Gail Smothers Smith of Franklin recently completed her two-year term as president of the Tennessee Golf Association. Gail was the first female president in the history of the TGA. We sat down with her at the end of her tenure to get her thoughts on how the Association is positioned as she hands the gavel over to new president Tim Jackson.
Now that your two-year tenure as Tennessee Golf Association president has ended, talk about being the first female president in TGA history and how you feel like the organization has moved forward during your time.
I feel so fortunate and lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. There were a lot of women before me who had volunteered and they were my mentors and they helped me learn the rules of golf, about tournament administration. I came on the board and was doing my part, and just the phone call I got from Tim Jackson eight years ago – I didn’t quite understand what it really meant until he explained it to me in detail. It’s been a really quick eight years working with the staff at golf house, with the Foundation side, the PGA side, all of our board of directors, all of our players, our juniors … It’s been the most amazing experience ever. I just tried to keep that positive momentum going in my short two years. With the great leadership and staff we have, it was a pleasure. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.
In the eight years you’ve been an officer, what are some of the successes or highlights you’ve seen as the TGA has progressed?
I think the most important thing, that will keep us sustainable for many years, are the generous donations that have helped us build our endowment and allowed us to concentrate and focus on what’s good for golf in Tennessee. That’s made us more free to try new things, do new things, such as hiring a communications person, expand our staff, and move forward in ways we always wanted to.
As you past the presidency over to Tim Jackson, how do you feel like the TGA is set up to move forward and any ideas of what direction you would like to see the organization move in in the future?
There’s no stopping this train. We’re moving forward on so many things. We have so much potential to tap and we have ideas about how we can do that, transitioning that junior golfer from the Sneds Tour into the amateur side, playing in some fun or social events if they aren’t able to play in a championship. We want to capture that type of player, and as they age through their lives and are successful in their careers, perhaps they donate back to the Tennessee Golf Foundation and we start that cycle again. So I think we are poised to do even better things.
Talk about your history with the TGA and how long you’ve been associated with the organization.
I can’t remember exactly what year I came on the board. I’ve been involved in rules for probably 20 years, and I would say maybe 15 years of those on the Board of Directors. I’ve been on the Rules Committee, I’ve been on the Strategic Planning Committee, I’ve held other committee positions. I’ve met amazing, hard-working people who have great ideas. We’ve implemented many and continue to grow the game better and better in our state. Our junior program is amazing and I’m so proud of all of the kids that come out of our state and represent our state well in anything they play in nationally or internationally.
How important is it for people like yourself to donate your time or services to the Association?
It is important, and Tim and I, along with Chad, have had some conversations and brought in some new and younger board members with skill sets to help us. Not everybody has to be a championship golfer. Somebody might have a skill set we need, like in finance or strategic planning. We need fresh, new ideas and we are going to continue to find people across our state who can interject those new ideas and keep us moving forward, and help us address those things that come out of our strategic planning meetings.
What do you feel like are the biggest challenges the Association faces in the future?
Right now, I believe that missing golfer graduating from college until they are old enough to have time away from their families to play the game and be involved in the sport. We are looking for ways to capture that golfer, whether it be male or female. The women are having children and in the workforce, and the men are fathers coming home from work and doing the same thing. We have a challenge to capture those golfers and keep them engaged in the Tennessee Golf Association. That is probably going to be the number one priority over the next few years.
We see a number of ladies in our state go on to compete on a national level, whether it’s juniors all the way up to seniors. What makes women’s golf so strong in Tennessee?
I think what makes women’s golf so strong is the foundation that comes out of golf house. The programs and opportunities to play … the women’s success in colleges and scholarships they are getting after they come through our programs, it’s amazing. As small as our state is, we have a much higher percentage of golfers who are successful at getting to the college level than we have in many years and we hope to see that continue to grow.
Do you feel like your position as a TGA board member shows young girls that there is life in golf after college and that they can contribute to the game in many ways, whether it be on the course or off the course?
Absolutely. I’m an average female golfer. I’m nowhere near the competitor like a Kynadie Adams is at her age. I didn’t start playing until I was 42. The relationships that I’ve made and the experiences that I’ve had and the opportunities that I’ve had to see these young girls since they were 12 years old – first time I ever saw Ashley Gilliam, she hit a wrong ball at Stones River … I think she was like 10. Now she is playing for Mississippi State. She is having a wonderful career and we still stay in touch. The game of golf has just brought me so much, and it’s been an honor to give back.