PGA golf returns to South Carolina with The Heritage

This was the week that almost didn’t happen for the PGA Tour. After 43 years of Golf in Hilton Head, The 2011 Heritage event was losing it’s title sponsor and prospects looked dim.

Tournament Director Steve Wilmot says “I walked into my kitchen after working a long day at the tournament, and my Dad was cooking dinner, and I just lost it. Folks have no idea how close we came to having to end this thing.”

Wilmot goes on to say “But, the media really stepped up for us last year. You guys began telling the story of this great tournament, and really putting us on a pedestal. With your help, we were able to secure a title and presenting sponsor and continue on.”

MCI began it’s sponsorship of this event in 1987 and after being sold to Verizon in 2006, continued that relationship with The Heritage through the 2011 event. With plenty of notice of the pending loss of Verizon, the foundation simply wasn’t finding a lot of interest in this event that is well loved by the players.

Brandt Snedeker, the 2011 winner of The Heritage and it’s over one million dollar paycheck says “This is one of those tournaments that most guys build their schedules around. The community comes together, the staff comes together, it’s a fantastic course, and the weather is usually beautiful. It’s a great week for golf in South Carolina.”

In fact, during the 2011 tournament, discussions began in the player’s locker rooms about how the players could help secure a new sponsor. Discussions turned toward players possibly making concessions including additional appearances, calls to potential sponsors, or even boycotting if necessary, according to Snedeker.

As the event ended in 2011, no sponsor had been secured, but the feeling amongst the 10 full time staff members of the The Heritage was taking a turn toward optimism. According to media director Angela McSwain, “CBS was really speaking positively about the tournament during their broadcast and that was something they normally didn’t do. In addition, other media outlets were writing great things about us. By the end of the tournament, we were feeling pretty good.”

After originally being told that they might lose their jobs in May, those full time staffers say talk instead began to turn toward planning next year’s event.

Meetings began around the country with potential sponsors and Royal Bank of Canada agreed to a five year deal to continue the tournament and become the title sponsor with Boeing as the presenting sponsor. Jim Little with RBC says “Golf really works for us as a marketing avenue to grow our brand.”

With a new sponsor in place, the 2012 RBC Heritage becomes a reality this week. Teeing off Thursday morning in Hilton Head, 132 professional golfers will vie once again for the over one million dollar payday. The field includes 18 of the top 30 golfers in the FedEx cup standings including World Number 1 Luke Donald, fan favorite Ricky Fowler, Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley, and many more recognizable names.

Tickets are still available for the week, or for individual days. They range from $60 per day to $150 for the week. With a roughly 4 hour drive from the Grand Strand, this is a tournament that is easily accessible and with a week of fantastic weather scheduled, it should be a fantastic tournament….that almost didn’t happen.

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