From the caddy yard at the Country Club of Maryland, which was an education all to itself, to the game's highest position: President of the Professional Golfers' Association of America. A climb of momentous proportions. For Dick Smith it has been an exceptional career.
Smith "comes home" tonight when he returns to the Country Club of Maryland at the invitation of Andy Gibson, the pro emeritus, to speak at a meeting of its members. When Smith graduated from Towson High School in 1960, the yearbook, in writing about his hopes and dreams, said: "Seeks future in professional golf."
At Towson, the golf team, with Smith participating, never lost a match in three seasons. "I remember we had one of the first girls, Dianne Jones, to play on a boys varsity. And a wonderful man for a coach, Eugene Donohue.
"Mr. Donohue was a teacher in social studies. I doubt if he got paid for the job of coaching us in the afternoon. We would all crowd into his old Studebaker car to go to the golf course. It made for a wonderful competitive experience."
The past 11 years, Smith has been head professional at the Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill, N.J., after serving in the same capacity at the High Point Golf Club in Ivyland, Pa., and Wedgewood Country Club in Turnersville, N.J. And, all the while, he was competing as one of the finest players in the Philadelphia section of the PGA.
He won the sectional championship five times, three coming in a row, which was unprecedented. When he was 30, Smith tried the major PGA Tour for a five-month stay but quickly realized he had waited too long to make the effort. Meanwhile, he was married, had a young family and realized there were more important personal obligations than playing golf.
So the career of a home pro became his calling. In Baltimore, he had worked at the Mount Pleasant Course, under John O'Donnell, serving food, selling merchandise in the pro shop and arranging tee times. This was learning the basics. Still later, he spent a semester at Loyola College and then joined the Rouse Company.
But a friend from Mount Pleasant, Dick Hendrickson, who was the pro at Green Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill, Pa., offered him the chance to become his assistant. Smith had once caddied for Hendrickson, now a standout on the Senior PGA Tour. Little did they realize, as time played out, that they would eventually meet in a sectional playoff -- which Hendrickson won.
Being elected head of the PGA means Smith is the leader of the largest working sports organization in the world, embracing 20,000 members, including head professionals and assistants. "It's a huge responsibility but certainly an honor," he says.
The 6-foot-5 Smith believes the PGA has formulated strategic plans for the future in providing updated methods of education and long-range job opportunities. His own son is in the PGA apprenticeship program and will soon earn certification.
"In Baltimore, where my mother still lives, I have fond memories of the junior golf activity. Jack Emich of the U.S.G.A. would arrange bus trips to various courses each Monday in the summer. We'd play matches and get instructions. A close pal was Ron Wheeler. We'd cut lawns in our neighborhood to make money to play the public courses.
"Mount Pleasant at the time was rated one of the best in the country. I still remember the 15th hole. Ron and I would often pay for one ticket and then the other would try to cut in later, if we didn't get caught. Then we'd put our golf bags on our shoulder and walk home to where I lived in Stoneleigh, which I guess was about 3 miles." Baltimore reminds him, too, of when he delivered prescriptions on a bicycle from a drug store at 36th Street and Ellerslie Avenue. While making his rounds, he met John Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Ron Hansen, Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti, all notable heroes of either the Colts or Orioles.
Now, the course of life brings him back to where he grew up. Dick Smith has fond memories of his first day as a caddy and waiting from 7:15 am until 4:15 pm before he got to carry a golfer's bag -- for nine holes and a fee of $1.75.
But no complaints. He made it to the top of the golf world.