Hutton: Merrillville grad Ken Carter plugging away with his golf tour
Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 30, 2013 9:10PM
Merrillville High School graduate Ken Carter sits in his basement office while running the Michigan Player Tour golf organization. | photo provided
Updated: August 5, 2013 9:12PM
Ken Carter is a carpenter, a golfer and a man committed to stubborn dreams.
It’s a strange, refreshing, sometimes melancholic mix of traits.
In the last event on the Michigan Players Tour, where Carter is the founder and executive director, there were six golfers in the field. Ten were scheduled to play but three withdrew and there was one no show.
First place paid out $375 and second $250.
There are seven tournaments this year. All of them are in Northern Michigan. It is Carter’s favorite place in the world, a place where the water is so clear that you can see a full body reflection of yourself on a sunny day.
“We have a light schedule,” he said. “We didn’t have a good year last year.”
Carter has run the MPT since 2006 and he hasn’t yet had a great year. He points to 2009 as his best year. There were 19 events that year and a pay-out of $14,300. He lists 19 players on his money list that year, with the top earner making $3,100.
With the sluggish economy and a general appetite for golf that is trending down, not up, the MPT is a tough sell.
But Carter, who graduated from Merrillville High School in 1975 as a self-made all-conference player and more or less talked his way onto the legendary Houston golf team that included Fred Couples, Jim Nantz, Ed Fiori and Nick Faldo (briefly), is unmoved by the year-in-and-year-out lethargy that has enveloped the tour.
He can’t get any major sponsors.
He has never made money on the venture.
The schedule is subject to change abruptly, based on participation.
And he guarantees himself at least one brutally long day a week when he runs a tournament, sometimes driving four hours to an event.
“The way I conceived this, I wanted to have a single-A tour,” he said. “There was nothing here for guys. They’d play leagues, drink a few beers and go home.”
There are layers of professional golf that exist only in the small world of the players, who in some form, are chasing the PGA dream.
Just below the PGA, is the Web.com Tour (formerly the Nationwide) and just below that is the eGolf Tour. Carter wanted a place just below eGolf. He would be happy to have that. He thought Michigan was ripe for it. They had lots of golf courses, lots of good players and an environment that wasn’t as crowded with good players, like Florida or Arizona or California, where most of the mini tours are located.
It hasn’t happened — yet.
Will it ever? That’s not the point for Carter, who has no plans at all to give into the forces that are working against him.
“I remember when I told a bunch of my friends about talking to my PGA friends about the tour,” he said. “They asked if they laughed at me?”
The derision doesn’t bother him. This is a man who left Merrillville after high school for Houston to work construction because his father had moved there.
At lunch time one day, he decided he wanted to give college golf a whirl. So, he hopped in his car and knocked on the office door of Dave Williams, the world famous golf coach of the Cougars, and asked if he could try out for the team.
Carter had no idea that Houston had won 12 national titles or that its roster was filled with future PGA players.
To his surprise, Williams was impressed with his gumption. He told Carter to get a haircut and they’d talk about it.
He let Carter play, mostly it seems because he asked and he was good to have around. Carter participated in two junior varsity tournaments in his Cougar career. While guys like Fiori and Blaine McCallister were running all over the country in the summer, playing in the Western Amateur and qualifying for the U.S. Amateur, Carter was working his construction job. It was too late for him to be really good.
“I just never had the pedigree,” he said.
His experience with Williams, which he later viewed as almost a random act of kindness, changed him forever. He spent several years kicking around the mini tours before taking a job at the Academy of Golf at Hills of Lakeway, where teachers like Dave Pelz and Clay Edwards worked. Carter tried for several years to make the tour, but he gave up on the dream for good in 1990, mostly because he couldn’t find a sponsor.
The thing about the MPT is that Carter knows exactly what those guys are feeling when they compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s seven or 17 or 27 players. They believe, in some, highly private part of their soul, that if they just had the money or the support or if the conditions and resources were right, they could play one day with the big boys. They really do.
Carter wants to nurture that dream for these guys and keep it alive, no matter what the cost. He has been there and he still dreams about it, too.
“It hasn’t amounted to much,” he said of the tour. “But we still get players. We’re still a public company. Once you step out and put your reputation on the line, you have to follow through. You can’t ever give up.”
He won’t either. He took some time off earlier this year, to take care of his ailing mother. He’ll hit the road early on Aug. 5 for the Jackson Open in Jackson, Mich., which is his next event. It’s not clear from the website if anyone has signed up yet.