Lake Norman Magazine

A great sport for life

Golf instructor Blair Smith runs a junior golf academy for competitive golfers in the Lake Norman area.
Golf instructor Blair Smith runs a junior golf academy for competitive golfers in the Lake Norman area. Davie Hinshaw

Blair Smith is hoping to help young golfers in the Lake Norman area advance to the next level in their game – and their lives.

Smith, who has taught junior golf lessons for the last three years at Birkdale Golf Club in Huntersville, kicked off the Blair Smith Junior Golf Academy at Birkdale over the summer. It’s designed for youth who have played competitive golf for at least a year through their school teams or area tournaments.

The first three students enrolled were part of a group of about 30 youth he instructs at Birkdale Golf Club golf clinics and camps. The academy is a year-long program providing advanced coaching and competitive training and is the only one of its kind currently available in the Lake Norman area. Smith anticipates 10 students, who he selects based on abilities and readiness to continue to advance competitively, in the academy by year’s end.

Smith’s work at Birkdale Golf Club during the last three years has introduced youth into the golf program there and made it a more family-oriented course – parents and children can learn and golf together. The students in the academy have played competitively on their own – not with parents’ help – on middle or high school competitive teams or regional tournaments at their age level.

Smith, a 12-year veteran instructor, believes that golf teaches many things that are applied in life situations and not just on the course. “Golf doesn’t build character, it reveals it,” he says. “Golf teaches humility, respect and perseverance – things that you can use in golf and every walk of life. It teaches values and it’s a great sport for life.”

And that’s what the parents who have signed their children up are looking for. “One of the things we liked most about his academy is that our kids not only received quality instruction, but he also showed them how to put it all together on the course and manage their game better,” says Ashley Crook, whose fifth-grade and seventh-grade sons have worked with Smith. The academy gave them “a better understanding of how to practice and prepare for tournaments, including the mental aspect of tournament play and course management skills.”

One of Smith’s academy students, Morgan Zemaitis, 15, hopes to play golf when she gets to college. “My goal is to consistently get better and better – with each drive, each chip and each putt,” she says. “Blair and I have been working together to help me become the best player I can be. Many golf scholarships for women go unused each year. That’s a great opportunity for any girl who wants to go to college. Plus, golf is a mental game – if you think you can do it, you can.”

‘Learning new techniques’

Smith grew up in Florence, Ala., and went to the University of North Alabama in Florence on a basketball scholarship. When basketball season ended, Smith played golf. He toured with “mini tours” during his early career and has been a golf pro at clubs. Three and a half years ago, he moved to Charlotte to work with the Edwin Watts golf retail store. Being at Birkdale Golf Club has let him do something he loves most – coaching and mentoring. Video equipment allows the golf instruction to be captured for each student, Smith says. He takes video of the first training, midway through and at the end to allow instructor and student to view the progression of ability and skill together. This method is a helpful addition because kids are visual learners, he says. Smith will also travel to tournaments with some students.

Morgan’s parents, John and Kathleen Zemaitis, praise Smith’s “easy manner” and clear and concise instruction. “Blair has an obvious passion for youth, and wants to work with young golfers to achieve their goals,” John Zemaitis says.

Becoming better at all aspects of the game is something Smith tries to instill in every student, whether it’s at a golf camp, a clinic or at the new academy.

“I love learning new techniques to improve my stroke that I have never known before,” says Morgan Zemaitis. “I can see that Blair is helping me improve my accuracy and distance, and it’s paying off in my scorecard.”

More Information

Blair Smith Junior Golf Academy at Birkdale Golf Club (open to club members and non-members), 704-895-8038.