When he gazes out the window from his home on the 10th fairway at Park Meadows Country Club, Jim Kelly has a view that most people would die for.
The man known as the “Voice of the Champions Tour” while covering every sport imaginable during his 40-year broadcasting career, has enjoyed the picturesque
view of the mountains that make up the Park City and Deer Valley ski resorts for nearly 20 years.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Kelly used to split his time between a downtown Manhattan apartment and Atlantic
Beach, Fla., not far from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedre.
But he got tired of the hustle and bustle of New York City and the humidity of Florida and headed west to Utah in the late 1980s.
“I consolidated and downsized and moved out to Park City,’’ he says.
And he hasn’t regretted it for a minute.
“It’s little slice of heaven,’’ he says. Kelly gets up every morning between 4 and 4:30,despite usually staying up through David Letterman’s monologue the night before. He doesn’t even need an alarm clock to get himself going while it’s still dark outside, yet he’s still able to pack a week’s worth into each day on barely five hours of sleep.
If he’s not preparing for an upcoming golf tournament on the Golf Channel, he’s working on business for his company J Cubed, which includes golf course marketing, banquets and video production. It wears you out just listening to everything Kelly has done in his life and continues to do.
“I need to stay active,’’ says the golden-voiced Kelly, who turned 60 last year.
Since coming to Utah, Kelly has made many longlasting friendships and he loves his lifestyle with the opportunities to ski and go snowmobiling in the winter and to golf, fish and go boating in the summer.
His love affair with Park City began in the winter of 1987 when he came out for a Christmas skiing trip
on the advice of his friend Jim Colbert, the longtime PGA and Champions Tour golfer. Before that, he’d
only skied in Minnesota and New England.
Kelly loved Utah’s slopes and became friends with one of Colbert’s friends, Vince Donile, a Park City
“I’m not a ‘Florida lay-in-the-sun’ guy,’’ says Kelly.
“I didn’t think there was any point sitting in the Florida
humidity in the summer.’’
And while he enjoyed living in New York, particularly
attending New York Rangers hockey game (“hockey is my passion”), when the opportunity to
move to Utah came, he jumped.
When he first saw his future home, it was a pile of cement several hundred yards up the right side
of the No. 10 hole at Park Meadows. Soon he had a nice house that is far enough up the fairway that
he doesn’t have to worry about slicers sending their Titleists through his windows.
Kelly says “not even John Daly on steroids’’ could hit his house from the tee, although occasionally
some of Kelly’s buddies will “accidentally” chip balls into his yard.
Kelly grew up in Toledo as a big sports fan, idolizing the likes of Al Kaline in baseball, Bobby
Layne in football, Gordie Howe in hockey and Arnold Palmer in golf.
He got into radio while in college at the University
He gave up a promising hockey career after being named “rookie of the year” for his college team when
he was 19 and began his broadcasting career.
Soon, he was producing his own radio shows, selling pre-game advertising packages at hockey games
that he produced and broadcasted for as little as $6.
Kelly first became involved with golf in the 1960s as a radio reporter for Mutual Radio. He covered college
golf tournaments where he interviewed collegiate golfers such as Johnny Miller, Hubert Green, Tom
Kite, John Mahaffey and Tom Watson. That would prove beneficial later in his career when he covered
the same golfers on the Senior Tour.
Speaking of Arnold Palmer, Kelly says, “Most people don’t get to even meet their idol, let alone become good friends.”
“I was just a dorky radio reporter, but I developed
great relationships with that generation of golfers,’’
In 1970, he worked out a gig to cover The Masters on the radio with the understanding that he would
get interviews with some of the top golfers.
The radio manager was skeptical, saying, “Who is
this kid who thinks he can get a different pro for an interview up on the tower?’’
Well, one day Kelly got Jack Nicklaus, the next day he got Byron Nelson and the next day he got
Sam Snead. He ended up working a dozen Masters
for CBS Radio.
While working for CBS, Kelly became the local sports anchor at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia in 1979. His boss had the idea of making his middle
name “Sports” as in Jim “Sports” Kelly. Although Kelly thought it was a bit hokey, the idea caught on
and before long everyone in Philadelphia knew Jim “Sports” Kelly.
It was the best of times for sports in Philly as Kelly saw the Phillies win the World Series, the Sixers win
the NBA title, the Flyers win the NHL title and the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, all during the same
year. To top it off, he was on hand to cover the famous U.S. Olympic hockey victory over the Russians
at Lake Placid in 1980.
Because he was under contract with CBS, Kelly couldn’t argue when the network asked him in 1982
to join the CBS Morning News with Diane Sawyer,
with whom he still remains close friends.
Although he only stayed four years in Philadelphia, Kelly says he can’t go through an airport these days without someone coming up to him and saying,
“Hey, Jim Sports Kelly.’’
During that time in the early 1980s, Kelly also did a lot of work for CBS-TV, including NFL and NBA
play-by-play, bowling, tennis and horse racing.
In 1985, Kelly began doing golf for ESPN and before long earned the moniker of “the voice of
the Senior Tour’’ which later became known as the Champions Tour in 2003.
He did about 30 golf tournaments a year, including most televised Senior Tour events from 1988 until
2000 when CNBC bought the rights to the old man’s Tour, leaving Kelly out in the cold.
That’s when Kelly took what he calls his “sabbatical.’’
He worked a few golf events on the LPGA Tour and some “silly season” events such as the Senior
Skins Game for ESPN. But he also worked college football and basketball games for the Mountain West
Conference on the ESPN package, including several BYU and Utah games.
He recalls one memorable occasion covering a morning bowl game in Boise between Boise State
and Clemson, when “we had a crew call at 6:30 a.m. and I remember standing in the snow on that
Although he missed the regularity of the Champions
Tour events, he enjoyed the year away.
“I had a great time,’’ he says. “To be honest with you, it re-energized me.’’
After being away for a year, Kelly received a call from Donna Orender, the Senior Vice President of TV and Marketing for the PGA Tour, asking what it
would take to get him back as the voice of the Champions Tour.
He told her it would take a no-cut contract with “lots of zeroes in it” and that’s what he got, a six-figure
salary for three years.
Then when the Champions Tour package went to the Golf Channel, Kelly was the only commentator
from CNBC that was picked up.
“I’ve had an excellent run on the Champions Tour and developed wonderful relationships from tournament
directors to players,’’ he said.
Among the players he has become close besides
Colbert are Hale Irwin, Dave Stockton,
Bob Murphy, Jay Sigel and one he cherishes the
most, Arnold Palmer.
In August of 2002, the last year of the Senior Tour event in Utah after a 21-year run, Palmer joined several
other senior golfers for a party at Kelly’s house.
Kelly fondly recalls how Palmer came driving up in a golf cart with his longtime design partner Ed Seay to
join the party of some 200 people.
“It was a special occasion,’’ says Kelly. “Most people don’t get to even meet their idol, let alone become friends.”
Two years ago when Palmer finally decided to give up competitive golfing, he insisted on making
the announcement in an interview with Kelly, who was obviously flattered and touched to be singled out by Arnie.
Besides being friends with Palmer, perhaps the most popular golfer of all time, Kelly is also friends
with Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, at least the greatest of this generation.
Kelly was on the mike for Woods’ first victory at the Las Vegas Invitational in 1996, when he was doing
commentary for ESPN.
When Tiger was named Sportsman of the Year after his spectacular 1997 season, Kelly asked him to
sign the Sports Illustrated cover and it read, “To Jim, you were there for my first and I hope you’re there for
many, many more.’’
Because of his friendship with Mark O’Meara and others in the area, Woods makes frequent visits to
Utah, at least more than most people realize.
Kelly says he has run into Woods more than once in Park City, in fact, he saw Woods and his wife, Elin,
at a Starbucks in Park City in November. “I knew two weeks before anyone else that Elin was with
child,’’ he said.
One of Kelly’s co-horts on the air is former PGA Tour player Frank Nobilo, whom Kelly had been
talking to just before his interview with Fairways Magazine.
In a bio from the Golf Channel, Nobilo talks about working with Kelly.
“I was very fortunate when The Golf Channel paired me up with Jim. I guess they viewed me as a loose cannon and thought I would need all the help I could get so they put me with the Emmy-winning Jim Kelly. His professionalism is second to none. Always prepared. I even steal some of his information
when he is not looking,’’ said Nobilo.
“Jim has been very instrumental in getting me to understand the semantics of the industry. Jim and I have fun on and off the air.’’
Kelly says he enjoys playing golf, although he doesn’t claim to be a great golfer, about a 15 handicap.
He says he doesn’t have the patience or time to work on his game.
“I like to go out and play nine holes,’’ he says.
“Playing 18 takes too much time.’’
Kelly, who’s been “happily single” since 1985, is the father of two terrific daughter’s Jennifer and Shawn, who come to visit Park City often but as he says “not often enough”. He loves spending time with his daughters and now 5 grandchildren:
Malcolm, Harper, Rowen, Marley and Noah Kathryn,
“along with my daughters-the most important
things in my life!”.
However, he’s not quite ready to retire to the rocking chair.
“I’d get bored,’’ he says.
While he’s worked hundreds, perhaps thousands of sporting events from golf to football to horse racing to sailing, Kelly has a hard time singling out any
one event or sport as his favorite.
“People often ask me what I would rather do and my answer is ‘wherever I am that weekend is where
I’m supposed to be,’’’ he says.
“I’ve been truly blessed.’’
Mike Sorensen is a sports writer for the Deseret News and a frequent contributor to Fairways.
Jim Kelly The Voice of Golf During his self-proclaimed sabbatical, Kelly worked a few LPGA events.