2004: Business - Rick Smith

Visitors to ricksmith.com immediately are informed that the Web site’s namesake possesses “uncommon insight into the game of golf.”

No question, Smith’s multiple endeavors aren’t what you’d expect from the typical teaching pro. He is managing partner at the 81-hole Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich. He is a successful course architect, with one of his designs ranking among the top 25 on Golfweek’s America’s Best list of Modern Courses. He’s an active promoter of the Ford brand. His image is ubiquitous on The Golf Channel, as an instructor and co-host of “The Big Break” reality show. And he had the last laugh in April after a national magazine listed him as the “most overrated” teacher on the PGA Tour.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why do you do all those different things?’ ” Smith says. “I’ve been out there a long time, and I love teaching. That’s the reason I’m doing everything else, because teaching exposed me to all these other things that I love so much in golf.”

Smith held out hopes of competing on the PGA Tour until a series of injuries during the mid-1980s curtailed his progress.

“I felt like I could have played well enough to make a decent living,” Smith says. “But by then, I was committed to Walker Inman at Scioto (Country Club in Ohio) to work and teach for him. I just bypassed it (tournament golf) and never looked back.”

Two years ago, Smith used his notoriety as an instructor to orchestrate the purchase of Treetops. Its previous owner and Smith’s patron, Harry Melling, had died in 1999. Smith put together a group that includes Harold “Red” Poling and Robert Eaton, former CEOs of Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., respectively, to buy the 4,000-acre resort from the Melling family.

“I don’t own the whole thing, but I’ve got a pretty big chunk of it as managing partner,” Smith says. “I can’t really expose how much. Obviously it grows with the more success we have. So I’m incentivized to deliver a faster return.”

Smith estimates that 65 percent to 70 percent of his income is teaching-related, including a lucrative arrangement with Ford. Endorsement deals represent a small part of his earnings, and the rest is derived from investments and real estate.

“I’m interested in real estate, big time,” says Smith, whose older brother Andy made a fortune in outlet mall development. “I’ve got some money in the market, like everybody else, but I own a lot of homes. We spin ’em, we turn ’em. I like dirt. They’re not making any more dirt.”

The dirt on Smith used to be that he was spread too thin and sometimes failed to honor commitments. Marriage to his second wife, Tricia, has changed that.

“One thing for sure, I learned some good lessons,” Smith acknowledges. “That’s why you don’t see 29 academies around the country. Less is more. The focus you put into things is really important. I love doing what I do, but I’ve learned to control the environment better.

“I’ve found out that ‘no’ is OK. I’ve got a 10-year-old son (Hunter), a 4-year-old daughter (Gabrielle), a 2-year-old daughter (Kathryn) and a 1-year-old daughter (Caroline). And the last five years especially, I’ve had to say ‘no’ to so many things.”

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