Houser is retiring after spending 44 years as the manager and head professional of the Tennessee State Park facility. The man whose name has become synonymous with Warriors Path throughout the years is moving to Gallatin, where he and his wife, Melissa, have bought a house.
“It’s really going to hit me after Friday when I’m not going to be in town anymore,” Houser said. “That’s going to be quite a change for me. I guess it might be good to not be in town. Otherwise I would go by there every day. I’m just so used to going in.
“I’m a little apprehensive but excited too.”
Houser actually began working at Warriors Path before it ever opened. He spent two summers working for the company that built the course. He planted grass, laid sod and later mowed greens and watered the fairways.
When the pro shop was first built, he’d look in the window but wasn’t allowed to go in. Who knew that same building would become his domain for the better part of the next five decades?
The course opened in 1972 and Houser was hired full-time in 1975. He became the interim manager in the pro shop in 1976 and he’s been running the show ever since.
“I never thought about how long I’d be there,” said Houser, who turned 64 last week.
Along the way, Houser figured out a way to play his share of tournament golf. He’s one of the most competitive club pros in the state. He once thought about giving it a go as a touring professional, playing the Florida mini-tour circuit in 1980. When the eight-week tour was up, he had to make a decision.
“I had a job as a manager, so I had to kind of decide to stay with the job,” he said. “It’s been a good decision.”
Houser got to play plenty even while he held down a job.
Once he became a senior, his career really took off. He won the first six tournaments he entered and went on to capture championships in 12 of his first 15 events.
He estimates he’s probably won about 20 tournaments as a senior. He also qualified for the U.S. Senior Open three times. He qualified for the National Club Pro championship in the regular and senior divisions.
Houser won the Tri-Cities Chapter PGA championship eight times, with an incredible 39 years between his first and last titles. He won the first one he entered after turning pro in 1979 and most recently took home the trophy two weeks ago.
“That’s pretty cool,” he admitted.
During Houser’s last competitive round at Warriors Path, a local Tri-Cities Pro-Am a couple of weeks ago, he played the back nine in 28 strokes en route to a 64. He once played a 10-hole stretch on the course in 29 shots, following an eagle two on the par-four fifth hole with nine consecutive threes.
Houser went to Scotland last month to try to qualify for the Senior British Open. Although he didn’t make the field at St. Andrews, he had a wonderful time at the home of golf.
“It was kind of a retirement trip,” he said. “I had so much fun I’d love to do it again.”
Even though he’s stepping away from his job, he won’t be stepping away from the golf course. Not as long as he can still play.
“I’ll keep playing some as long as I’m healthy,” Houser said. “I can still keep my (PGA) eligibility. I might work a little bit, maybe teach some. I haven’t figured out what I’ll do yet.”
One thing is for sure. Houser’s contemporaries will miss him after he moves.
“I consider Mark kind of like the Jack Nicklaus of the Tri-Cities PGA,” said Euggie Jones, head professional at Glenrochie Country Club in Abingdon, Virginia. “Mark just did everything right. Faith and family first. Golf has been a priority, but it’s not been his main priority. He kind of set the standard for the rest of us.”
Jones, who has known Houser for 30 years, credits the retiring pro for getting him into the game.
“Mark did a clinic for the high school team at Warriors,” he said. “I remember he gave me a TaylorMade 5-wood out of his bag. I fell in love with the game then. I probably wouldn’t be in the golf business if it wasn’t for Mark.”
Todd Foster, who has worked for Houser for 18 years as an assistant pro, said his boss was like a big brother.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor in the golf business,” Foster said. “He is such a gentleman and knows how to treat people. His guidance and influence were instrumental in helping me get through the PGA program and becoming a Class A PGA professional.
“Mark is a great player, which everyone already knows. But as good as he is as a player, he is even a better person. Mark has his priorities in life in order. He is a Godly man and family is very important to him. He raised two wonderful kids and has always been there for his family. That’s not always easy in the golf business. His family has always been part of the Warriors Path golf course family.”
Dick Horton, an influential figure in Tennessee golf for decades, called Houser a “complete PGA golf professional.”
“He could really play,” said Horton, former executive director of the Tennessee Golf Association and Tennessee Section PGA and president of the Tennessee Golf Foundation. “He was an excellent teacher. He managed Warriors Path extremely well and he could promote golf.”
Ken Crowder left Lonesome Pine Country Club in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, earlier this year. In his 28 years at the club, he got to know Houser well and considered him a good friend.
“Mark Houser is one of the most selfless, genuine and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing,” Crowder said. “His service to his players, his fellow PGA professionals and his faith is nothing short of peerless. We will likely never see a PGA professional spend 40-plus years at the same facility again. He is a throwback to olden times, but has found an ability to adapt to trends and changes in the industry.”
Crowder recalled a time when his son Caleb got the shanks during a round at Warriors and wanted to quit. They couldn’t stop because Crowder was showing a couple of his members the course in preparation for a tournament.
Instead, he let Caleb wait in the pro shop while they finished their round. To Crowder’s surprise, by the time they were done, Houser had Caleb on the range and was curing his swing problems.
“When we finished, I went straight to Caleb to check on his frame of mind and he was all smiles,” Crowder said. “That pretty much sums up the way Mark Houser is built. And by the way, Mark was worried that he had overstepped his bounds by helping the son of a fellow PGA member and actually apologized for doing it. You kidding me?”
Rusty Jones, professional at Cattails at MeadowView, said Houser was a “role model, mentor and a phenomenal player.”
“He has devoted his life not only to protecting the integrity of the game, but making it fun for all who come in contact with him,” Jones said. “Mark is the definition of what all PGA professionals should strive to be.
“There is not a single person that has met Mark, whether it be a co-worker, customer or a player, who doesn’t think of him as the perfect gentleman and a family-man. In his 40 years with the Tri-Cities PGA, Mark has helped to shape the chapter into what it has become today — one of the most successful chapters in the nation. He will be missed tremendously.”
Looking back, Houser sounds like a content man, one who knew he did the best he could do at all times and one who is satisfied that everybody agrees that was more than good enough.
“I don’t think I would change anything,” he said. “I’ve had a great career.”