PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida - Being Cameron Smith, the highest-ranked player in the world to join LIV Golf, has been something of a wild ride over the last year between winning the Players Championship in his backyard in March, the British Open at St. Andrews in July and being wooed for big bucks by LIV CEO Greg Norman in late August.
When you make your residence just a few short miles from the global home of the PGA Tour, the tour where you earned more than $27 million in your 20s and then abandoned for richer pastures, there are going to be awkward moments at the grocery store checkout line, the gas pump, and even the first tee. And people are going to talk. Oh, how they've talked. This is all part of Cameron Smith's world - for better or worse - since he confirmed the worst-kept secret in golf that he was bolting for LIV Golf.
While that rumor proved to be all-too-true, a close friend of Smith's, who asked for anonymity in this story, says that the latest slew of rumors flying around the First Coast - that Smith is planning to move because he's been blackballed by local clubs and can't find anywhere to play, that he has been escorted off of one private club and is attempting to buy another with his LIV Golf riches - are all "hogwash."
Smith, who is practicing in the Middle East ahead of the Saudi International in Saudi Arabia, could not be reached, but his agent, Bud Martin, gave a "no comment" on his behalf.
Ever since Smith joined LIV Golf in late August for more than a reported $100 million in signing money, he has been persona non grata at TPC Sawgrass, where he previously practiced when at home, a privilege extended to him as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour. As first reported by Golfweek, his parking spot as the defending champion of the Players was removed shortly after he jumped ship to LIV after the FedEx Cup.
There's been speculation for several months that the PGA Tour has put pressure on local clubs and said if they granted Smith a membership, the Tour wouldn't do business with them in the future.
Cameron Smith poses with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman while holding the trophy after finishing at 13 under to win the Invitational Chicago LIV Golf tournament at Rich Harvest Farms. (Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)
It is true that Smith's team sent "feelers" on his behalf, asking if he can practice at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Atlantic Beach Country Club and Sawgrass Country Club as well as about joining them, but those clubs have waiting lists and Smith's representatives were essentially told that he would be placed at the back of the line and that he wouldn't receive any preferential treatment due to his celebrity. At Sawgrass CC, that is in line with how other football players and coaches have been treated. There's no evidence that the Tour intervened and impacted those decisions. (Editor's note: the author is a member at Sawgrass Country Club.)
As for the rumor that Smith was escorted off the grounds at nearby Pablo Creek, where former PGA Tour Commissioners Deane Beman and Tim Finchem as well as other prominent Tour executives are members, while playing with a guest? Smith's friend said, "he never went near the gate." Fellow Tour pro Matt Every was going to host Smith at Pablo in December, but it was in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and the course technically was closed for maintenance.
When he's in town, Smith has played golf recently at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, which also welcomes resort guests, and The Yards, a nine-hole daily-fee layout with a popular six-hole short course.
Smith, it should be noted, is a noted fisherman and prefers to unwind on his boat in pursuit of redfish and wahoo.
"He's had no problems playing golf," Smith's friend said. "He's not big on playing golf when he's off. If he's home three weeks, he might play twice, if he's home two weeks, only once and if home a week, no way he plays golf until he shows up at the tournament."
The latest rumor making the rounds - that Smith is going to buy Glen Kernan Golf & Country Club in Jacksonville.
"Everyone keeps saying that," Smith's friend said.
The private club has long been owned by the Hodges family. Smith has never been to the course, his friend said, and he isn't interested in getting into that business.
Smith moved to Jacksonville more than seven years ago, and his 5,000-square-foot waterfront home along the Atlantic's Intracoastal Waterway, just 10 minutes down the road from TPC Sawgrass, serves as a sanctuary when the Australian native isn't off collecting trophies.
As for putting his place on the market and moving elsewhere, Smith just bought an undisclosed property in St. Augustine and is eyeing another property in the area.
"He might buy some land and build his own practice facility," Smith's friend said.
It doesn't sound like the 2022 Players and British Open champ is going anywhere.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek
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