TARPON SPRINGS – With more than 300 golf clubs in the Tampa Bay area, including several that host major professional events, taking a great golf club and turning it into one of the best would be daunting.
That’s the task that Lew Smither, director of golf at Cypress Run Golf Club, took on. He left a long stint at Innisbrook as host of a PGA Tour event to take the position at Cypress Run. And it wasn’t easy – he’d coached more than 12,000 golfers during his time at Innisbrook.
Meanwhile, Cypress Run doesn’t get much attention. It is a private course in Tarpon Springs that doesn’t advertise tee times for nonmembers (but they can be had on the right day). Smither, whose father and brother are very involved in the golf industry, doesn’t mind the anonymity of Cypress Run. He keeps the course in immaculate shape, and isn’t against the possibility of hosting a major event some day.
After five years at Innisbrook, he not only learned how to run a professional course, he also learned how to make a golf course run smoothly before and after the 18 holes.
“You can have a great course,” Smither said. “But it’s nothing if you don’t have the right kind of service. It’s all about doing everything the right way.”
Smither, like most professionals, loves the game but can’t play as much as he’d like because there is so much to do as a director of golf at an elite club. But Smither is more than a student of the game – he spent time at Palm Valley in southern New Jersey, usually voted the top-ranked course in America by several golf magazines, studying their customer service. And it has paid off.
“Everybody who comes to Cypress Run is treated like a member,” Smither said. “That’s how they do it at Pine Valley. No one is treated differently than anyone else. If anyone has a need, we are on it right away. The members and the guests come first and we treat everyone the same.”
Smither started playing around the age of 4. His father was a teaching professional and it rubbed off. His family moved from Kentucky to Sarasota, where Smither started an amateur career. He went after a shot at PGA Qualifying School, and once missed the cut by two shots.
But that didn’t keep him away from chasing a career in golf. In 1976, Smither became assistant pro at Sara Bay in Sarasota. He landed his first head professional position at Bent Tree Country Club in Sarasota, one of the most prominent clubs in the Tampa Bay area. From there he moved to Innisbrook, then to Cypress Run.
Smither, who runs most aspects now at Cypress Run, wouldn’t mind getting back to competitive golf.
“I’d like to start playing again on a regular basics,” Smither said. “It’s my competitive nature. I know I can still play this game.”
Smither gives about six lessons a week, and he’s been successful as a teacher. He isn’t into packing as many students into a day as possible.
“I prefer quality to quantity,” Smither said. “I love to instruct. When their eyes light up after they finally have it, that’s the most rewarding thing.’’