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Aiming for perfection on golf’s big stage

Ryan Cannon scanned an Atlanta newspaper for job opportunities 12 years ago and found a small classified ad with little information.
Event manager wanted, with experience working with vendors and suppliers, it stated.
"It didn’t say anything about sports," Cannon recalls. "It didn’t say anything about golf."
It did include a fax number to submit resumes. Cannon sent one and gave it little additional thought. Later that day, the Professional Golfers’ Association of America Inc. called.
"They said they received my resume," he says, "and that the position was with the PGA Championship that’ll be contested at the Atlanta Athletic Club next year, as an operations coordinator."
The PGA representative asked whether Cannon, an employee at a General Motors Co. vehicle logistics unit, was interested. He was, and he was hired.
These days, he is living in Pittsford and is the championship director for the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Cannon would not be here had he not seen the nondescript classified, or moved to Michigan from Atlanta and then back to Atlanta before coming to the Rochester area.
"This was in early November or late October 2000," he says of the newspaper ad. "I didn’t even know the PGA Championship was going to be in Atlanta.
"I had never had aspirations of working in sports, or the golf business. I didn’t even know people did what I do. … I was fortunate enough to get the position."
Cannon, 36, is one of six PGA championship directors who rotate between PGA Championship and Ryder Cup events. He and his family moved to Pittsford in November 2011.
"I’ve been with the PGA the longest out of those six," he says, "which is why I don’t have any hair."
Cannon came here after a second involvement with the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, this time as director of the 2011 event.
After his stint as operations coordinator for the 2001 PGA Championship in Atlanta, he moved to Bloomfield Township, Mich., where he was operations director for the 2004 Ryder Cup and then championship director for the 2008 PGA Championship, both at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Michigan was also where he met his wife, Amber.
"I was working for a company there that was doing experiential marketing," she says. "They were bidding on the opening and closing ceremonies for the Ryder Cup. We met through our work."
They were married before moving to Atlanta.
"Before we had gotten to the point of him asking me to marry him, I knew what he did and that he moved from place to place," Amber says. "I knew this was his life.
"I don’t think everybody out there gets to do a job they are passionate about it and love, but Ryan loves what he does. I knew from the very beginning that if I signed on for this marriage, this was going to be my life."

Coming to town
Daughter Kalie, 8, was born in Michigan. Daughter Brianna, 2, was born in Atlanta. Kalie went to prekindergarten and kindergarten in Atlanta and was three months into first grade when the family moved to Pittsford.
"They’ve been very understanding and patient," Cannon says. "Moving around has its pros and cons, just like anything else. The great part is we’re moving to memorable communities. Our time in Pittsford has been tremendous.
"You have one of the best school systems in the country. It’s easy to get everywhere. Everything you need is close by. There’s not a lot of traffic. The people here are fantastic. There are so many things to do, throughout the summer and winter. We’ve loved it here. We’ll be sad to leave after the PGA Championship."
The Cannons will stay in Pittsford through next year’s championship Aug. 8-11.
"I don’t want to leave until the club feels good about two things: the restoration of the property and the reconciliation of the financial side of the championship," Cannon says. "Once the club feels good about where those two areas are headed, I’ll feel comfortable moving to another site. That usually happens by late October or early November."
When work at Oak Hill is done, Cannon will head for New Jersey to prepare for the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield.
As championship director, Cannon is responsible for production and management of the tournament here, whose operating budget is in the range of $25 million, he says. That includes advertising, marketing and sales, and logistical matters such as traffic, parking and security. It includes governmental, community and charitable planning.
Cannon also is responsible for recruiting and activating 3,500 volunteers.
"The best way I can describe it is everything outside the ropes," he says from tournament headquarters at Oak Hill. "Everything it takes to operate this event is managed primarily through this office."
There is no blueprint for planning and running a PGA Championship, Cannon says.
"There is definitely a cadence to how these things unfold," he says. "The thing that makes it challenging is the context changes every single year."
The team has to figure out myriad tasks, ranging from where to feed everyone to how to accommodate the media and players to where the restrooms go.
"All those logistics go into every one of these championships, yet the context within which we try to execute this changes every year, and in many ways dramatically."
Consequently, Cannon and the PGA’s five other championship directors have to be on-site for multiple years.
"We’re relaunching this enterprise every single time it goes out, and it’s massive," he says. "There are thousands of people involved in making this happen, and tens of thousands that’ll actually be here, experiencing it as spectators.
"But that’s part of what makes it so special. It gives the players an opportunity to play the best golf courses in the world and compete for a championship that is as historic and significant as the PGA Championship."
Rochester, like all host communities for a PGA Championship, gives the PGA an opportunity to promote the sport. Youths 17 and younger will have complimentary access to the tournament, Cannon says.
"People are going to come out for a week next year, and that’s going to be a memory they’re going to have forever, especially young people," he says.
"I’ll never forget the first big golf event I ever went to. My dad took me to a practice round at the 1987 Masters. I was 11 years old at the time, but I will never forget that. There will be countless experiences like that next year."

Passion for golf
Cannon was born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., not far from a public golf course in his neighborhood. His first job, he says, was doing odds and ends at that course so he could play for free.
"I’ve played golf my whole life," he says. "My dad started caddying when he was 10 years old, so he’s been involved and around golf for virtually his entire life."
Cannon played baseball and football early on, but his focus was golf at Farragut High School.
"I don’t know why-and it’s continued to be the case-my high school always attracted kids that could really play golf," he says. "This was back in the early 1990s, when golf was not nearly as popular and developed as a sport as it is today.
"We had four kids on our team that in high school were shooting even par or better on a regular basis. I wasn’t one of them. I was the fifth man. I would’ve been probably the one or two man on any other high school in our state."
Cannon graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1999 with a degree in business administration. He moved to Atlanta in January 2000 after taking a job with the General Motors vehicle distributorship at its Southeast regional offices.
"Our group was tasked with working out the logistics for all the vehicles GM had out in the Southeast for marketing purposes," Cannon says. "At the time, it was unbelievable, all the cars GM had out there at events for whatever reason-from state fairs to auto shows to college bowl games to golf tournaments."
The PGA Championship has a similar relationship with Mercedes Benz, which sends 300 cars to the tournament for players, staff and officials to use, Cannon says.
"The logistics behind events like that, that’s what our group did for all the divisions for General Motors," he says.
"It was a great entry-level job. I was interacting with all the regional divisional marketing managers. Seeing them operate for one of the largest corporations in the world, and from an advertising and marketing standpoint, was as sophisticated as it gets."
Then Cannon came across the PGA classified ad.
"I had no intention of leaving," Cannon says, "but I would pay attention to what else was out there and other opportunities. I interviewed for several different positions, nothing that was more intriguing than what I was doing."
By taking the PGA job, he left a full-time position for what is considered a one-year position.
"We still do it that way," Cannon says. "We do hire some staff locally, and right up front it’s positioned as you’re here for the event and at the conclusion of the event there may be other options, or there may not be.
"But the opportunity to work on one of these events is compelling enough that people are willing to do it."
After the 2001 PGA Championship, Cannon was asked by the championship director for the Ryder Cup in Michigan to be its operations director. Cannon accepted and moved there in October, one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Ryder Cup, a biennial competition between teams from the United States and Europe, was delayed one year, from 2003 to 2004, because of the attacks. That narrowed the window between the Ryder Cup and the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills to four years.
When the Ryder Cup championship director left the PGA after the event, Oakland Hills representatives asked Cannon to stay in town to direct the PGA Championship. The PGA of America consented.
"That afforded me the time to go to grad school," he says. "I started in August of 2005 and finished in the spring of 2007."
He earned his MBA from Michigan State University.
Cannon, with a new wife and daughter, moved to Atlanta after the 2008 PGA Championship wrapped up, beginning work on the 2011 championship.
"It was a huge thrill to be able to return 10 years later to where I started with the PGA," he says. "And it was nice because it’s close to where I’m from. Knoxville is only three hours away."
From there, he made his way to Pittsford 13 months ago, this time with a second daughter in tow.
"Ryan has a unique ability to rally and unite all of the committees and all of the people to focus on one goal," says Oak Hill general manager Daniel Farrell. "It’s an honor and a privilege to get to know Ryan professionally and personally."
Farrell came to Oak Hill in April after five years as general manager at Innis Arden Golf Club in Connecticut.
"Ryan was one of the first gentlemen who welcomed me to the club in my position," Farrell says. "He and his team have been a big part of our Oak Hill family. They make a big sacrifice, with their families and their personal lives, to (move) around to every town getting ready for the championship."
Cannon, in fact, made his first trip to Oak Hill while living in Michigan, to attend the 2003 PGA Championship.
"We came over for three days," he says. "The two times of the year our on-site staff is together-most of them, anyway-are the PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup, and we have a department meeting.
"You have your primary responsibility, which might be the particular event you’re working on, but you are also engaged in all of our other departmental, associationwide business, which is in many different areas."

Family and golf
Cannon plays golf as often as time will allow, but not as often as he would like.
"During the summer, I’ll maybe get out once or twice every 10 days or so," he says. "I love to play. Golf is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. It remains so to this day."
His handicap hovers from 1 to 3.
"But I’m not nearly as good as I should be, considering how much I’ve invested in it," he says. "The time, effort and energy going on now for over 25 years, you’d think I’d be a lot better at it. But it’s still fun. That’s part of what makes golf the greatest game ever."
Cannon spends most of his non-working hours with his family, often as if on a two-year vacation.
"There’s a great trail system through the town of Pittsford that my 8-year-old and I were on at least three times a week during the summer, riding our bikes, which is a blast," he says.
They have also visited area museums and natural attractions, and as well as nearby locales such as Niagara Falls and Toronto.
"We’ve been to the Strong Museum. We’ve been to Letchworth State Park. We’ve been to Canandaigua. … There are so many things to do here. Both indoors and outdoors, the quality of life is really strong."
Cannon and his wife both admit their itinerant lifestyle has its drawbacks.
"It is not your typical everyday life, that’s for sure," Amber says. "There are times when it has its challenges, especially with two small kids.
"It also has a lot of really cool benefits. Our daughters get to experience different areas, see different people and learn about different communities. When they get older, they’ll be very well-traveled and will have gained a lot of valuable experience from that."
Cannon, however, thinks the day will come when he and his family will have to find a permanent home.
"I don’t know yet where that’s going to be," he says. "It depends largely on what I end up doing. I love doing this. There’s no reason I would look to do something else, other than the prospect of moving my family every couple of years.
"When I get older, it really is just not going to be realistic. My wife and daughters are going to outvote me after the next one. I might continue on with the PGA of America in some other capacity, perhaps on the championship side of things in some other capacity."
When that time comes, it will be bittersweet, Cannon says.
"It’s hard to describe how rewarding, personally, the experience is when it’s the week of the championship, the weather is beautiful, there’s thousands of people here, and the players and the media, and hundreds of millions of people watching around the world," he says.
"To have everything you’ve put your heart and soul into for years be so tangible, and the payoff to be so real, that’s unique."
Cannon’s immediate supervisor is Kerry Haigh, who had been the PGA of America’s managing director of championships and business development and this month was promoted to chief championships officer.
"My boss is technically over everything, but his real focus is on what’s going on inside the ropes," Cannon says. "He really delegates what’s going on outside the ropes to our staff."
Cannon oversees five full-time workers now. That will increase to eight by March. The tournament’s planning team, including 65 Oak Hill members, has 50 committees.
Oak Hill’s Marty Glavin is the tournament chairman, alongside general manager Farrell.
"I work with them literally every day, and many members of the surrounding community," Cannon says.
"We want all of those groups-stakeholders, our volunteers, the spectators, the players, the media-when all is said and done, to say, ‘That was an incredible week, and we can’t wait for it to come back.’"

Ryan Cannon
Title: Championship director, 2013 PGA Championship
Age: 36
Home: Pittsford
Education: Bachelor of business administration, East Tennessee State University, 1999; MBA, Michigan State University, 2007
Family: Wife Amber; daughters Kalie, 8, and Brianna, 2
Hobbies: Golf
Quote: "When people show up here, we don’t want them to be thinking about us and wondering how long it took to build this. We want them to have the sense that this has all been here forever."

12/28/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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