Story by Ian Guerin
LITTLE RIVER, S.C. | Samantha Smith’s says she’s phased out some of her playing goals. In lieu of her rise up the managerial ranks in a relatively short time span, sacrificing her golf game for the other side of the spectrum was inevitable. And yet, the newly minted Head Golf Professional at River Hills Golf & Country Club hasn’t stopped showing off her skills with a club in her hands. A week after her latest promotion, Smith went out on the course with a co-worker, the new title showing that it hadn’t taken the luster off her abilities.
“My game is still pretty good,” Smith said. “Could it be better? Absolutely.” For the record, Smith shot a 74 that day. From the men’s tees. After hitting the links this summer only sparingly. It was further indication of the competitive spirit that those who have watched her blossom in the last four years have seen. In that time, Smith - still recognized as Samantha Swinehart from her stellar playing days at the University of South Carolina pre-marriage - has gone from a course intern to First Assistant Head Golf Professional to Head Golf Professional and General Manager. The fact that she did all that before the age of 27 isn’t a surprise.
She’s always been a quick study. As a sophomore at Lancaster (Ohio) High School outside Columbus, she earned the first of three All-State honors. In her first season at South Carolina, she was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team after leading the squad in top-20 finishes. (As a senior, she led the Gamecocks in scoring average and at the time of her graduation, left school with two of the top-10 season averages in school history.) And three months after that, following a shot at LPGA Qualifying School and some mini-tour events in Florida, she started the professional climb at River Hills. Smith spent nearly two years there cutting her teeth before doing shorter stints at Grande Dunes Resort Course and TPC of Myrtle Beach.
By the time she returned to River Hills in May of 2017, she had nearly a year of PGA Certification under her belt. When the course needed a new boss, the application and interview processes continued to divulge her strengths. “Right when Sam started working at both Grande Dunes and TPC, it was evident that she had all of the qualities you would want in a golf professional,” said Founders Group International Director of Golf Operations Matt Daly. “She was always very courteous and professional to all of our members and guests. She would stay engaged with every golfer to make sure that we were exceeding their expectations. She was also great at networking within the industry. When we were going through the hiring process for River Hills, it was amazing to see how many people reached out to us to endorse Sam for this position. That just speaks to how well she is respected in the industry.”
At the time of Smith’s promotion - which happened in August of 2018 - she was also one of just two women (along with Tradition Golf Club’s Christa Bodensteiner, also the South End Regional Manager) working as a Head Golf Professional at a Grand Strand course. “It’s kind of cool to be a part of that small group,” she said. “But I think going forward, it’s something you’ll see more of. It is exciting. There are two of us. Hopefully there will be more down the road.” As Smith has proven, it can certainly happen quickly.
For her, the avenue to her current position developed despite deciding to take that path not all that long ago. She initially set her mind to a post-college playing career, not one in management. Only after seeing the potential for the latter progressing so fast did the change happen. “I found out I liked the business,” Smith said. “I decided I could be a professional and run a facility.” Now she is.