Written by Joel Zuckerman
After last year's unusual late April date, our local PGA Tour stop now returns to its traditional week in April immediately following the Masters Tournament. The early April dates are familiar (the 9th to the 15th) but the sponsor is brand-new. Verizon ended 24 years of sponsorship following the 2010 tournament, and now RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) has signed a five-year agreement to become the new title sponsor of the RBC Heritage through 2016. In addition to RBC's title sponsorship, The Boeing Company, which has a significant presence up in Charleston, will serve as local presenting sponsor for the tournament.
The search for a new title sponsor was long and hard, and resulted in many sleepless nights and stressful days for longtime tournament director Steve Wilmot and his staff. But thanks to the efforts put forth by Wilmot's staff and the support shown by both the PGA Tour and the many players who love the serenity of the Hilton Head event, all was put right in the end. "This is a great day in South Carolina, and we're going to celebrate," said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, when the announcement of the new sponsor was made some months ago. "We said from day one that finding a private sponsor for The Heritage was one of this administration's top priorities because the tournament is an opportunity for us to showcase our state as one of this country's premier destinations for business and tourists and that we shouldn't rely on taxpayers to foot the bill."
The RBC Heritage has had many different names through the decades, including Heritage Classic, Sea Pines Heritage Classic, MCI Classic, MCI Heritage Classic, Worldcom Classic and Verizon Heritage. But whatever the name was at that particular time, the tournament has been an important element of South Carolina's culture and economy since 1969, when it debuted at the Pete Dye-designed Harbour Town Golf Links. The tournament generates more than $1 million for charity each year and brings worldwide exposure to Hilton Head Island and the state of South Carolina through telecasts and media coverage. A 2010 study conducted by Clemson University shows the tournament has an annual economic impact of approximately $82 million.
"We are delighted that RBC, already a great partner of the PGA Tour as title sponsor of the RBC Canadian Open, has made this significant commitment to secure The Heritage's future," said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. "We are also very appreciative of Boeing's significant support as the event's presenting sponsor. In addition to being a favorite among our players, the RBC Heritage has had a tremendous economic and charitable impact, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Heritage Classic Foundation."
This year's event will undoubtedly build on an incredible tradition at the event that includes a stellar list of past champions, including a number of World Golf Hall of Fame members: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Hubert Green and the late Payne Stewart.
The event is not just popular with the players, but also with their families. Ernie Els, seven times among the top ten in the tournament, and his family were often seen riding bikes on Sea Pines narrow pathways. Five-time champion Davis Love III has been known to come to the event by boat, and stay on his vessel in the Harbour Town Yacht Basin during tournament week. Many pros bring their wives and children to the beach for some relaxation, and even the course – at just over 6,900 yards – was a welcome change. "In terms of stress level it's the anti-Augusta," two-time Heritage champion Stewart Cink said recently.
Defending champion Brant Snedeker is returning, as are local favorites Mark Anderson of Beaufort and Brian Harman of Savannah, each now a bona fide member of the PGA Tour and having excellent early results in their respective rookie seasons on Tour. Other luminaries expected to compete this month include recently-deposed world number one Luke Donald, and Major champions Ernie Els, John Daly, Padraig Harrington, Justin Leonard and Lee Janzen. Numerous former Heritage champions will be in their field, including Glen Day, Brian Gay, Boo Weekley, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III, the latter trio not only Heritage champions, but Major champions as well.