Heritage Memories: A retrospective of 10 of the greatest moments from Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event

sports@islandpacket.comApril 18, 2013 

Arnold Palmer ended a 14-month winless drought to capture the first Heritage, helping to vault the tournament and the course it is played on to national prominence.

THE ISLAND PACKET

10. Course finished just in time for 1st Heritage

The first Heritage was planned for Thanksgiving weekend 1968 on Sea Pines' Ocean Course. But organizers delayed the debut by a year, giving them time to double the purse and play the first event on a new course, a collaboration between well-known Jack Nicklaus and then-obscure designer Pete Dye.

Though what would become Harbour Town Golf Links was mapped by George Cobb, designer of Sea Pines' Ocean and Sea Marsh courses, by the time ground was broken, Dye and Nicklaus had only 11 months to build and prepare the course. They made it just under the wire.

Promotional materials for the first tournament depicted the clubhouse and holes of the Ocean Course, and a pamphlet declaring the tournament will be played at Harbour Town attached an asterisk, with the fine print stipulating the Ocean Course would be used if Harbour Town was not ready.

As pros arrived for practice rounds, Dye was still crafting bunkers, and the PGA Tour official who had to certify the course ready to play cut organizers a break by overlooking greens where the grass had not quite filled in.

But approved it was, and Harbour Town helped usher in a new era of golf architecture, jump-start the burgeoning design careers of Nicklaus and Dye, and endure as one of the most challenging shot-makers' courses in the world. While shorter than 7,000 yards from the championship tees until 2012, only four times in the event's first 15 playings would the winner shoot 274 or better.

9. Irwin becomes oldest Heritage champion

A full 21 years after his last title at Harbour Town, the 48-year-old Hale Irwin accomplished the feat again in 1994, marking his third Heritage victory. At the time, that made him just the second player with three Heritage titles, joining Davis Love III. He remains the tournament's oldest winner, with a dominating performance -- he shot two 65s and two 68s to set a then-tournament record of 18 under par.

8. Davis' self policing means Heritage title for Furyk

Former U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk has the precision game tailored for Harbour Town Golf Links. He posted four top-10 finishes from 2003-2008. But it took an act of honesty and sportsmanship from another player to vault Furyk to his first Heritage victory in 2010.

On the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, opponent Brian Davis ticked a loose reed with his backswing -- an act imperceptible without slow-motion television replay and so slight, Davis himself was not sure he had nicked it. The result was a two-stroke penalty and a win for Furyk.

Davis' violation cost him a chance at his first PGA Tour victory and a stunning comeback -- he had rolled in a clutch 18-footer for birdie on his final regulation hole to catch Furyk and force the playoff.

7. Cink wins playoff amid controversy, comes from nine back to win second Heritage title

Stewart Cink came from nine shots back in the final round to win the 2004 Heritage, the biggest comeback on the PGA Tour since Paul Lawrie's win from 10 down in the 1999 British Open. Cink also became the eighth golfer to win the Heritage more than once. His win won't be remembered for either of those things, however.

Cink and Ted Purdy battled in a five-hole playoff tied for longest in tournament history. After driving into a waste bunker tucked in the turn of a dogleg right at the par-4 16th, Cink hit a miraculous wedge shot to within feet of the pin to set up birdie and secure his second tartan jacket.

After the closing ceremonies and unknown to fans, Cink was whisked away to a CBS television production truck to watch replays of his bunker shot. The legitimacy of Cink's win was in question after several fans watching on television called the tournament because they suspected the golfer of illegally removing debris from behind his ball and illegally marking the line of his shot or illegally grounding his club in a hazard.

Cink's victory stood when tournament rules official Slugger White determined he wasn't guilty of the first offense. And though Cink did ground his club and remove loose impediments from around his ball, both were allowable because he was in a "waste area" and not a bunker.

6. Stewart first to win back-to-back titles at Harbour Town

It was arguably the most dominant stretch by a professional golfer at Harbour Town Golf Links -- Payne Stewart, who eschewed the course for five years because of what he deemed poor conditioning, returned to the Heritage in 1989 only because the course it was played upon would host the season-ending Nabisco Championships later that year.

Stewart broke the tournament scoring record on the way to a win in his return and then won again in 1990. In between, Stewart lost a playoff to Tom Kite to finish second in the Nabisco. He then tied for fourth in the 1991 Heritage.

Stewart was the tournament's first back-to-back champion.

5. Love's miraculous chip vaults him to playoff, fifth tartan jacket

Davis Love III was as inconspicuous on the final-round leaderboard of the 2003 Heritage as a four-time champion could be.

He hadn't led any of the first three rounds and seemed out off contention when his approach on the par-4 18th hole, the 72nd of the tournament, landed well right of the green.

But from 66 feet away, Love chipped in for birdie, setting off a wild celebration and setting up a playoff with Woody Austin.

Love shot a 4-under-par 67 on a day in which, at one point, there was an eight-way tie for first.

An hour after his miraculous shot, Love and Austin arrived back at No. 18 for the third time that day.

Love pulled off another near miracle -- his 6-iron approach hit the flag stick and stopped within feet of the hole.

He made an easy birdie, and Austin missed a 19-footer to extend the playoffs.

4. Heritage Classic Foundation, MCI help Island's PGA Tour event avert disaster

In 1986, Hilton Head Holdings, the parent company of the Sea Pines Co. and seven other subsidiaries, filed for bankruptcy and threatened to take the Heritage down with them.

More than $100 million was owed to about 2,000 creditors, many of them local companies. What's more, Harbour Town Golf Links had fallen into disrepair, and the PGA Tour considered pulling the tournament from the circuit's smallest market.

That's when a group of community leaders, including former South Carolina governor John West; Joe Fraser, the brother of Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser; and Sea Pines executive John Curry formed the Heritage Classic Foundation, a charitable organization that would eventually take over administration of the tournament and shore up its financial futures.

The foundation soon secured a $1 million line of credit and a title sponsor in long-distance company MCI.

Today, the nonprofit organization collects the revenue from sponsorships and ticket and concession sales and distributes it throughout the year to organizations that have submitted grant requests.

3. Langer become first -- and only -- to win Masters, Heritage in consecutive weeks

A week before arriving at Sea Pines in 1989, Bernhard Langer became the first German to win on the PGA Tour when he won the Masters.

The press had been relentless in the days following Langer's Masters victory, but he found refuge on the golf course, shooting 68-66-69-70 in his first Heritage appearance since tying for 59th in his 1982 debut.

Langer three-putted just once en route to a green jacket and didn't three-putt at all on the way to a tartan jacket.

He needed a 5-footer for par on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Bobby Wadkins, who closed with a 68.

On the first extra hole, Wadkins pushed his 8-iron approach into the bunker on the par-4 16th, and he suffered a bogey to make Langer the first golfer -- and thus far the only one --to win the Masters and Heritage in consecutive weeks. That distinction will remain intact this week. Adam Scott, who won at Augusta National on Sunday, is not in this week's field.

2. Norman dedicates Heritage win to cancer-stricken boy

Seventeen-year-old Jamie Hutton was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant the day after the 1988 Heritage, but before the leukemia-stricken boy went to the hospital, he came to Harbour Town Golf Links hoping to see his favorite golfer, Greg Norman, and perhaps even meet his idol.

As it turned out, he did more than that. The group Thursday's Child, similar to the Make a Wish Foundation, sponsored a trip for Hutton and his family from their home in Wisconsin and also arranged for the teenager to meet Norman on the Saturday of the tournament.

The two enjoyed an instant rapport, and although the Huttons had planned to leave town Sunday on a commercial flight, Norman chartered a jet for them so that they could stay long enough to watch the final round.

Trailing by four shots going into the final round, Norman ate breakfast with Jamie, who gave him this simple advice: "Shoot a 64." With Hutton following him in the gallery and CBS telling the touching story of his new friend, Norman shot a 66, and that was enough to edge David Frost and Gil Morgan by a single shot.

Norman presented the winner's trophy to Hutton, who wore the tartan blazer of tournament committee member Paula Bethea to the closing ceremonies.

1. The King was the first and he's still No. 1

John Gettys Smith could barely stand to watch.

With the first Heritage Classic approaching a nail-biting finish on Thanksgiving weekend, 1969, Arnold Palmer threatened to cough up his third-round lead on the tournament's final day, as lesser names Richard Crawford and Bert Yancey gained ground.

So Smith, the Heritage's first tournament chairman, stood nervously beside a mucky hole that would become Harbour Town's Yacht Basin, kicking dirt clods into the water as Palmer's group played its way up the final fairwaya few hundred yards away.

Just then, Charles Fraser, Sea Pines' developer, came strolling past. Fraser had commissioned a study on American golf's South Carolina roots, but Smith said the man that founded the Heritage wasn't as well-versed in the modern game.

"He asked me, 'Is something wrong?' " Smith recalled. "I said, 'Do you have any idea that if he wins what a super story it will be ... and what will happen if he loses and the winner is not a superstar?'

"He just said, 'Oh,' and wandered away."

Braving the suspense, Smith made his way to the 18th green for a closer look and watched Palmer sink a putt to secure the championship.

"Palmer made a putt to take the first Heritage crown and saved us," Smith said.

There's no doubt Palmer's victory underpinned many of the fawning tributes paid to the PGA Tour's newest event in national publications.

And Palmer's victory was big news for another reason.

The obituary for Palmer's career was written before he arrived at Sea Pines in 1969. Smith recalled the November 1969 issue of one national golf publication featured a cover story on the King entitled "The End of an Era."

Indeed, after averaging four victories a season over a 13-year period, Palmer had gone 14 months without a win, at the time, the longest drought of his career.

So when Palmer led the Heritage wire to wire, it became worldwide news. Palmer also won the Danny Thomas Diplomat Classic the next week and capped his year by being named the Associated Press Athlete of the Decade, the first professional golfer to win the award.

Harbour Town was ground-zero for one of the biggest "feel-good" stories of the year.

It's a thrill that's still tough to beat.

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