Q&A: Ken Kennerly, Honda Classic tournament director
Monday, March 4, 2013
Ken Kennerly, head of the Honda Classic since after the 2006 event, has overseen tremendous growth in the PGA Tour's annual stop in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The Honda shed its nomadic ways – five courses since 1983 before landing at PGA National's Champion Course in 2007 – and has found a home. With so many touring professionals living in the Palm Beach County area, the Honda has become more like an early-season homecoming for the Tour.
For so long, the Honda Classic seemed to be an afterthought on the Florida Swing. How has the event grown?
It was fine, but it was an ordinary golf event. Living here for years, it was important to raise the bar of the event, grow the event, but Palm Beach County is very much a blue-chip community, and the event, if you will, was kind of a C-rated event. So we immediately had to think outside of the box. We had to figure out, How do we get people out here? How do we create a festive environment? Because this is a community – like L.A., like only a few other places – where you’ve got to do other things other than just the event, so it’s become a community event. It’s become a party, if you will.
Has the tournament made a conscious effort to create more seating and generate more areas to enjoy the day?
We’re going to continue to improve that way, absolutely. PGA National is wonderful and lends itself to doing all this, whereas other clubs you’re restricted, whether it’s on space or just proximity or whatnot. I took some people down to the Bear Trap (holes 15-17) yesterday, and they couldn’t believe what they saw down there. It was another city, kind of like two different worlds, like a St. Paul‑Minneapolis type of thing where you’ve got two cities.
Circumstances changed the schedule, and Honda is now the first event on the Florida Swing, sandwiched between two WGC events. How significant was that in the growth of the tournament?
I think it was helpful, no doubt, because the international stars are in America. The best players in the world, for the last six years, a lot of them have been international players and they wanted to play, and we had exemptions available to us, so we used our exemptions for the international stars. Jack (Nicklaus, who lives nearby) always told me was if you’re going to build a strong event, you’ve got to have the best players in the world there. Regardless of who they are, you’ve got to have the best players in the world, and I think that’s how he’s built the Memorial.
How much does it help the fact that Tiger Woods now lives in the neighborhood?
I think it’s enormous, I really do. Tiger moves the needle, regardless of where he is and what he does. But it’s enormous for us. I think even without Tiger, our field was growing, our event was growing in stature, but certainly by Tiger committing last year and having a nice experience, and this year he’s – people say sleeping in your bed is an advantage, I think it really is. e can leave here and still get back and have his own private time and not have to get into a hotel and have to hit the crowds and he can truly get away. His kids have been following him all week; his mom has been out here.