The courts at the Guam National Tennis Center have hosted players of all skill levels, from weekend hobbyists to aspiring members of Guam's Davis Cup team. Most probably give little thought to how the award-winning facility came to be.
The center had been the vision of Bill Camacho, the president of the Guam National Tennis Federation, until his untimely death in 2011. The task of making his friend's vision a reality fell to Torgun Smith, who took over as president shortly afterward.
Like any large project, the plan initially took form in fits and starts and failed to gain traction. But Smith eventually told the board, "We're either going to do this now or we're going to stop talking about it." So, as Smith put it, "We rolled up our sleeves and went looking for grant money."
Smith ultimately raised $1.5 million, leveraging his position as executive vice president at heavy equipment dealership Morrico Equipment. Many of Morrico's customers were huge supporters in making the dream a reality.
But Smith also found that the networking process required to raise funds from a broader donor base reminded him of his work at Morrico. "It's a lot like going to the AED Summit," he said. "You network; you get ideas. You talk to your peers who maybe have the same challenges, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel – just modify it and make it work for your situation."
Smith attends AED's Financial/HR Symposium annually, having missed only the pandemic year. Much like the International Tennis Federation (ITF) meetings he frequents, "It's not a drive or a short flight. It's two flights, a 24-hour trip." But he finds the opportunity for continuing education and face-to-face networking well worth it.
Twin grants of $50,000 each from the International Tennis Federation and the U.S. Tennis Association were critical to Smith's fundraising efforts. "It's a drop in the bucket, but having support from reputable associations gave us credibility when we talked to companies and individuals about supporting the project."
After being stuck in neutral for too long, the project moved forward, though that didn't mean there was a clear path to the finish line.
"A question I often get is, how did you get to Guam?" Smith told us. "I grew up here." His father had been born and raised in Indiana and spent some time in Colorado before moving to Guam to work as a CPA in the local office of Deloitte and Touche. "That's the story with a lot of people. They come over and have success, and they like it here."
"Opening the Guam National Tennis Center would not have been possible without the support of my family. They have been with me through the entire process, from the long hours spent fundraising to the grand opening. I’m very grateful to have them by my side."
Smith started playing tennis as a 12-year-old. He competed in many local Guam tournaments and junior championships and represented Guam as a national player, and won regional competitions at the Micronesian Games. After graduating from high school, Smith felt he could have played college tennis, but he chose to attend Washington State University. "At a Pacific-10 school, that wasn't in the works for me."
Certification as a professional coach followed, and he's been coaching and playing ever since. Smith has coached the national team and, in 2018, was a Davis Cup captain. But his love for the game pushed him into greater and greater involvement with the administrative side – as Guam's delegate to the ITF and other organizations, as a tournament director, as an officer with both the Oceania Tennis Federation and the Guam Federation.
His business career has progressed similarly. After graduating from Washington State, Smith worked in the retail industry for a time. But after six years of that, "I decided to get some more letters after my name." He decided an MBA wasn't for him, so he studied for his CPA, which he took with him to a job at Deloitte. From there, he moved on to the air freight industry, where he spent five years before taking a position as financial controller for Morrico.
Now with Morrico since 2000, Smith became an equity owner in 2002, along with Ross and Allan Morrison, the two founding partners. Morrico was sold to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 2018 – "an interesting adventure" – but Smith remains the company's executive vice president. "We're thrilled to include our employees in our ownership, and we're employee-owners ourselves."
Analogies between his roles in tennis and business come naturally to Smith. "Just like in the equipment business, you have to be very diversified. At Morrico, it's Kohler, Hyundai; you name it – if it's got diesel, there's a line we represent. In tennis, it's the same. You have to be an administrator, a player, a coach." He became a board member of the Guam National Tennis Federation in 2010 and was thrust into the president's role after Camacho's passing.
Today the Guam National Tennis Center is a reality, its courts populated by players of all skill levels and aspirations. But the journey to the realization of Camacho's vision experienced a significant bump in the road in March of 2020 – the same bump experienced worldwide. Just one month after it opened, the center was shut down by the global pandemic. It was frustrating and anticlimactic to Smith and all the people who'd supported him. Today, finally, the center is open again.
The completed project is a tribute to Camacho's memory. It's built on a five-acre plot of land at the National Sports Complex that was granted to the project in 2010, thanks to his lobbying efforts.
But the project is also a tribute to Smith's tireless work and to the support of the donors who helped make it possible. That's why, among the facility's six courts, a grandstand, offices, and a mini-court area, Smith seems most pleased by a single wall – a donor wall, where a personal plaque represents each sponsor who donated more than $500. Each grass-green plaque is shaped like a tennis court and is flanked by colorful tennis balls whose sizes correspond to the size of the individual donor's contribution. "It's pretty cool," Smith said.
The final exclamation point on the story of the facility's completion came in the form of an email Smith received from the U.S. Tennis Association in July, informing him that the Guam National Tennis Center was a recipient of the organization's award for an outstanding facility. "I'm really proud of that accomplishment and our community stepping up to make it happen."
Today the future of tennis in Guam genuinely looks different, thanks to Smith's tenacity.
"It's going to be a game-changer for our tennis development here. Now we control our destiny. We can now hire a coach and we have a facility for them to work at. We can do programs. We can do our thing, and we don't have to ask permission from someone else."