LPGA Tour veteran Sarah Jane Smith and husband Duane will serve as the new host family at the Australian Golf House in Orlando.
From February, the Smiths will move into the house established to provide a ‘home away from home’ for young Australian professionals and top amateurs who are playing in the United States.
Luke and Lauren Mackey have served as the house’s hosts from day one but have now made the decision to return home to Australia with their daughter, Isla.
The Smiths have been a constant presence on tour since Sarah Jane turned professional in 2004, with Duane serving as caddie for much of his wife’s career.
While Sarah Jane will continue to play a limited schedule on the LPGA Tour and Duane will lend his caddieing experience to the young players who will populate the house, both say they are excited to contribute to Australian golf in a new way.
“We really liked the idea right away,” said Duane, the possibility first suggested by Luke Mackey in late 2022.
“We’d spent a ton of time at the house and Luke and ‘Loz’ had become our closest friends. The timing was absolutely perfect.
“Brad (James, the high performance general manager for Golf Australia) and Luke, they must have known that the timing was pretty good.”
In welcoming the Smiths into the Australian Golf House on a permanent basis, Brad James paid tribute to the foundation set by the Mackeys the past five years.
“We can’t thank them enough,” James said. “They were perfect for that environment. They created the kind of warm and welcome place for golfers that we envisaged when we created it.
“Everyone in that house from Luke and Lauren to their daughter, Isla, and even their dog made that house come to life. They’ve set the path for Sarah Jane and Duane and we believe that they can do this just as well.
“We’d like to think the Australian Golf House will continue to be influential in the advancement of Australian golf and its elite players.”
As Orlando residents, Sarah Jane and Duane have seen first-hand the impact that the Australian Golf House makes in the transition of young players into the US.
Not only has the Australian Golf House provided a base for the likes of Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Min Woo Lee, Cam Davis and Lucas Herbert in their formative years in the US, but it has become a popular pop-in for legends such as Stuart Appleby and Sarah Kemp, who share their experiences in reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
Three years ago, an impromptu working bee was held in the Smiths’ backyard, the likes of Jed Morgan, Louis Dobbelaar and Jack Thompson all pitching in.
They connected further with the next generation of Aussie golfers at the World Amateur Teams Championship in Abu Dhabi in October, solidifying that they were making the right decision.
“Luke and Loz have done such an amazing job and we’re just hoping we can continue that in bringing people to the house in our way,” Sarah Jane said.
“Obviously we have a long history in golf. We made some mistakes starting out – just because we didn’t know what we were doing. Duane’s now had 20 years of experience, caddieing, travelling, planning, managing the whole week.
“That’s a unique set of skills that not many people have and he’s going to be able to offer it to every young junior, amateur and pro that comes over.
“I’ve played at all different stages… and played all those stages poorly at times. Between the two of us, we’ve negotiated the ups and downs of professional golf so hopefully we’ll be able to help the kids when they’re going through certain things.”
And as for the Smiths’ five-year-old son Theo, who became the chief cheerleader at the World Amateur Teams Championship, he will soon have live-in big brothers and sisters to bounce off.
“That couple of weeks was almost a sigh of relief. That this is going to be really good for him,” Sarah Jane said of Theo’s experience in Abu Dhabi.
“He just loved being around them and they’re all so good with him. And that’s what we’ve found with everybody that’s come through the house. They’re all just really good people. The kind of people that you want your kid to be surrounded with.”