The Warren Smith Award is given to a PGA professional for special contributions to the game of golf, the Colorado Section, junior golf and to the facility and their community. This year’s recipient is someone who knew Warren Smith personally and is humbled to receive the award named in his honor. Congratulations to Joe Assell, PGA, President and CEO of GOLFTEC.
Assell grew up in Oswego, Illinois, and lived across the street from a public golf course. He played at this course daily and when he was 12 years old, he began to work for a man who became very important to him, Leon McNair, PGA, Head Professional at Fox Bend Golf Course. McNair put him to work vacuuming, dusting and straightening shelves, etc. By the time he could drive, he was working outside services, and as a 17-year-old, he worked behind the counter. Assell loved working with the professionals in the golf shop and being a part of the team.
After high school, Assell participated in the PGM Program at Mississippi State. Like others, he did three internships as part of the program. The first was at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora, Illinois. The second was at the Golf Club of Tennessee, near Nashville; and the third internship was at Cherry Hills Country Club in 1993. That internship is what brought him to Colorado, where he met Clayton Cole, PGA, Head Golf Professional at Cherry Hills. Warren Smith had recently retired in 1990 but was a member at the Country Club.
Assell returned to school and graduated in December of 1994. In choosing his next steps, he spoke with Cole back in Colorado. At that time, Cole’s idea was to move the teaching computer they had at the Country Club into a location for the public to be able to access. The timing was perfect, and the job opportunity for Assell to be the business manager and the teaching professional of what became GOLFTEC occurred in April of 1995. Twenty-five years later, GOLFTEC has 215 locations in six countries with 900 employees.
What does it mean to you to receive the Warren Smith Award?
To receive an award named after Warren Smith is really special to me and a meaningful life honor. I knew Warren Smith as “The PRO” and he was a member at Cherry Hills. I did my internship there and am now a member there. In 1978, when Andy North won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, my dad watched the Championship with his dad, my grandpa. The next day, my grandpa went in for open heart surgery and didn’t make it.
The last thing my dad did with his dad was watch the final round of the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. With Warren Smith being at Cherry Hills for 27 years, the man of influence he was there, and his lifelong accomplishments in the PGA, this is an emotionally special award to me as I knew him well.
What are the qualities you possess that you believe supported your receiving the Warren Smith Award?
Being a leader in golf, not just leading my team, but by leading my team to build the business we’ve built, we have become leaders in golf and elevated the standard for golf instruction across the country. We have elevated the quality of life for PGA professionals with weekends off and benefits. I feel we have become leaders in the industry for golf instruction and employment.
What are two tools you use in your profession that help you with your success?
I try to operate with high levels of integrity and clear communication. Communicating honestly and candidly with one another is key. From employee relations to business deals and partnerships, communicate plainly as a leader.
Secondly, I think outside the box, not taking the way we’ve always done it as the way we are going to do it. I like to think, “Is there a better way to do things?”
As it relates to golf, what is the best piece of advice that you have received and what advice would you give to others?
Set your vision for what you want to do and then work your tail off to achieve it. A lot can be accomplished in golf with perseverance and extreme hard work. People who start doubting themselves, stop trying.
One thing we do at GOLFTEC is “extreme focus” on the customer. We make sure we are always putting the customer first to enhance their experience.
What is your proudest moment as a golf professional?
My proudest moment would be last year when GOLFTEC gave our TEN-MILLIONTH golf lesson.
Share something about yourself that others may not know.
I am an avid mountain biker and skier.