CAROLINE and Rebecca Smith were hitting golf balls on a driving range on Hilton Head Island, S.C., over spring break when they were approached with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Charlie Hall, who organizes the Hilton Head contingent in a friendly summertime competition against high school-aged golfers from Dornoch, Scotland, called the Morcott Challenge, saw the Smith sisters hitting balls, and their brother, Drew, hitting shots out of the sand.
Later that day, their father, Jeff, received a call from former PGA and Champions Tour golfer Jim Ferree, who created the tournament, along with Scottish golfer Woody Morcott, in 2004.
Ferree asked the Smith children to be a part of the team that would travel to Scotland and asked Jeff to be a playing captain.
“When I found out, right away, I was extremely excited,” said Drew, a seventh-grader at Northside Middle School. “I had heard about it before, and I did some research on it. We’re going to be playing a great course and doing some cool things, so I’m excited. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Caroline is a senior at Columbus East and is headed to Loyola (Ill.) to play golf in the fall. Rebecca is a sophomore at East.
They were shocked at the offer to play in the Morcott Challenge.
“It was pretty random,” Caroline said. “Usually down there (in Hilton Head), you’ll see (college) coaches following you around, and you tell them you’re already committed, and they go away. But this is a lot different type of recruiting. I wasn’t expecting to get recruited for a tournament. Usually when you see people watching on the range, it’s because they want you to play at their college, not play in their tournament.”
“I was just out having a fun round of golf with my mom and my grandparents, and then somebody comes up and talks to my dad about playing in a tournament in Scotland, so it was totally out of the blue and unexpected,” Rebecca said. “But it was also nice.”
Their mother Kathy’s parents have had a condo in Hilton Head for about 30 years, so the Smiths have vacationed there regularly.
“We’re very well connected to the Hilton Head area because of that,” said Jeff, a teaching pro at Otter Creek.
“We’re representing Hilton Head, which is kind of where we grew up,” Caroline said. “We’ve always gone down there for vacations.”
This year’s Morcott Challenge will be July 1-5 at Royal Dornoch and the Carnegie Course at Skibo Castle. The teams alternate playing in Scotland and at Hilton Head every other year.
“It’s kind of a cool tournament,” Jeff said. “It’s a big deal over there, and it’s a big deal in Hilton Head, and since we don’t live in either of those two places, we don’t hear about it. It’s like a mini-Ryder Cup for them.
“I think as we went through this, Caroline was not yet realizing that it was going to be such a big deal for them,” he said. “One of the first things out of Rebecca’s mouth was ‘I’m going to practice every day.’ So that was kind of neat.”
Kathy, a former Indiana University golfer, has played at Carnoustie and St. Andrews, but the kids will be making their first trip to Europe. The Smiths plan to sightsee June 27-29 and play the Old Course at St. Andrews, Muirfield and Carnoustie before heading to Royal Dornoch.
“I’m excited,” Caroline said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland.”
“It will be nice to go sightseeing and play all the different courses that we have the wonderful opportunity to play,” Rebecca said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
The American golfers will stay with host families from Scotland on their trip.
“You get to play with your competitor the day before in a practice round, and they’ll caddy for you, kind of host you,” Caroline said. “It’s more of a fun tournament.”
“A benefit of being with the host family is, you get to learn the culture of Scotland, too,” Rebecca said. “They’ll feed you all these Scottish meals, and they’ll teach you Scottish ways.”
One drawback for Caroline, Rebecca and Drew is that they won’t be able to play in the AJGA Jeff Overton Championship, which will be June 30 to July 3 at Otter Creek.
“I won’t get to play in that, which is disappointing, but since it’s my home course and since it’s Scotland, I think I’ll be all right,” Caroline said.
“I was looking forward to trying out, but now that this opportunity has come up, I think it’s an OK switch-out,” Rebecca said. “It will be a cool experience.”