Carriker's passion for golf in San Antonio shines at Valero Texas Open
April 20, 2017
By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff
SAN ANTONIO, Texas- Mary Carriker had every intention of being a stay-at-home mom. She saw herself raising the couple’s three kids, laying by the pool and working out each day.
But, then, 20 years got in the way.
Growing up in Idaho, Carriker remembers golf not being a game for kids.
“My father, who played, would take me in the backyard and hit whiffle balls,” she remembered. “He would take me out to play and I would caddy for him. He would drop a ball every now and then and I hit it, and that was fun. Then, when I got married, my husband gave me a set of golf clubs for a wedding gift.”
As a result of her husband’s career in military intelligence, Carriker lived everywhere from Salt Lake City to Montana to Germany. It wasn’t until Mary and Keith relocated to Fort Benning that she seriously took up the game. After 20 years in the service, Keith retired and the couple settled in San Antonio.
“I remember joining a clinic to learn how to play and have played ever since,” she said.
Not only did she enjoy playing the game, but her passion for golf ran so deep that in 1998, she began working in the industry.
“This is my 16th year with Golf San Antonio, having a part in the Valero Texas Open,” she said. “Prior to that, I worked at La Cantera, where we hosted the Valero Texas Open. That gives me a full 20 years as being a part of the Valero Texas Open.”
At La Cantera, Carriker managed the golf academy, where she was pivotal in the exhibition and overall assistance for the annual San Antonio PGA TOUR event.
Carriker was instrumental in the Greater San Antonio Women’s and Senior Women’s Championship, as well as a number of American junior Golf Association (AJGA) events in the area. One of her greatest assets has been the ability to position tournaments at courses which are challenging, but manageable in price.
“At one point, I was hired by Golf San Antonio to run amateur golf and the First Tee of Greater San Antonio,” she said. “One day, I just asked the question, ‘How can I help with the Valero Texas Open?’ Valero had just signed on, and they came to me and said ‘We'd like you and your intern to run pro-am registration.’ I thought they meant sit at a table and check people in. And then I found out what they really meant was actually running the entire pro-am.”
At that time, there were two pro-ams, one on Monday and one Wednesday. Eventually, that number grew to three and then four – one on Monday, two on Wednesday and one on Saturday.
“When I came on board in that role, I made a few little tweaks to the pro-ams, which really made them a lot smoother. Everybody sat up and took notice. They didn't know what I had done, but they just noticed that it was better. I always kept the secrets. I've been tagged the pro-am person.”
“Actually, my first golf job was in California,” she said. “We made a one year stop in California after he retired before settling in San Antonio. We had introduced our three kids to the game while living in Hawaii. They wanted to continue playing, but I remember thinking just how expensive it was.”
So, with the mindset of if-you-can’t-beat-’em,-join-‘em, Carriker applied for a job at a nearby golf course. Initially hired to keep the calendar, she was promoted to Assistant Manager.
"What I got out of it was that my kids got free golf and range balls, discounted clothes and clubs,” she said emphatically. “It really helped a lot.”
In fact, it helped so much that both daughters, Kelly and Holly, went on to get college scholarships. Her son, Ben, who now works with Mary as a certified club fitting and repair specialist, turned out to be a pretty good stick, as well.
“So, I got into the business to support my kids, never realizing it would turn into a career.”
Once established as a mover and shaker with Golf San Antonio, she pushed hard for the organization to do more for kids with a desire to play.
“When Valero signed on, there became a need for someone to run The First Tee and amateur golf,” she said. “I was paid a visit at La Cantera and the rest is history.”
And, part of that history was taking over as the Executive Director of Golf San Antonio in 2002.
“As Executive Director, I provide oversight for the organization in all aspects; The First Tee, our city championships, regional events, the USGA regional association and rules group,” she said. “We have a public practice facility which is very time-consuming, and we also do event management and manage the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.”
But, on Wednesday, Mary Carriker turned 67 years old and announced she is retiring at the end of the year. The 2017 Valero Texas Open will be her last in a professional capacity.
“Back then, I was planning to stay at home and raise my kids and sit by the pool at a country club,” she laughed. “But, once I got into golf, I realized there was a career and I have had an absolute ball with it. I feel very fortunate to have been involved with everything. I watched these players grow up. Jimmy Walker, I knew him as a 14-year-old and have gotten to watch what he's accomplished. That makes me feel really good.”
As Carriker reflects upon her career, she remembers back to the days when golf wasn’t really for kids – or women. Her tireless efforts and commitment to the sport on a professional level, however, has changed that in many ways.
“It can be a hard thing to break into, especially for females,” she said. “It’s a male-dominated industry, but I would encourage females to get involved. There is a place for us. We’re more detail-oriented and I think that helps the golf industry. I think every golf facility should have several female employees, because it does help. We do fit in.”
And speaking of fitting in, Carriker’s replacement who will be stepping into her role is one she couldn’t be more pleased about.
"Janina Collins, I couldn't ask for a better person to takeover,” she said. “In fact, I wouldn't be able to leave if I didn't know it was going to be in good hands. She's been with me about ten years and she knows the business inside and out. She is going to be a great replacement.”
As for regrets about her decision to step down. Well, she takes that on as she did with all of her decisions which made her such a force not to be reckoned with. She sticks with it.
“Once you make that decision your whole attitude changes,” she said. “Some days, I feel like I can do it forever and other days, I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh, why? But, I think I made the right decision to do this at the right time. I think the organization probably needs some younger blood, new ideas. I can't run around and act like a 20 year old anymore. I've been trying, but you do wear out. I just think it's time to move on.”
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