Stephen Smith has been named the new course manager, golf professional and golf superintendent at Geneva-on-the-Lake Golf Course. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to do all three, because it’s going to be fun,” said Smith, whose career path has included key roles at many Ohio and Florida clubs, including Prestancia TPC and Catawba Island Club.
When his father told 7-year-old Stephen Smith that he would buy Stephen his own set of clubs if he could break 40 for nine holes using his mother’s wooden golf clubs, that was the spark that Stephen needed to begin a lifetime love of the sport, reported The Star Beacon of Ashtabula, Ohio.
Sixty-one years, several golf courses, four children, and eleven grandchildren later, Smith is now the new Course Manager, Golf Professional, and Golf Superintendent at Geneva-on-the-Lake Golf Course, a municipal in the northern Ohio town of the same name (known locally as GOTL) that is located on the Lake Erie shoreline between Cleveland and the Ohio/Pennsylvania border.
“My parents, Doug and Lois, were both school teachers and I was an adopted child,” Smith told The Star Beacon. “I played sports in school…all of them. But I loved golf. I love the environment of golf, and every golf course has its own personality. No two golf courses in the world are the same.”
Smith self-identifies as a true outdoorsman, and said he loves to hunt and fish and travels the world to do so. However, despite going to Wittenburg University on a football scholarship before transferring to Ohio University, golf is where his career has always gone.
“Golf has a variety of people,” he explained to The Star Beacon. “The first set could be four farmers playing together; the next could be four doctors, and then four lawyers, and then four nurses playing together,” he said. “It’s really unique.”
Even motorcyclists that frequent GOTL in the summer stop in and play a round of golf—so Smith is going to create motorcycle-only parking at the course. “You want to accommodate for everything that goes on here, and try to help everybody,” he said.
Smith also has plans to renovate the clubhouse and golf course, and has plenty of experience to draw from, The Star Beacon reported. “I’ve always improved myself with each job. It’s called improving your skills over the years,” he said.
Throughout his career, Smith worked at golf courses across Ohio during the spring and summer, and he would then work in Florida in the winter months. This winter is the first time he’s seen snow in 14 years, he told The Star Beacon.
“I worked at the Prestancia Tournament Players Club, a 36-hole private club in Florida that Robert Norton managed,” he said. “I was very fortunate to work for him. That’s where all of my skills came from.”
Smith also worked for Joe Maruna at Hemlock Springs Golf Course in Geneva, Ohio for five years, and spent 25 years in the Toledo area managing two golf courses, The Star Beacon reported. He was also an assistant pro and the head golf instructor at the Catawba Island Club in Port Clinton, Ohio for 12 years.
“I’ve worked on tournaments, ladies’ tour events… I helped to start the Jamie Farr [Toledo Classic] tournament in Toledo,” he told The Star Beacon. “I participated on the [PGA Tour] for a while, and have played golf all over the world—in the U.S., South America, Mexico, and the UK. The next stop is going to be Scotland.”
His proudest career achievement, Smith told The Star Beacon, was building the Thunder Hill and Little Thunder golf courses in the Madison, Ohio area with Fred Slagle. “I also worked for Joe Biscotti, a golf professional from Conneaut, Ohio who owned Biscotti Wineries,” Smith said. “He was very influential in my golf career.”
Smith said h e has worked nearly every job there is on a golf course, including locker-room attendant, which allowed him to have what he calls one of the greatest moments of his life.
“I was working in the locker room of the Riverbend Golf Club in New Lebanon, Ohio, and I got to sit with Arnold Palmer for an hour talking to him about golf while he drank a beer and I had a Coke,” Smith told The Star Beacon. “He was my idol, and I never thought I’d ever have that chance.”
Through all of the jobs he’s done in the golf business, Smith feels he is best at teaching the sport. “I would like to work on creating a very strong junior golf program for young kids, including lessons,” he said of his goals for Geneva-on-the-Lake GC. “It may not happen this year, but it definitely will happen.
“We’re also working on a program to get stroke victims who used to golf back out here,” he noted. “We’re going to help them adjust so they can get back on the course.”
Smith said he would also like to eventually offer indoor golf with a simulator and a driving range, to help him give lessons at the course. But the immediate priorities will be to remodel the clubhouse and turn the golf shop into a “real” golf shop, he told The Star Beacon.
“Over the next three years, we will hopefully get into merchandising,” he said. “We want to improve our service to the golfers and the community.”
Putting on his superintendent’s hat, Smith said Geneva-on-the-Lake GC will be adding new drainage to the course and completing the cart path from the #1 tee to the 18th hole.
“My goal for this golf course is an old phrase we used to use — ‘tournament ready’ — which means it’s ready and in top-shape at all times,” he told The Star Beacon. “It’ll take three or four years to get there.”
Smith said he was happy to now be in charge of Geneva-on-the-Lakes GC because it lets him be closer to his grandchildren, who all live within a half-hour of the club.
“I’m ‘just’ a golf manager, the golf professional and golf superintendent,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it to you—golf is me.”