Hooked on Golf: How an Industry Captured the Hearts of Mount Union Alumni

June 30, 2009

Ed  KiernanAt a college known for its football teams, alumni associated with another sport are giving Mount Union College world-wide recognition.

While national championships loom on the horizon for the Purple Raiders, who are two-time defending OAC golf champions, a number of graduates are making their marks in the sport.  Ironically, the marks they have left are not on the fairways and greens, but rather, in the business of golf, and in life itself.

Interestingly, the one common thread that runs through their stories is that they entered Mount Union unsure of what they wanted to do in life.  If ever there were examples of what a liberal arts education can do to form the foundation for successful careers, consider the following cases. 

Ed Kiernan ’95 is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Peter Jacobson Sports, a full-service sports and entertainment marketing firm that specializes in event sales, management and operations, sponsorship consulting and player/talent relations.  Kiernan remembers entering Mount Union out of East Palestine High School as a possible geology major but switched his major to sport management.  He said he had the good fortune as a freshman to be one of a handful of new students who had President Harold Kolenbrander as their mentor.

“Just through luck, I had the opportunity to know President Kolenbrander on a personal basis and it changed my entire college experience,” Kiernan said.  “I got to know people on a more personal level and I grew as an individual in the small college environment.” 

A key point in his college career came when Mount offered him an internship with Championship Management Company where he learned the ins and outs of running a PGA Tour event.  After leaving Mount Union, he spent alot of time on the road “working for peanuts” and picking up experience at tour events.

His big break came when he moved to Hartford, CT to manage The PGA Tour’s Canon Greater Hartford Open (GHO) and met Peter Jacobsen.  After running Verizon’s PGA Tour Event in Tampa, FL, Kiernan eventually went on to work for Jacobsen, who at the time employed just 15 people.  Since then, Kiernan has gone on to become a partner with Jacobsen’s firm and helped take the company international working on global marketing platforms with more than 70 employees.

Kiernan said that as a marketing professional, he believes Mount Union’s football reputation is priceless. “You wouldn’t be able to pay enough to get the kind of recognition the football team provides,” he said.  “Mount Union should be proud of its excellence in athletics and continue to embrace it moving forward.”

Kiernan is married to Jennifer (Burkey ’94) Kiernan and they are the parents of a son, Tripp.

Mike McGee and Annika SorenstamMike McGee ’97 left East Palestine High School, where he was classmates with Kiernan, thinking he might want to be a teacher and coach.  An excellent baseball player throughout his college career (he still holds the record for most saves in a season and most career saves), McGee had trouble finding the right major to compliment his academic interests. 

“I went from education to business to psychology before settling into sport management as a major with psychology as a minor,” McGee said.  “In sport management, I encountered Dr. Thoma who was influential in pointing me in the right direction.  Dr. Thoma was a stickler for grammar and writing and I also learned a lot about time management at Mount.”

One advantage McGee had going for him while he was in college was that his father, Jerry, was on the PGA Tour. When it came time for McGee to look for practical experience, he was able to call on his father’s connections in the golf industry.

“I had the advantage of my dad’s connection but if I had it to do over I would have volunteered and done internships during the summer as well,” McGee said.  “My advice to today’s students is to get practical experience.  Mount Union does a fantastic job of preparing students in the classroom and providing the avenues toward careers.  If getting the practical experience means extending the time in college beyond four years, it’s worth it.  No employer that I know of cares how long it takes to get the degree – the interest is in the quality of the time spent in college rather than the quantity.”

McGee, who did in fact complete his degree in four years, landed a job with Executive Sports, which ran several LPGA events, and began work the day after graduation.  It was at one of these events that he had a chance “hello how do you do” meeting with Annika Sorenstam, the top golfer on the LPGA tour.  He recalls that some time later he was at a party in Orlando, FL and when he ran into Annika, he was greeted with a big hug. 

“From the day we met, I was impressed by what a sweet and humble person she is,” McGee said.  About a year went by when McGee received an e-mail from Annika thathe thought might have been a hoax. When he discovered it wasn’t, they started an e-mail correspondence that eventually led to a dinner date in Orlando.

From there they became good friends and the relationship turned the corner, according to McGee, in August 2005. 

“I was a fan of Annika before I got to know her,” McGee said.  “I am aware that the business and the brand is about her but I am very comfortable with that.”

McGee and Annika were married in January 2009 and are expecting their first child later this year.  McGee is now the managing director of ANNIKA Inc. which includes lines of clothing, fragrances and wine.  It also includes a finance group, foundation, golf course design and ANNIKA Academy.  The brand promise of ANNIKA Inc. is to provide inspirational experiences, and she always delivers on that promise no matter which area of business.  According to McGee, Annika continues to have a keen interest and passion for promoting golf for young women and she will continue to be an ambassador for the sport.

Michelle McGeeMichelle McGee ’02 is the director of sales of the ANNIKA Academy.  Like others before her, she sat in her classes at Mount wondering where she was headed.  She admits initially that she had no interest in sales but realized the available jobs in her field involved selling.

After graduating from Mount, she went to work for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  “I was with the Cavs during the pre-LeBron years, so they were a tough sell,” she said.  “I learned that selling wasn’t about used cars, but rather, developing relationships with group leaders and impacting people’s lives by creating great memories.”

After leaving the Cavs, she had stints in group sales with the Portland Trail Blazers and season ticket sales with the Oakland Raiders.  These experiences have benefited her as she has worked to establish a sales force for the ANNIKA Academy. 

“This new challenge is rewarding in so many different ways,” said Michelle, who is the sister of Mike McGee.  “My previous employers were all established franchises but now I have the opportunity to work from the ground up.  The ANNIKA Academy is just getting started, but we know that through proper marketing and sales, the ANNIKA brand will draw and the academy will continue to grow.”

Ashley and Stuart Appleby and familyAshley (Saleet ’01) Appleby was contemplating a career in writing or broadcasting when fate intervened.  During her senior year at Mount, she was invited by a friend to attend the NEC golf championships at Firestone Country Club in Akron, OH.  The friend also knew one of the golfers on the tour, Stuart Appleby, and he thought Ashley might want to meet Stuart.

“My first reaction was, “Who is Stuart Appleby?’” Ashley recalls. “But after walking nine holes with his coach, I eventually got to meet him.  I remember he had a very strong handshake but didn’t think too much about it until later when he asked me to dinner at LeFever, a restaurant near where he was staying.”

According to Ashley, the couple had a good time but she never thought she would seehim again and she returned to her studies at Mount Union.  Because she had done post-secondary work in high school, she had enough credits to finish in December and she did.  Shortly thereafter, she was invited by Stuart to join him in Las Vegas, NV where he was playing in a tournament.  Although she had never flown in a plane before, she went, and then spent the next several months on the tour.  The relationship grew and in December 2002 they were married on the beach in Stuart’s native Australia. 

Throughout the courtship, Ashley had to come to grips with the shadow cast by the well-chronicled tragic death of Stuart’s first wife Renay.  In so doing she found herself growing emotionally and healing along with Stuart’s family as well as Renay’s.

Today, she travels frequently with Stuart while raising their three children.  “I have asoft spot for Mount Union and always will,” Ashley said.  “Even before I met Stuart, I felt I could have gone anywhere and done well with a Mount Union College degree.”

There is a poster familiar to avid golfers that states “Golf is life.”  In the case of at least four Mount Union graduates, with their futures in doubt, golf became their lives.

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