The face of Summerfest
Smiley leads the world’s greatest music festival
hen his father said, “The harder
you work, the luckier you get,” Don
Smiley, CEO of Summerfest, was listening.
Smiley’s career has taken him to such
heights that the Racine native has had the
opportunity to play golf with Arnold Palmer,
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd,
Fred Couples, the late Payne Stewart and
even a practice round with Tiger Woods.
He’s also played several celebrity pro-ams
where he has been paired with Michael
Jordan, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Lauer and the list goes on. “I
don’t talk about this very much, but when
I start thinking about the list of names, it’s
really a cool list,” Smiley said.
Smiley, a member of Blue Mound G&CC
in Wauwatosa with a handicap index of
11.2, recalled the first pro-am he ever
played in. “We drew Jack Nicklaus’ name
at TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla.,
the year he won his last Masters,” he said.
“That was completely nerve-wracking. I
was hoping for overcast and a little drizzle
so there wouldn’t be as many people.”
But it didn’t turn out that way. It was in
the 80s and sunny and there were people
everywhere. “The way the hole lines up,
the left side is all water so people have to
stand on the right-hand side. I said, ‘Oh
my God, I’m going to kill someone.’” With
Nicklaus standing behind him, “My hands
were sweating and my knees were shaking
because all eyes are on you. And it’s just
you and that little white ball.”
Instead of taking a chance with a driver,
Smiley opted for a 3-iron. “I hit it right
down the middle, let out a big exhale and
went on to par the hole,” he said. “I
could’ve taken out a bunch of people in
one swing!” Asked if he gets nervous
playing with celebrities and PGA players,
he laughed and said, “Not anymore.”
The career path for the University of
Wisconsin-Oshkosh grad is a unique one.
He started out as a reporter for WFRV TV
Channel 5 in Green Bay and a few years
later became a sales manager for a paper
company which would eventually transfer
him to south Florida.
This is where it gets interesting. While in
Florida, Smiley accepted a position as executive director of the PGA Tour’s Honda
Classic. As a 501(c)(3), the tournament is
governed by a volunteer board of directors. “I thought, well, I should go meet my
board members,” he said. “So I went
down the stationery from A-Z, and when I
got to H, I met Wayne Huizenga. We immediately hit it off and the rest is history.”
Don Smiley with his son, Donnie, at the World Father & Son Championship in Waterville, Ireland.
Donnie recently graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Business.
The day they met, Huizenga, CEO of
Huizenga Holdings, offered him a job. Although flattered, Smiley wasn’t interested
– at first. “I turned him down because I
had just gotten my dream job,” he said.
Never underestimate the power of persuasion. After talking with people who
knew Huizenga, Smiley changed his mind.
“They all called me crazy for turning him
down,” he said. A year later when
Huizenga asked if he had reconsidered,
Smiley told him he had, but “Wayne’s response was, ‘That’s too bad for you. Anyone who would take a year to make a
decision I’m not interested in hiring.’”
Smiley’s jaw dropped. He was speech-
less. “That was the first time I found out
that Wayne had this outstanding sense of
humor and he was just busting my chops,”
They began developing some service-related businesses and soon took over
Blockbuster Entertainment where Smiley
held various executive positions in franchising, real estate, merchandising, store
operations and marketing.
Already the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the NHL’s Florida Panthers,
Huizenga’s group purchased a Miami-based Major League Baseball franchise in
1991 – the Florida Marlins. Huizenga
named Smiley team president as well as