The late Mark McCormack couldn’t have had many regrets about the firm he founded — the global sports, fashion and media machine that is IMG. But Guy Kinnings, IMG’s senior vice president and head of its golf division, recalls a conversation years ago when McCormack lamented one thing: not setting up shop in the golf capital that is Florida.
Monday, that missing link in IMG’s portfolio was eliminated when the firm announced that it had acquired the Honda Classic’s management company, North Palm Beach-based IGP Sports & Entertainment Group.
“I suspect there will be very little change in terms of the spectator experience,” said Ken Kennerly, who founded IGP in 1996 and will remain as executive director of the Honda Classic at PGA National.
Kennerly and Kinnings agreed that the tournament’s 32-year-old deal with Honda as title sponsor will remain intact, as will the event’s connections to Jack Nicklaus’ Children’s Health Care Foundation.
If anything changes, Kennerly and Kinnings said, they hope that IMG’s reach might make it easier for Kennerly to continue to attract top-level talent such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. IMG’s clients include local players Luke Donald, Ernie Els and Camilo Villegas.
Although Woods has dropped IMG as his longstanding agency, Kinnings said he doubts Monday’s news will affect his participation in future Honda Classics. He has played in the last two events.
“I think Tiger made it pretty clear when we talked about it,” Kinnings said. “He’s interested in supporting and playing in the best tournaments around the world. Luckily, we stage a number of those. He was at the IMG event in Abu Dhabi this year. He’s played in a number of our events. I don’t see that changing at all.
“The business we run is not only driven by our own clients. Because we stage 50 events, we have to deal with and engage with every leading player and other management companies. … We’re not driven by being partisan.”
Kennerly, who moved to South Florida in 1993 to work for Nicklaus’ Golden Bear International, began organizing the Honda in 2006. Since then, it has grown immeasurably. One of the big steps was giving the event a long-term home at PGA National after many previous moves.
“Our community moniker is ‘Palm Beach County, the best of everything,’ ” Kennerly said. “And unfortunately, the previous Honda Classic was not the best of everything. The PGA Tour is a blue-chip organization. Palm Beach County certainly is a blue-chip community, and for the PGA Tour event in Palm Beach County not to be a blue-chip property really didn’t make any sense.”
IMG plans to open an office in the same North Palm Beach building where Kennerly is headquartered. IMG will join Kennerly’s team of 14. Eventually, the staff is expected to expand, like the event itself.
“We’ve got a lot of room to grow,” Kennerly said. “We’re going to continue to improve upon it every year. With this new association, I think this gives us the tools to certainly make that happen.”
And to take care of any regrets McCormack had.
“This makes us wonder why the hell we hadn’t thought about doing it earlier,” Kinnings said.