For the first time in Antelope County Club’s 78-year history, a golf professional will drive the direction of the course.
Andrew Smeal, an Orange County, Calif., native, began duties as the club’s golf pro this month, according to ACC Board Member Tonya Strom.
“We have not had a pro in the past,” Strom said. “It’s something the board has talked about, but we didn’t know who we would get, so when he contacted us, it worked out perfectly.”
Lisa Newton-Hanson, who has served as clubhouse manager for several seasons, “was ready to step away from the position,” according to Strom.
Smeal knows his way around a golf course.
He participted in the sport during high school and competed in Junior PGA events.
Eventually, he started competing on mini tours, including the Pepsi Tour and Gateway Tour, primarily in events in the California, Nevada and Arizona region.
He balanced a full-time job and golf practice for a number of years, chasing tour qualifiers.
“It (golf) gets expensive. You play every day. You practice every day for six to eight hours. I had a real job at the same time so it was hard to practice.”
Eventually, he took the plunge, leaving a sales job behind for the lure of the tour.
“I’m much happier,” Smeal said. The quality of life is better. I’m around people that love the game just as much as I do.”
Smeal’s family is originally from the Stanton area.
A decade ago, his dad retired in Beemer and his brother moved back to the area a few years later.
“When I started on the Professional Golfers Association tour, I was looking for a golf course to work at.”
Smeal made the move to the Cornhusker state soon after landing a gig as the assistant pro at Indian Trails Country Club near Beemer.
“In the off season, I worked at Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort in Palm Springs.”
For the past two years, Smeal worked as the golf pro at Cross Creek Golf Links, in Cambridge, Neb.
His fiance, Monica Wiehn, serves as athletic director at Elkhorn Valley Schools in Tilden.
“We were going back and forth who needs to go where,” Smeal said.
He landed in Tilden and contacted ACC’s board of directors, inquiring about offering professional services.
What will having a pro on staff offer the club and its membership?
Smeal said, “Good structure for the club.”
His duties will include promoting golf, offering lessons, junior camps and clinics and making the club more golf-oriented.
“I’ll still run the clubhouse restaurant every day,” Smeal said.
Smeal said course facilities are adequate, especially the open area next to the course.
“The outside hangout spot is nice,” he said, adding he would like to see a few tweaks.
“I’m looking forward to going in there and sprucing it up a little, but we have plenty of room to do what we need to do.”
Course hours will be adjusted.
Even in the off season, if snow isn’t blanketing the ground and when temps reach more than 50 degrees, he will be at the course.
This month, he’s been settling in, setting up displays.
“I’m staffed by Callaway and am getting items in the clubhouse.”
One of Smeal’s biggest pushes will be to grow membership.
“My goal is to hit 200 members,” he said.
Strom said the annual membership campaign will kick off in January.
“We’re extending months of operation from March through October,” she said.
In the past, the course has been open April through September.
Strom said the board of directors would like to see new events implemented.
“We’ve always had a strong restaurant and clubhouse, but haven’t had someone with a strong golf background to run that piece of it. This is going to be a good opportunity with that,” she said.
A driving range is one addition that will help Smeal promote golf.
“It gets people out here. Like at lunch. Want to shoot a bucket of balls? Come on out.”