Ken Kennerly: Revitalizing a Classic

No one can deny that Ken Kennerly has worked hard to be where he is now. The IMG Golf Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the Honda Classic began his career as an intern with the Chrysler Team Championship, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to put up ropes around a golf course before a tournament. He got his first chance at organizing events while working at ProServ, and his career continued to grow from there.

“You knock on a lot of doors and try to network with people that you know. It’s hard cracking into a business, but once you get in you can network around it,” says Ken. “My attitude now as an employer is that I never want to let a good person go. If you find somebody [as an intern] who has the right work ethic, skill level, and interest in your company, find something for them to do. An internship is a launchpad to show someone who you are and then jump to the next level.”

Ken now has 27 years of experience in the sports marketing and tournament management industries, and is the founder of IGP Sports & Entertainment Group. He has worked with industry powerhouses such as Jack Nicklaus, who he first met and worked with at IMG, then followed Jack to Florida at his request when he began his own company, Golden Bear. Jack was a mentor to Ken, and even helped to fund him when he decided to branch out and open his own company.

With his reputation for being instrumental in the production of numerous professional and amateur golf tournaments, corporate and sporting hospitality programs, and having represented several professional golf athletes and media personalities, it’s no wonder the global leader in sport and entertainment wanted him back.

In 2005, Ken was approached by IMG to breathe new life into the Honda Classic which is hosted in south Florida; now the showpiece on the PGA TOUR, as Ken says. The pivotal moment in revitalizing this tournament was moving it from The Country Club at Mirasol to the PGA National Golf Club. He took the new venue and created a party atmosphere, transforming the event into much more than a golf tournament.

“The great thing about the sports marketing business is as broad as that sounds, it’s a broader business than what the name really signifies; we’re an extension of the advertising business. We’re trying to produce memories, images, reasons for companies to spend money with us, whether it’s an event, a television show, or a logo on an athlete,” says Ken.

As Executive Director for the Honda Classic, the main point that Ken wants to drive home is that it’s about philanthropy and bringing money into the community. He has provided events and activities such as a Kenny G concert and fireworks, to positioning hospitality tents near the PGA National’s signature Bear Trap (holes 15-17 that are commonly regarded at the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA TOUR).

“Honda is the longest running sponsor on the PGA TOUR for 35 years now, but the Classic had multiple homes and couldn’t build an equity. Palm Beach County is an A-rated community but this was a C-rated event; there was a major disconnect between the tour, Palm Beach County, PGA National, and the Honda. Immediately I had to raise the bar, and frankly it’s harder to start from an existing property and to renovate it than it is to start from scratch,” says Ken.

“We’ve been able to do it and the accolades have been great. Within three years we were the most improved event on the PGA TOUR and the most fan friendly tour voted by our peers, which is great because that’s what it’s all about. For us it’s all about creating this entertainment vehicle.” Attendance has grown from 40,000 to over 200,000 since Ken’s involvement with the tournament.

The Classic also partners with local children’s charities, and in 2016 was able to donate an individual grant of $1 million to the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation to advance pediatric care in the Palm Beach community, as well as $3.12 million to other local children’s charities.

The bottom line is that Ken is always trying to challenge himself, and is constantly looking for the next big thing. “If it gets boring, I’m gone. I’ve been fortunate to take an event from one level to another, and I want to keep doing that. I’m a entrepreneur by nature, and a creative marketing guy; I want to come up with ideas and sell them. I’m not in the golf business, I’m in the entertainment business.”