The Warren Smith Award is presented to a PGA Professional for special contributions to the game of golf, the Colorado Section, junior golf, and their facility. The 2021 Warren Smith Award recipient is Life Member, Rick Cole, PGA.
Cole was born in Denver, and at age one, his family moved to Nebraska for nine years. When he was 10, they returned to Colorado and lived in Littleton next to a 9-hole par-3 golf course. At age 11, he began working at that very course, Southglenn Country Club. When he was 17, he became the Club’s Superintendent. His mentor, at the time, was Lou Haines, superintendent of Denver Country Club.
Upon receiving a golf scholarship, Cole attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He continued to work at Southglenn CC during the summer months and after graduation (1976), he married and accepted an assistant professional position at Balboa Park Golf Course in San Diego.
Two Christmases later, Cole and his wife, Jan, traveled to Colorado to visit family and decided to look for jobs, to relocate to Cole’s home state. Jan found work immediately and after Rick found a position at Columbine Country Club, they moved and have been in Colorado ever since. In between his jobs, until he began with Eaton Country Club (1985), Cole went to seven Qualifying schools. Realizing he didn’t have the ability to play with the best in the world, but having a love of the game, he decided to become a PGA Professional.
At Eaton CC, Cole was known as a “Golfing Machine” instructor, giving over 9,000 lessons! A great number of his students have gone on to become outstanding instructors in the PGA, some attaining “Top 50” status. He also established a tradition of taking organized golf trips with members and other golfers in the community. Through the years, he traveled with over 1,000 golfers and believes this added to the camaraderie and closeness of the community.
Cole recently retired in November of 2020 after 35 years at Eaton CC. He is currently enjoying retirement with his wife of 45 years and is still giving lessons part-time.
What does it mean to you to receive the Warren Smith Award?
It is very, very honoring – one that I will always cherish, for sure!
I was very fortunate to know Mr. Smith. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I worked at Columbine Country Club as an assistant golf professional for my mentor and employer, Tony Novitsky, PGA. Tony and Mr. Smith [PGA Head Professional at Cherry Hills Country Club] were the best of friends. Many times, they would get together and play each other’s golf courses and the assistants were invited to play. Knowing Mr. Smith personally, means even more. It is very seldom you are able to win an award that is named after someone you knew personally. He left such a legacy for all of us. Receiving the award confirms that all the sacrifice, long hours and continuing education has paid off in making an impact on those around me.
What are the qualities you possess that you believe supported you receiving the Warren Smith Award?
One quality, I think, is caring for people. Compassion and a desire to get to know all my acquaintances, particularly the people I spend time with on the job, getting to know and caring about them is very important to me. Another quality is the commitment and loyalty that I have to friends and to the PGA of America.
What are two tools you use in your profession that help you with your success?
- The ability to listen is something that I have learned and am still learning. It’s a process. Most men aren’t good at listening, let’s face it. It’s an important tool, particularly now that I am teaching more and spending more time with family.
- The ability to hire quality individuals that helped formulate success in the golf club environment. Surrounding myself with successful people, successful friends, and quality individuals was part of the equation for me.
As it relates to golf, what is the best piece of advice you have received and what advice would you give to others?
One of the best pieces of advice I received in the early ‘90s from a board member at Eaton CC was the fact that golf is a recreation. People come out to the golf course to enjoy their experience. There can be a tendency of anyone who oversees a golf course to take things a little bit too seriously. If you realize that people are out there to have a good time, it is a lot easier to lead those people to enjoy the experience. Whether it’s a family, an individual, or a junior golf program, they are all out there to have a good time.
The piece of advice I would give to someone else is that it’s always easy to give an answer and anyone can give an answer, but it’s sometimes more difficult to give the right answer. If you don’t know, research it and be conscientious to follow up.
What is your proudest moment as a golf professional?
I have been fortunate to experience a lot of successful situations, but I think that this award is at the top of the list! I have been the Colorado PGA Senior Player of the Year (2017), played in the U.S. Senior Open (2006), received the Bill Strausbaugh Award (2019), and been inducted into the hall of fame at my university, but this one tops them all!
Share something about yourself that others may not know:
I gave my wife’s engagement ring to her on the 18th green at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. It was her birthday, and I hadn’t shown up for our dinner date. She learned that I was complaining of chest problems earlier in the day. It was late at night and my roommate brought her out to the course where I routinely practice. I was laying on the 18th green, playing the part. After they “revived me”, she went to stick the flagstick in the hole and I said, “wait a minute, I think there are some golf balls in there.” She reached down and discovered the ring box.