Golf Q&A: Karen Conway of Patriot All‑America Invitational
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Karen Conway has close to 20 years of professional experience in the sports realm, working for teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns in community relations roles and holding other nonprofit organization positions.
Now in her third year serving as executive director for the Patriot All-America Invitational, hosted at Wigwam Golf Resort in Arizona, Conway has gotten the annual opportunity to work with some of the top amateurs in college golf around the holiday season for a great cause. The GCAA got the chance to catch up with Conway before the Patriot All-America tees off Dec. 29-31.
1. Full-time wife, mother of three youngsters and in the middle of the holiday season, how — or better yet why — did you get involved with the Patriot All-America (PAA)?
I have an 18-year professional history of working in sports, special events and community relations, specifically for professional teams such as the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, who were previously owned by Jerry Colangelo. Mr. Colangelo's new team at JDM Partners now owns the Wigwam golf resort and nearly four years ago reached out to me to see if I would be interested and had the time to come back to work for them assisting with the Patriot All-America.
My role has increased from assisting to my current role as executive director. I was thrilled and flattered to be offered the opportunity. Sometimes it's a little challenging to be balancing three young children and the holidays at the same time as the event, but it's worth it.
The majority of the year I'm able to work only when my kids are in school, allowing me to be the best working mom I can be. Leading up to the Patriot, I spend some late nights and early mornings working in addition to their school hours, but I don't mind. I'm grateful to have the flexibility to do so. The Patriot has somewhat become part of my family's holiday tradition.
2. As the tournament coordinator of an elite international amateur golf championship, help us understand the major responsibilities than come with the position.
The biggest challenge is trying to see our event both from a bird's-eye view while also concentrating on the details. If you lose sight of the details, the overall event can suffer. If you concentrate too much on details at the wrong times, the overall event logistics can suffer.
It's a fine balance, and keeping the balance comes with experience. I pride myself on having the ability to do both to ensure the Patriot is successful. We have many stakeholders that rely on the executive team at the Patriot to treat their roles within our event with care — groups such as our golfers, golf coaches, the families of the soldiers we honor, our sponsors, our community partners and many more.
I couldn't possibly do it alone. We have the best executive team around who are outstanding at making sure all of the details are covered.
3. Event management of any kind comes with an expectation of a certain amount of stress. In now year three with the PAA, what are some of the more stressful responsibilities you have leading up to and during tournament week? Any one situation from the past come to mind?
Stress is part of life and should be expected. Just when I think all of the planning is going smoothly, there always seems to be an unexpected wrinkle, and that's just the way life works! It's all about how we handle the wrinkles.
Especially in the few weeks leading up to the event, there are so many details to be sure are handled, and it never fails that the unexpected happens. When it does, the executive team and I bond together to problem solve everything as quickly and calmly as possible.
We also smile a lot, keep a sense of humor, and support one another — we are a family in that way. My theory on a successful event is as long as the unexpected hiccups don't show to those attending the event and can be handled and solved behind the scenes — we have succeeded.
4. The tournament is played the week between Christmas and New Year's with the majority of the players arriving on Dec. 26. How do you manage to juggle the holiday season and coordinating a large amateur golf tournament? Does your family get involved in any way in the tournament?
My kids and husband are very helpful. I give them lots of volunteer jobs in the couple of days leading up the event. My kids have grown to love it. They have a true sense of responsibility, and they get a better understanding of what I do at work. Plus, I think it's nice for kids to see how parents juggle it all.
It's not an easy time of year to be working so much, but we make the best of it and have grown to love making the Patriot part of our holiday week.
5. The Patriot is a unique event with college players playing in honor of a fallen or severely wounded military hero. Each year there have been many emotional moments during the week. In your time with the event, is there any particular one that immediately comes to your mind? Could you share some of the aspects around it?
It is such an honor to be able to recognize the lives of the men and women our country has lost. We do it with utmost respect and treat this part of our event with the most dignity. Sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in the planning, running around, trying to make sure everything is completed before the event starts and sometimes taking a deep breath and remembering these soldiers is just what we need to realize how important our work is.
Just days before the 2016 event, the executive team and I were dealing with one of those unexpected planning wrinkles. It was a very stressful day trying to figure out how to solve many problems.
Out of nowhere, the father of one of the soldiers we were honoring called me to tell me he, his wife and their daughter were coming to the Patriot and were flying in from out-of-state to follow the golfer who was carrying the bag with their son's name on it. We talked for quite a while, and he told me a lot about the son he lost.
I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes and realized that my problems are so small and unimportant compared to what his family has been through. I cannot imagine saying goodbye to one of my children one day and then finding out they were never coming home.
I hugged my kids a little tighter that night and will forever remember this soldier and his family.
6. The field is primarily made up of the top college golfers in the U.S. Several of the young men who have played in past years are now playing professionally somewhere in the world. Any particular player(s) from the past who instantly come to mind for you and why?
It is such a privilege to watch many of our Patriot golfers succeed as professionals. The caliber of our golfers is on the highest level. Although I will always remember those who have succeeded professionally, I will also always remember those who may not become professionals but clearly are going to be successful in life because they are hard-working, kind and grateful young men.
7. Finally, what is the strangest question or request you have had on site? The funniest?
I haven't had many strange requests, but one of my best memories was setting up a mannequin for our closing ceremonies. The mannequin was dressed to display our signature Patriot bomber jacket.
Well, never having working in merchandising, I had no idea that a mannequin body came apart in so many pieces if not handled the right way. No matter how many times my co-worker and I picked it up to move it and place it where needed, it fell apart. Every time.
This went on for so long that by the time we were done we could barely speak we were laughing so hard. Also, it probably felt funnier than it really was because it was the last day of our event, and we were so overworked and sleep-deprived from the week that pretty much everything was funny!
Nearby was another staff member, who sadly (for us) captured a photo of the poor mannequin. Although a tiny moment, it always brings a smile to my face.
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