Special feature - Andrew Smith's Eastern Adventure

Special feature - Andrew Smith's Eastern Adventure


International coach Andrew Smith discusses the journey that led him to his 25-year career in China and his current role running his own golf academy in Shenzhen, where he has coached more than 80,000 students over the past decade.

What has been your career path to date?

I first swung a club when I was just three years old, which was no surprise given that I come from a family with a strong golfing history. My father, Harry Smith, was a PGA Member for over 60 years, while my great uncle was Dick Burton, who won the Open Championship in 1939. Both of Dick’s brothers were also PGA Professionals, while my mother played county golf off a 2 handicap.
I played for Lancashire in my amateur days and then started my PGA training in 1991 at Maesdu Golf Club in North Wales, where I worked under Simon Boulden. Maesdu was where my father had worked 22 years earlier as the club pro and where the PGA training programme was established under Tom Jones.
I became fully qualified in 1995 and it was about then that I started looking for work overseas, as the winters in North Wales can be pretty bleak and I was looking for a warmer climate.

A couple of years later, in 1998, a friend mine, John Twistle, the pro at Clitheroe Golf Club, told me that he had an assistant who had gone to work at a golf club in China but had literally only stayed one night before coming home. I found this quite amusing, and also rather interesting, so out of sheer curiosity I contacted the club where he had gone to work – Sand River Golf Club in Shenzhen – to find out if they still required someone to teach there. Four days later, and after several faxes and a couple of phone calls, I sold my car, bought a plane ticket and flew out to start a new life in China.

I spent five years at Sand River, mainly coaching members and developing training programmes for some of China’s best young players, and after that I worked at a couple of other clubs in the region, including Xili Golf & Country Club and Shenzhen Golf Club.

In 2008 I wanted a new challenge, so I took on a new role as the general manager of a new golf course development in Anhui Province called Hidden Tiger, which was owned by a Shanghai property development company. I was responsible for opening the offices, recruiting and training staff, managing the budget, and working alongside Gary Player’s course design team to ensure the construction of the course was carried out to the standards required by the owners. Over 80% of the staff were locals who knew nothing about golf, and most had never seen a golf course before, so it was no easy task!

In 2012, I started my own coaching business, the Andrew Smith International Golf Academy in Shensen, working out of golf club that was called Genzon, but has recently changed its name to Hidden Grace. I have managed to build up quite a successful business over the last decade, having taught over 80,000 students and with a current client list of over 100 players of all ages and skill levels. I have worked closely with many of China's leading elite youth players and national team members, some of whom are now playing on the China, One Asia and Japanese Tours.

How easy was it to settle into the local community in those early days?

It very much depends on how open-minded you are and whether you’re willing to learn the language and dive into a new culture. If you can get through the first year or so, then there’s a good chance you’ll stay a while. Chinese people are very hospitable and make you feel very welcome, but you should always remember that you’re a guest in their country and be respectful. I have been very fortunate to make a good life for myself here and made many very good friends. Wherever you are in the world, it’s the people that make the place!

What does a typical working day involve?

My day usually involves about 4-5 hours of teaching. I have a client base of around 100 students, and I usually do two or three playing lessons per week. The rest of my time is spent either following up on new business opportunities, research ways to improve the current business, meetings with new clients, preparing and sending out lesson notes, and keeping in touch with students to see how they are progressing.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of your job?

Working in a country with a population of over 1.4 billion people has enabled me to meet a very wide spectrum of people, which makes life interesting, while the enthusiasm to learn golf is incredible.

I don’t think there are many countries in the world where people’s lives have changed so much and so quickly. China is such a vibrant environment and a also a hugely competitive place. As a PGA Professional, there are good opportunities out here providing you are prepared to embrace the culture and understand their way of doing things.

The language is, of course, a challenge, and it’s not easy to learn. Working in China back in the 1990s, very few foreigners were here, I might only see a couple a month, so I learned Chinese and now conduct most of my lessons in Chinese. There are parts of Shenzen where expats tend to live in communities, but if you choose to live in these areas you’re not going pick up the language as quickly, which makes it difficult to really enjoy life here.

The food is obviously also very different from anything most Europeans will have experienced, although it is much easier to buy western food out here now than it once was, so that’s not so much of a hurdle to overcome.
The last two or three years of living under Covid have been challenging, as it has been for most people, so I’m definitely ready for a holiday and to get back and see my family in the UK now that the restrictions on travelling have been eased.

How do you see your business developing in the years ahead?

I want to carry on growing my coaching business and open other academies around China. I would also like to play a greater role within the PGA, perhaps as a consultant or an adviser. I met with Sandy Jones and Rob Maxfield a few years ago when they first came to China when the PGA was looking to open academies here. I’d like to think that 25 years of experience, and having built up quite a good reputation within the industry, that I could help the PGA grow here, support its members and create more job opportunities for its members.

How would you rate the current strength of the golf industry in China?

It is still pretty strong, as although many golf courses have closed over the last 5-10 years, the demand is still there, so the cost of green fees and memberships at the remaining clubs has gone up. While good for clubs in the short term, this will be detrimental to the growth of the game in China in the long term, as it makes golf less affordable, which excludes a lot of people.

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be interested in working abroad and in China specifically?

My advice to anyone looking to work overseas would be to do what I did and just go for it! The rewards can be fantastic, and you can have a great life, but you need to have a positive attitude, be open to new things and, above all, not be afraid of a bit of work hard.


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