78.5 F
Myrtle Beach
Friday, June 14, 2024

The agency that drives Myrtle Beach golf has a new leader. What drives him?

He was previously director of major championships for the PGA of America and ran the organization's charitable foundation PGA Reach

Must read

Ryan Cannon knows the impact golf, and programs within the game like the ones he will soon be supporting on the Grand Strand, can have on an individual.

“I’ve always been drawn to kind of mission-driven type of work. It’s very personal for me,” Cannon said. “My dad was one of four kids and raised by a single mother and they didn’t have anything growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. But he started caddying at a young age out of necessity for his family and went on to be an Evans Scholar.

“But for the game of golf his life would have been dramatically different, and obviously so would mine.”

Cannon, 47, has been hired as the new executive director of Golf Tourism Solutions, the marketing, technology and tournament operations agency that promotes the Myrtle Beach golf market.

He will begin his tenure at GTS on Jan. 2. He brings 23 years of golf industry experience, including 21 years with the PGA of America, to perhaps the game’s most popular travel destination.

Regarding his new gig, he’s especially excited about having a role in GTS’ philanthropic endeavors.

One of those is Project Golf, which was conceived and founded by GTS, and is now a separate nonprofit that is housed at its headquarters at Barefoot Resort & Golf and works closely with it, is supported by it, and receives marketing benefits from it.

Project Golf aims to introduce beginners, juniors and veterans to and increase their involvement in the game. One of its programs is PGA Hope, which focuses on enhancing the physical, social, mental and emotional well-being of active military and veterans, some of whom are disabled.

Past PGA of America president and veteran Gary Schaal is Project Golf’s executive director.

“To know that programming is happening out of GTS’ building, I can’t wait,” Cannon said. “I’ve told Gary, especially since I’m pursuing PGA membership, I really want to lean into that and help make as much of an impact there as I can.

“I’m a full-on believer of the positive impact that participation in the game of golf can have on somebody’s life in a lot of different dimensions, but for the veteran population in particular the social aspect, and physical, mental and emotional benefits are just priceless. I mean what an incredible way to give back, to invest energy and resources and time into a program like PGA Hope. I can’t wait to be a part of that.”

Prior to being hired by GTS, Cannon served for more than a year as executive vice president of Outlyr, a global agency specializing in event management, sponsorship consulting, and brand activation that operated eight LPGA events as well as Champions Tour and Korn Ferry tournaments.

“When this opportunity came up, all things considered it was something I had to pursue,” Cannon said. “I’m incredibly grateful and humbled to have the chance to do it.”

Like father, like son

Cannon’s father, Dan Cannon, earned his education largely through an Evans Scholarship, which is a full housing and tuition college scholarship awarded to golf caddies with limited financial means.

He first attended Ohio State and graduated from Youngstown State with an engineering degree. He transitioned to the computer and IT industry and is retired in Florida with his wife/Ryan’s mother, who was a school teacher. They are both regular golfers.

When a new public course named Willow Creek opened near Cannon’s home in Knoxville, Tennessee when he was about 12, ‘my dad took me over to the general manager of the facility . . . and basically volunteered my services to the facility,” Cannon said. “That was my introduction to the game.”

Cannon shagged range balls, cleaned carts and did other odd jobs while having access to play and practice. “That’s how I spent my summers, hanging out at Willow Creek helping out,” said Cannon, who played multiple sports in his youth before gravitating to golf once Willow Creek opened.

After graduating from East Tennessee State with a degree in marketing, Cannon earned his MBA from Michigan State and joined the PGA of America as an operations coordinator for the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

He soon became operations manager for the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills outside Detroit.

Transitioning within the PGA

Cannon served as the director of four PGA Championships: Oakland Hills Country Club in 2008, Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, Oak Hill Country Club in 2013, and 2016 at Baltusrol Golf Club. 

By the 2016 PGA Championship, Cannon had been in PGA event management for 16 years and was living in northern New Jersey, where a few major PGA events were coming in upcoming years. “I was fully expecting to continue to live and work there,” he said.

But he had a conversation at the 2016 PGA with then PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua, who articulated his vision for the PGA”s charitable foundation PGA Reach, which would immediately change Cannon’s career focus. “It took me 2 seconds to say yes to that opportunity,” Cannon said.

PGA Reach’s foundation had been laid but the initiative needed more building, and Cannon developed it as senior director. Its mission is to positively impact the lives of youth, military and diverse populations by enabling access to PGA professionals and the game, and PGA Hope is among its programs.

“That was the privilege of a lifetime to do that type of work for the PGA of America on a national basis,” he said. “To have a chance to try to create positive impact from the game of golf in other people’s lives on behalf of the PGA of America, really by enabling PGA members to go out and be who they are and do what they do. That was a dream opportunity to do it and I had a blast doing it.”

For many in the golf industry, operating major championships would have been the pinnacle of their careers.

“Major championship golf, those are about as big as it gets and I worked hard to get to that point,” Cannon said. “A lot of people didn’t understand why I would make a decision like that.”

When Cannon was overseeing PGA Reach, he recalls speaking with Schaal about Project Golf prior to its introduction. “To see what has been accomplished there is remarkable,” Cannon said.

“Ryan, with his connections to the PGA and PGA Reach, will be a great ally for us,” Schaal said. “He really knows all about the nonprofit sector.”

His plan at GTS

Cannon has long been familiar with Myrtle Beach.

He regularly visited the area when his father had business trips here, particularly in the summer, when the family would travel in a 1982 Datsun-Nissan Sentra Wagon vehicle.

“I’ve been going to Myrtle Beach since I was a kid and it’s kind of awesome that it’s all kind of coming full circle in this way, that I have the opportunity to return in the golf business and industry. It’s a lot of fun,” said Cannon, who is moving to a rental house in North Myrtle Beach from a suburb of Dallas, where he’s been since the summer of 2019.

Cannon will work with GTS’ board of directors to develop and implement the agency’s strategy to promote and increase golf tourism travel to the region.

“Ryan will bring a fresh perspective to the market,” said Dave Genevro, chairman of Golf Tourism Solutions’ board and general manager of Barefoot Resort, in a press release. “We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Ryan, and I, along with the entire Golf Tourism Solutions board, believe his vision and leadership will help elevate an already thriving destination to even greater heights.”

Tae Kim won the 2015 World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, an event operated by Golf Tourism Solutions.
Tae Kim wins the 2015 World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, one of 11 events operated by Golf Tourism Solutions. (GTS photo)

Cannon is familiar with the history of cooperation between golf courses and other golf-related businesses on the Grand Strand that has been propagated by GTS and its prior iteration, the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday marketing cooperative, and he plans to continue to encourage it.

“I understand what is special about the Myrtle Beach golf industry and community. I have a huge reverence and respect for it,” Cannon said. “It has been a result of decades of that vision and work toward that collaborative goal and service to growing the game of golf. That’s not lost on me and I’m humbled I have the opportunity to help steward that forward and author the next chapters, and I can’t wait. I’m as excited about this as I’ve ever been about anything.

“What has been created there by that community really is special, and I believe ‘The Golf Capital of the World’ [moniker] has been earned by that community and it’s accurate.”

He believes he’s taking over GTS at an opportune time, with the PGA Tour’s Myrtle Beach Classic debuting in May and scheduled for the next four years.

In revisiting his roots, he is now an associate member of the PGA and anticipates becoming a full-time Class A member late in 2024.

Past PGA of America presidents Schaal and Will Mann both live on the Grand Strand – Mann is the director of Coastal Carolina University’s PGA Golf Management Program – and Roger Warren isn’t far on Kiawah Island.

“The amount of people who can trace some part of their career back to Myrtle Beach and the golf industry, it’s got to be like no place else on the planet just given the size and scope and duration,” Cannon said. “I can’t wait to dig a little deeper into that. It’s remarkable the influence the Grand Strand has had on the golf industry.”

Related articles

Did You Like this Story?

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive stories like this

Click ad for details

Latest article