Advertisement

Can this Florida PGA Tour staple again become a marquee event? New director believes so

Todd Fleming believes the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches has all the ingredients to become a premier stop on the PGA Tour.

Why else would the 45-year-old leave a job as vice president for global sales at Legends, a company that specializes in solutions for sports organizations and venues?

Fleming, who spent two years as the manager of ticket sales for the Miami Heat in the 2000s, is Cognizant’s new executive director. He will take over running the event after this year’s tournament concludes.

Cognizant will be held Feb. 29-March 3 at PGA National.

“I know we will build a championship this community can take immense pride in, as well as our players,” said Fleming, who worked 14 years at Legends. “This has tremendous potential to be a marquee event on the Tour each and every year.”

Cognizant replaced Honda as the title sponsor of the event that has been held in Palm Beach Gardens the last two decades and at PGA National since 2007. Joie Chitwood, hired by the PGA Tour in May to run the 2026 Presidents Cup, was asked to step in this year on an interim basis to help the event through the transition.

The Tour’s Championship Management division will take over operations of the event.

“The PGA Tour doesn’t do the acquisitions in taking over rights and control of an event if they don’t believe in the marketplace and believe there is a real opportunity for growth,” Fleming said.

Matt Rapp, senior vice-president of the PGA Tour’s Championship Management Division, spoke about the Tour’s desire to continue the event’s growth outside the ropes started by former executive directors Ken Kennerly and Andrew George. They also want a return to the world-class fields regularly seen until about five years ago.

Todd Fleming has been named executive director of the Cognizant Classic.

With Rory McIlory and Rickie Fowler heading the early entries – and the Tour adjusting the schedule in Cognizant’s favor – this year’s tournament is off to a good start.

“The work that’s been done with this event to this point has been incredible,” Fleming said. “You got to build on that.”

While attendance, charitable contributions and the build-out continue to grow, Fleming said the goal also is to stage an event golfers are “juiced up” to play.

“When you’re on the golf course, you’re talking to guys next to you,” Fleming said about the pros. “If we get the right mixture of atmosphere, amenities, the right product and spectator enhancements these guys are going to talk to each other.”

Once that happens, then it’s up to Fleming and his team to “be revolutionary” in how they can think outside the ropes.

“Then we nailed it,” he said. “Then it’s blue sky after that. If we can get this thing going, there is no question in my mind people want to be in this marketplace.”

2023 Honda Classic
2023 Honda Classic

Eric Cole tees off at the 17th hole during the third round of the 2023 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo: Andres Leiva/Palm Beach Post)

Fly on the wall for ’24 Cognizant

Fleming will be on site for this year’s tournament.

“I’ll be a fly on the wall and get as much knowledge as I can,” he said. “Shadowing and listening as much as possible. There’s still some things we have to evolve, make sure we’re putting on an event the community and Palm Beach County is proud of.”

A graduate of the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, where he was a point guard on the basketball team, Fleming has a reputation as a leader, communicator and motivator.

In 2018, he was named one of Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” Prior to joining Legends, he worked in business operations for the Charlotte Bobcats, Dallas Cowboys, New Jersey Nets, Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. His two-year stint in Miami started in 2004.

While at Legends, Fleming helped complete the Yankees’ $40 million renovation to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, assisted the Chargers in their move to Los Angeles and helped a company win the right to sell premium seats for the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas.

“Todd’s track record at Legends speaks for itself,” Rapp said. “His vast experience in establishing new partnerships across the sports landscape is perfect for our long-term goals in South Florida as we look to create a best-in-class tournament atmosphere catered for our top PGA Tour players, partners and fans.”

Fleming and his family will move from their current home in Austin, Texas, to Palm Beach County following the 2023-24 school year.

“We are in the perfect epicenter,” Fleming said about growing Cognizant before adding that Palm Beach County needs to be a destination for people who want to see “great golf and have an experience.

“We have an opportunity to do that. We’re going to go all in.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek