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Good Will Golfing Tees Off With Message Of Health, Thrift & Adventure

Man’s maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Ron Smith is not the sort of person you expect to find in costume, using an assumed name, trying to strike up conversations with strangers.

The 57-year-old, retired English and Ethics teacher from Bell Buckle describes himself as reclusive by nature. He uses words such as “inveterate” and “levity” in casual conversation and frequently quotes the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Smith may be mild-mannered and bookish, but make no mistake — he is a man on a mission. When he dons his dark sunglasses, moisture-wicking attire and bag of Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear golf clubs, he transforms into — (cue superhero theme music) — Good Will Golfing.

The costume worn by Smith’s alter ego consists largely of the same types of gear other golfers use. The difference is, Good Will Golfing leaves the price tags on — Minnie Pearl style. And Good Will Golfing buys all his clothes and equipment from Goodwill, from his hat to his shoes.

Unlike Smith, Good Will Golfing is not at all shy about approaching people for a chat. Because there are a few things Good Will Golfing needs to say.

Good Will Golfing wants you to go outside and get some exercise.

“The hardest thing for me is driving around and not seeing kids play outside like they used to. I’d like to see more people of all persuasions outside, playing recreational sports — especially children and retirees like me. If a retired English teacher who’s carrying an extra 20 or 30 pounds can get out there … I would love it if that served as a positive example for people to do the same.”

In 2015, after Smith retired from the Webb School where he taught for 30 years, he immediately began two book-writing projects. But his triglycerides were “through the roof,” and his doctor increased his blood pressure medication. He knew he needed to get out of the house if he was going to keep his body active as well as his mind.

For decades, Smith bought exclusively books at Goodwill — so many books that he needed new shelving at his home. After retiring, he began to notice Goodwill’s other merchandise, such as a large number of golf clubs for sale. He had played some golf as a younger man, having grown up across from a golf course in Memphis, and he decided he would try to renew his game.

Smith bought a set of clubs and a pull cart from Goodwill and began hitting the links on two public golf courses in his area. He began to fall in love with the sport as well as the fresh air and exercise.

Good Will Golfing wants you to save money.

“Many people think golf is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I talked to a guy who was bragging about spending $1,200 on a driver. I could spend $1,200 in so many better ways. My Goodwill philosophy is, I can get some pretty good clubs for a whole lot less and still try to hit with big guys. What really matters is just getting out there and playing. That’s what I enjoy. I also get some satisfaction out of doing it on the cheap, I guess.”

At Goodwill, gently used golf clubs — drivers or putters, irons or woods — are just $2.99 apiece. Golf shoes are often $7.99 a pair. Men’s shirts — including performance-fabric golf shirts — are $4.99. Men’s pants are $5.99, and golf gloves are $1.99.

For years, Smith took advantage of Goodwill’s daily discount of 10 percent for teachers. Now, he said he tries to shop on special sale days, like storewide First Saturday 50 Percent Off sales. And he said he looks forward to a few years from now when he will receive Goodwill’s 20 percent discount for seniors 60 and over on Wednesdays.

With the zeal of a man who can never totally give up teaching, Smith began telling everyone who would listen how much fun he was having getting out on the course and how inexpensively he was purchasing his sports equipment and clothes.

While talking about his newfound passion with several Webb School alumni at a reunion party, they began teasing him about becoming a cliche — the retiree puttering around the golf course. He responded with a joke about being “Good Will Golfing,” (an allusion to the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting,” about a misguided young genius who chooses to work as a university janitor and the professor who helps him achieve his potential).

To his surprise, his friends loved the concept and encouraged him to take it further. They suggested he contact Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee about it and even purchase an Internet domain in case he ever wanted to create a website. He began to take the idea seriously, and Good Will Golfing was born.

Good Will Golfing wants you to try something new.

“Take some chances. Try to do some things you otherwise thought you could not do. I could have easily talked myself into thinking that golf was a country club sport. But now I’m golfing just as much as anyone and having a good time. I don’t feel like I’m retiring, I feel like I’m expanding into other areas of interest. It really has to do with making the best of what you have. Goodwill is a fantastic way to sample any number of activities. You could be ‘Good Will Running’ or ‘Good Will Biking’ or even ‘Good Will Stargazing’ — I’ve seen telescopes at Goodwill that were very cheap.”

Smith said his philosophy of “making the best of a situation” is part of why he is attracted by Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment. He sees a parallel between the way Goodwill helps many people overcome employment barriers — be it a disability or a history of incarceration or a skills gap, and the way the inexpensive merchandise in Goodwill’s stores provides opportunities for people to overcome barriers to getting outside and expanding their horizons.

Both the mission and the merchandise can help free people from “stasis” — or inactivity — and get them moving, doing and making the most out of life, he said.

But Smith doesn’t just talk about helping others. An employee at the Veterans Administration golf course in Murfreesboro recently told him about a boy from an area elementary school who plays golf there regularly. The boy’s clubs were in terrible shape. Smith purchased a nice set of clubs and some balls and tees from Goodwill and left them at the clubhouse for the boy. It was a gift from Good Will Golfing.

Why listen to Good Will Golfing?

Smith’s former student and longtime friend James Anderson sees nothing but blue skies and fairway for Good Will Golfing.

“I’m sure his message will resonate with people, starting with picking up quality gear at incredibly low prices from Goodwill,” he said. “And I think folks are very familiar with Goodwill’s focus on education and training for folks that that might not otherwise have that opportunity.”

Anderson adds that Smith has what it takes to drive his mission from the rough to the green.

“Ron’s extremely passionate about situations that mean a lot to him, and he tends to see projects through” he explained. “When he has something to say, it’s generally something you should pay attention to and take to heart.”

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