When Kate Smith sits down to do business as a graphic designer, clients don’t always realize she’s also spending half her year traveling the country to play professional golf. Likewise, pro-am partners sometimes don’t see past Smith’s game to her entrepreneurial side.
Smith, at 23, embraces her alter egos.
“I feel like Clark Kent all the time,” she said. “It’s fun to be in the background doing some of these things.”
Smith played 21 events as a rookie on the Epson Tour in 2022, making 10 cuts, and initially expected to put the graphic design degree she earned from the University of Nebraska to use in a “really small, boutique freelancing” kind of way. Instead, Ground Under Repair Design came to life after Smith exchanged a few messages with Shane Bacon, a golf broadcaster, podcaster and children’s book author well-known for his aesthetic eagle eye. The two became business partners.
“I think we started thinking it would be golf course logo design,” Bacon said, “and we’ve been very happy and surprised about how many different logo opportunities there are out there in this space especially.”
Logos for golf “buddy trips” have been popular requests given that Smith and Bacon’s concepts seem especially appealing to a slightly younger, 30- to 40-year-old audience.
“Her brain sees it more modern and sees it differently,” Bacon said of Smith’s clean, personality-laden design style. “I think that’s why we’ve been so successful. What we’re sending the clients is something they’re not really seeing anywhere else.”
Smith’s peers even became clients. Pilar Echeverria was a fellow Epson Tour rookie in 2022 and met Smith at the season-opener in Winter Haven, Florida. She asked Smith to make her a logo and within days, Smith had married Echeverria’s fun personality and college nickname, Pi, by designing a slice of pie with a flagstick stuck in the middle.
Smith and Echeverria became friends, sometimes blowing off steam from the pressure of professional golf by taking hikes or going to coffee shops and museums on the road. Echeverria also has observed Smith juggle her two passions, which sometimes means she has to end a day of practice early to put in work or talk with a client.
“All we want to do is play golf, but she also has this other business she’s running,” Echeverria said. “I think sometimes they complement each other — she’ll take a lot of pictures on the course that might give her ideas for something she’s working on. I think it’s very impressive and amazing how she manages to do both so well.”
Many of Smith’s designs come to life in the margins of her yardage books. A lot of times, her best ideas hit her mid-round (especially because competitive golf rarely moves quickly). She’ll then take that work to her computer, playing with fonts and colors to reach a final concept.
It’s a golf-adjacent endeavor — not swing-related but work occupying the same space, as Bacon puts it.
Smith admits that design keeps her mind busy in a positive way.
“Any given Monday I could potentially put in a 10-hour workday on graphic design because I probably shouldn’t pick up a club that day,” Smith said. “It’s been a good way to get myself to put my clubs away for a day.”
Even as she navigated entrepreneurship, Smith took no on-course shortcuts in her Epson debut. Playing the full season was important to her. Sometimes friends caddied and sometimes no one did (like for a six-week mid-season stretch when she made every cut). Sometimes she drove herself to tournaments and sometimes her dad pitched in behind the wheel. Her mom pushed her clubs for a week in the rolling hills of Central Florida.
She met Bacon face to face for the first time on the road in July. She met his wife and two kids, too. Bacon is glued to the leaderboard on days Smith competes, checking in as if she were his little sister.
“I’m hoping to really challenge myself this year to make visuals that I could have related to five years ago when I was in college or high school, a female playing golf.” – Kate Smith
“I feel lucky that I got to Kate first,” he said of their business partnership.
As GUR has grown, Bacon’s wife and Smith’s boyfriend have both contributed to the business, making it more of a collective. Extra hands and minds have made possible GUR’s design-based banter in the greater golf conversation on social media. (Graphics for the majors, golfing ghosts at Halloween and even a shirtless illustration of Joel Dahmen after the 2022 WM Phoenix Open are a few examples.)
As Smith returns to the Epson Tour for year two, she wants to tap her unique perspective as a female golfer a little more frequently in her design work.
“I’m trying myself to be a little bit better about highlighting the women’s side because it’s so easy to hop in on the men’s professional world, especially with how much drama they’ve had the last year or two,” Smith said. “I’m hoping to really challenge myself this year to make visuals that I could have related to five years ago when I was in college or high school, a female playing golf.”
Smith competes with the backing of sponsors, but GUR brings the added benefit of a revenue stream in a career where compiling any sort of early savings is rare. Finances aside, Smith has found that design helps round out this new, sometimes unbelievable adventure.
“It’s just nice to have people see value in what you do,” she said. “Golf is so up and down, it’s so heartbreaking playing poorly or playing badly. It’s just a number, whereas it’s just nice to have value in something else.”
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