Who is Ricki Rarick and the History of the Program
Rarick’s life-long love for the game of golf helped upgrade the sport in Tucson. A native of Iowa, Rarick was the youngest golf professional in the state at age 17. His professional career was interrupted by World War II. His plane was shot down over the North Sea on a bombing mission and he suffered a broken back, neck and ankle. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war and earned the Silver Star and other awards.
After moving to Tucson working in the newspaper business and in real estate. He became deeply involved in youth golf and the Tucson Open. He brought the professional golf tour to Tucson in 1945, and until the Tucson Conquistadores took over in 1965 he was the driving force behind the Tucson Open. He also was one of the founders of the Sportsmen’s Fund of the Arizona Daily Star.
Rarick was an extremely generous man, both giving of himself and material things. He obtained pleasure from both and asked nothing in return. He always pulled for the underdog, using his business contacts to find jobs for more than 100 youths over the years, going to court if it could benefit someone in trouble, or just keeping his hand in his pocket ready to give to anyone in need.
Before the PGA Tour created the First Tee program, including the chapter that now exists at El Rio Golf Course, Rarick was a one-man First Tee program.
"Ricki was this big, old tough guy on the outside but a softie inside," remembers Mike Hultquist, who played college golf for the Oklahoma Sooners before returning to Tucson to work in the restaurant industry. "He would take us to the private clubs - Skyline, Tucson National, Oro Valley - and it wouldn't be just to play golf.
"He would insist we dressed properly, that we had our hair cut and that we knew the etiquette of golf. He was involved on a personal level. When I went to Oklahoma, I found out that he had called my coach and told him he'd better take good care of me."
"I was from the generation, in the '70s, that Mr. Rarick really touched my life," says Dennis Palmer, General Manager of Arizona National Golf Club. "I still call him 'Mister.' I've always wanted to do something to reflect on his legacy, and that is why I host a bi-annual fundraising tournament in his name to help raise money for the Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Program."
"He taught you how to shake hands properly and interact with adults," says Palmer. "Once, when I went to a State Junior event in Phoenix, Mr. Rarick slipped me $100. He said, "You'll need this for gas money and make sure you get enough to eat." Later, I found out he was doing that to all the guys. He had a heart of gold."
"My career was shaped by Ricki," says Hayes. "I came from a middle-class background, and I would never have played golf without being part of his program. So many of the people I grew up with have golf careers. All because of Ricki."
The Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Program originated in 1954. The one best known for directing the Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Program for more than 30 years was Dorothy Darlene Straw, known to everyone as Dot. As director, Straw booked tournaments, handled tee times, arranged pairings, headed the rules committee and was cheerleader to the kids.
“There are 15 to 20 golf professionals in the area who grew up playing junior golf in the Ricki Rarick Program,” Hayes said. “That speaks volumes about Dot. She was the driving force to keep Ricki Rarick going.”
“She was a den mother for hundreds of kids every summer,” “She knew everyone’s name. She took care of all the kids. She was everyone’s surrogate mom on the course.”
Straw has been inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame and is the fourth woman to be inducted into the AGA Hall of Fame. She is a member of the El Rio women’s golf club, shared the Arizona Golf Association’s Updegraff Award in 1993 with Bill, her husband of 50 years. That award recognizes those who, by their actions or accomplishments, exemplify the spirit of the game of golf.
“For Dot the fun of doing it offset all the work,” said Bill Straw. “Before Ricki died he told her to keep the program going. I’m glad she did. The rewards keep coming in.”
In 1991, Mike Hayes, former Deputy Director of the Tucson City municipal golf courses, took over the Ricki Rarick program from Dot and her husband, Bill. Hayes currently serves as President of the Ricki Rarick Junior Golf, and the program is operated by Rick Price the Director of Operations for the Southwest Section Southern Chapter PGA for the past eight years.
The Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Program is the oldest operating Junior Golf Program in the state of Arizona. We are celebrating our "62" year of operation this year.
(From left to right in the photo below: Rick Price, Mike Hayes, Dan Wickman and Dennis Palmer)