“I was lucky to have some really good professors that encouraged me even when I didn’t know what I wanted to do within graphic design,” said Kate Smith. “I didn’t really know where I fit in that industry either, so it’s been kind of nice to carve my own little path for it.”
Smith, a 2021 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Graphic Design, was also a member of the UNL Women’s Golf team for her entire collegiate career. She now plays professionally on the Epson Tour, the tour right below the LPGA (or Ladies Professional Golf Association). Combining her passion for graphic design and golf, Smith built her own design business called Ground Under Repair.
A native of Minnesota, Smith grew up surrounded by golf. Her father works in the golf industry, and her brother also played golf at the collegiate level. It was only natural that Smith herself would eventually also take up a golf club. She set her sights on playing for a Big 10 college, and soon enough, she was Nebraska-bound.
“My coach, who recruited me, gave me a generous scholarship to compete at the university, and I got to compete there for five years. It was an incredible experience,” Smith said. “I think what I got to experience on the academic side was probably more surprising. I felt like I was going there to play golf, but I ended up with a really fulfilling educational experience.”
Smith took part in UNL’s PEO program, or Post-Eligibility Opportunities Program. This is a chance for recent letter-winner graduates to be provided with a one-semester scholarship to apply towards internships, study abroad experience, graduate school, or entrepreneurial endeavors. For Smith, who was often away competing for Nebraska, this was a second chance to pursue more education.
During this opportunity, Smith took an experiential learning course under Tracy Lungrin, the former director of Career Services at UNL. She was able to learn key concepts that helped her build a foundation for her future projects and business. What started as a hobby eventually turned into “Ground Under Repair,” a full-fledged graphic design business designing logos and branding for golf-specific companies.
“I found it was popular pretty quickly. I think with the golf industry being more male dominated, having a female perspective in the design space, that also knows golf, was a pretty attractive thing to people,” Smith said. “I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities early on. When I’m playing professionally, a lot of those connections cross paths as I’m competing. So, it’s been great.”
Starting Ground Under Repair was no easy task, however. Smith was balancing a life of playing golf professionally and starting a business from scratch with her co-founder all at once. As soon as she was off the course from a tournament, Smith would go straight to working on her design projects. This hard work would eventually pay off as business grew and the team at Ground Under Repair began to expand. Smith, her co-founder, and a team of three designers are now working to be a part of the good change that’s happening in the golf industry and challenging themselves as young professionals.
“There are a lot more opportunities for us as women in the golf space, but it doesn’t mean that we always get the perception or feel as welcomed as we want to be. But it’s getting better,” Smith said. “I think the scariest part is just for me feeling like I’m good enough for my clients and giving them artwork and design that can really make a difference in their business. Being, you know, 24 and trying to battle that kind of self-worth and making sure that I have the experience to do what’s right for them. But it’s been really exciting and fulfilling.”
Embracing a hand-drawn approach, their designs stand out, offering a fresh perspective on traditional golf designs. Looking back, Smith takes great pride in the work they’ve done and how their style has evolved to include the perspectives of the whole team. Smith’s design company can be found at gurdesigns.com or on their Instagram page, gur.design.
From a collegiate golfer and Graphic Design major to a pro-golfer and business owner, Smith has forged her own path in an ever-transforming industry. Sticking true to herself, she has created a fulfilling business that pushes for positive change, showing that creativity and passion can create new and exciting opportunities for anyone willing to take the leap.
“I think my biggest piece of advice is you don’t have to see your path in someone else. If you see an opening in your industry where somebody’s not doing something, you can be that,” Smith said. Just don’t underestimate yourself, that’s pretty big. And look for your resources. If you can ask, ask for help. There’s a lot of people that are willing to help you along the way.”