Ken Devine, who saved Michigan PGA and helped lure Ryder Cup, dies at 87

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ken Devine, who was credited with saving the financially devastated Michigan PGA chapter and had at least some role in bringing the Ryder Cup to Metro Detroit in the early 2000s, has died.

Devine, of Farmington Hills, died July 1. He was 87.

Devine was CEO and executive director of the Michigan PGA from 1991 through 2004.

Ken Devine was the longtime executive director of the Michigan PGA.

"He had a great run with the Michigan PGA," said Kevin Helm, current Michigan PGA executive director, who served as Devine's understudy for several years late in his tenure. "The section went through kind of an unfortunate period where Ken came in kind of right after that and had a pretty clear mission: 'Hey, we don't have any money. We need someone with some business skills.' He came in at a difficult time for the section, and did a marvelous job kind of managing and guiding the section through that period into a solid financial position, which was not easy.

"He had the right skills. He was the right guy at the right time."

Devine began his golf career in equipment sales for a company called First Flight Golf Company out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, first as a Michigan representative and then on a national stage, expanding his portfolio of key contacts, including the likes of golf legends Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Devine was there when Palmer left a lucrative contract as a Wilson endorser and signed with First Flight. Devine was a regular at golf shows, locally and nationally, during his time with Royal Golf and Tommy Armour Golf Company.

In 1991, he was lured back to Michigan to take over the state's PGA section after the firing of his predecessor, who was convicted of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization.

The Michigan PGA was broke and its future sustainability quite uncertain.

"Golf is a dollars-and-cents industry and I'm proud of what we've accomplished," Devine told Golf Advisor and reporter Brandon Tucker for a story published in 2005, the year after he retired. "I used my theory that the quickest way to start making money is to stop losing money. This section is positioned for great growth."

One of Devine's first initiatives was to build up the Michigan PGA's network of sponsors, and he quickly landed an important deal with Detroit Newspapers, including The Detroit News. That deal lasted for 14 years and helped increase the purses in the Michigan PGA's major championships, making the Michigan section the envy of chapters all across the country.

Devine helped launch youth golf programs like First Tee and Midnight Golf, providing opportunities for inner-city kids all under the banner of his key focus: Making golf fun, at an early age. He expanded opportunities for women golfers, founding the Michigan Women's Open, and created the Tournament of Champions.

With the organization on better financial ground, he got the Michigan PGA out of its small offices in Walled Lake, and eventually into a facility in Bath, near Lansing. The Michigan PGA also expanded its staff.

Most importantly, Devine won back the trust of the membership.

"I don't know if savior is the right word, but he is the guy who got us on the right track after the financials problems of the 1990s," Jim Dewling, a two-time president of the Michigan section and current board member for the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, said in the 2005 Golf Advisor article.

"He has done a great job of member relations and association relations in a tough position."

Devine had a lot of great experiences in golf — as a player, he apparently never had a hole-in-one but did have three double-eagles, a more rare accomplishment — and, according to Golf Advisor, played golf with famed astronaut Neil Armstrong.

But his most special experience might've happened at the very end of his tenure with the Michigan PGA, when the PGA of America's crown jewel event, the Ryder Cup, came to Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004. The event was pushed back a year, by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was the first time the Ryder Cup, which pits the USA against Europe, came to Michigan.

The membership at Oakland Hills, site of so many majors over the years, made the initial and biggest push for the Ryder Cup, but had a big-time booster in Devine, with all his contacts at the national level.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he had conversations with them," Helm said of the PGA of America, "about the facility, the people involved and how the community would rally around it."

Devine, talking to Golf Advisor in 2005: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to host a Ryder Cup. It is a storybook way for me to go out."

Devine played a big role in helping the PGA of America choose Metro Detroit charities for Ryder Cup dollars.

After retirement, Devine and wife Joyce traveled south for long stretches during the winter, but maintained their full-time residence in Farmington Hills. He was a longtime member at Western Golf & Country Club in Redford, served as director of the National Golf Foundation, worked with the Golf World Hall of Fame and was a secretary of the Golf Managers Association.

Devine is survived by Joyce, son Robert and grandchildren Molly, Tara and Kerry.

A private service was held; a public memorial service will happen at a yet-to-be-determined date.

"He was a character," said Jack Berry, longtime golf writer for The Detroit News. 

"He was very, very good for the Michigan PGA."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984