his wife Adrienne, daughter Stephanie, and son and Quarter Century PGA Member Dick Jr., along with his grandchildren Alexandria, Zakary and Marissa.”
From caddie, to PGA President
Smith presided over a dynamic period in the PGA’s history, while realizing the need for ongoing planning to ensure the continued success of the Association.
“We need to have the ability to look forward and anticipate what our game and our business will be in five, 10, 20 years,” said Smith. “Once we identify that, we have to be ready to accept what’s necessary to achieve it.”
Richard Lie-Nielsen Smith was born in Akron, Ohio on June 16, 1942. He was 10 years old when he started playing golf with his father Robert. The youngster began playing the game as a caddie and quickly learned how to be a great player.
Smith won the 1959 Maryland State Jaycee Championship in his 17th year. Three years later, Smith began to work as an assistant professional for Green Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill.
Smith would then continue to improve his skills at Laurel Oak Country Club, Gibbsboro (New Jersey); Indian Spring Golf Club, Marlton, New Jersey, High Point Golf Club, Ivyland, Pennsylvania, Wedgwood Country Club, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Galloway (New Jersey); Galloway (New Jersey); the Williamstown (New Jersey] Golf Center; Bethpage State Park; Riverwinds Golf Club, West Deptford, New Jersey, and White Oaks, Newfield, New Jersey. Smith also founded The Golf Group in 2004, a consulting firm for golf courses.
Smith was the president of Valleybrook Country Club, Blackwood, New Jersey, from 2008 to his passing.
Smith attended Loyola College, Baltimore. He became a professional in 1961 and was elected to PGA Membership 1964. He was a dominant figure within the Philadelphia PGA Section. He competed at five PGA Championships, the 1972 U.S Open and the 1992 Senior British Open. He also participated in 11 PGA Professional Championships. He was a Philadelphia PGA Champion, five times, matched only by Art Wall. Smith won more than 25 championships in his playing career.
Smith was the caddie for his son when Dick Jr. made his debut at the PGA Professional Championship in Sunriver. When Smith earned a berth in two U.S. Senior Opens, both at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, his brother Tom caddied for him in 1992, while Dick Jr. had the bag in 2000.
“My dad was a great player in the Section, at the national level, and he sacrificed a very successful PGA Tour Champions career by devoting his time to the PGA of America,” said Smith Jr.
Smith Sr. proved that his talents were not limited to the game of golf. He was elected Vice-President of the Philadelphia PGA in 1975 and served as President between 1978 and 1980. Smith was elected to the national PGA Board of Directors in 1984. He then ran for national PGA Secretary. . . He won.
“I felt I represented a point of view that was important,” said Smith. “I represented the view of the rank and file.”
Celebrating 75 Years with an Eye toward the Future
Jack Connelly, a former PGA president from Huntingdon Valley in Pennsylvania, saw Smith compete in Section events and was inspired by his passion for the PGA member. In fact, Smith, Dick Hendrickson and Connelly were the “Big Three” of Philadelphia PGA Section golf.
Smith was awarded six Section Player of Year awards, Hendrickson received five, and Connelly four.
“He’s one of those guys you trust and a forward thinker,” said Connelly. “He thinks before he talks. It’s like E.F. Hutton (the famed commercial): When Dick Smith talks, everybody listens. ”
Smith stood 6-foot-5 and was taller than most of his coworkers. In November 1990, Smith was elected PGA president as the PGA prepared for its 75th anniversary in 1991. His primary focus was education, employment, and public awareness.
Three major events helped the PGA rise to the top, using the 75th anniversary as a launch pad. First, Jack Nicklaus captured the 1991 Senior PGA Championship on PGA National Golf Club’s Champion Course, which he had just redesigned near his home in South Florida. Smith presented the Alfred Bourne Trophy (a trophy honoring Nicklaus six-stroke win on national television) to Smith.
A few months later, in August, John Daly from Arkansas, a 26-year-old driver, entered the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternative at Crooked Stick, Golf Club. He then stormed to victory, in one of the most famous Walter Mitty stories in sports history.
“I just remember John walking up the 18th fairway as we were standing back by the hole, and he’s pumping up the crowd because he was a crowd pleaser,” said Smith years later. “He loved the crowd.” With extended television coverage on all four days of the event, the PGA Championship took on an exciting new identity with Daly’s victory.
The United States won The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina the following month. The classic match of seesaws came down to the final putt on the last hole. Smith was accompanied by Captain Dave Stockton, the U.S.A., and Smith at the 18th green. Team.
“The players were sitting in front of me, so I couldn’t see the final putt,” said Smith. “All I heard was the crowd. As the crowd roared, I stood up and saw the ball still sitting there, so I knew what had happened.” European stalwart Bernhard Langer missed a six-foot putt that would have won the Ryder Cup for Europe. As a result, the Langer vs. Hale Irwin match was halved, and the United States won for the first time since 1983.
By the end of the year, a revised PGA Grand Slam of Golf — featuring a $1 million purse for the winners of golf’s four major championships — was broadcast in primetime television from Hawaii and provided another promotional opportunity.
The PGA was able to get the positive exposure it needed through the 1991 electrifying golf events and a national promotional campaign. PGA messages were able worldwide reach thanks to the revisions to television contracts, which included expanded broadcast distribution in more than 100 countries.
Modernizing PGA Education
PGA “Business Schools” had been in place for almost 30 years when the PGA moved to modernize apprentice education.
“The PGA Education Program needs to be upgraded to reflect the needs of today’s industry,” wrote Smith, an advocate of PGA Professional certification.
Smith and the PGA Board commissioned SRI International, a Stanford-based educational firm to review and evaluate how the PGA was educating prospective PGA members. This evaluation resulted in the creation of the PGA Golf Professional Training Program. This new program would introduce the industry to a new breed PGA Professionals, who were well-trained in all aspects.
Smith believed education was key to employment. It was especially difficult as the PGA was in an unprecedented growth phase to keep up industry demand.
“When I became an officer, we had 12,000 to 13,000 Members and Apprentices,” recalled Smith. “When I went out as PGA President, we had 24,000.”
The PGA launched a new program, PGA Career Services. It would enable PGA Professionals help find meaningful work while providing qualified candidates to employers.
1991 saw another milestone for the PGA with the 20,000th Member. This would put the consensus-building skills and leadership abilities of PGA leaders to the test.
“We need to listen to each other,” said Smith. “We need to have compassion for someone else’s point of view because that point of view is based on input from other members of our Association. The people in the east can’t forget that the Association also includes people in the west. And the people in the north have to understand the needs, problems and desires of the people in the south.”
Smith invited the first African-American woman and the first African American to join the PGA Advisory Committee before the year was over. This helped guide the organizations rapid growth.
When Smith was the PGA Director of Golf at Bethpages famed Black Course, he became “graphic designer” when it was becoming crunch time and a logo was needed for the 2002 U.S. Open.
“My father told me he pulled up to his parking spot and looked at the shutters on the clubhouse,” said Smith Jr. “He said, ‘I’ve just figured it out.’ He pulled that caddie boy image off and got it in front of the art people. He suggested that Bethpage should be added to the logo with the five colors. It was approved and it became the U.S. Open logo.”
Smith Sr. was inducted into the Philadelphia PGA Hall of Fame as a 1992 inductee and a 2005 PGA Hall of Famer. Smith Jr. shares a rare Association honor of his service in the Philadelphia PGA Section. Dick Sr. was Section president from 1978-80 and Dick Jr., from 2006-07.
“I will always remember him spending five days with me at the PGA Professional Championship in Sunriver, Oregon,” said Smith Jr. “I missed the cut, but that was fine. I spent five days there with him on my bag, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything in the world.”