Harbour Town Clubhouse represented spirit of Hilton Head

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 20, 2014 

Harbour Town Clubhouse

Maybe this tournament will be remembered as the year of chilly rain.

Almost 4 inches fell on the Harbour Town Golf Links throughout the week of the 46th RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

It might go down as the year security checks gave the back yard party on Hilton Head Island a feel of the parents dropping in.

Maybe it will be remembered for the advent of off-site parking, an invention created by muddy necessity.

For Lori Kriwanek, it will be remembered as her 35th year as a volunteer, a sound representative of the 1,094 volunteers who braved all elements to always be at their stations.

It was certainly memorable when 84-year-old Dr. Nelson Carswell teed it up for the 46th time in the Wednesday pro-am. And Bonnie Hunt sat at the front desk of the tournament office for the 45th year.

It might even be remembered for fan favorite Matt Kuchar's smashing sand shot on the 18th hole to win it.

But I will remember it as the last dance for the Harbour Town Clubhouse, a grand dame edging toward painted lady after bursting to life in the nick of time for the first Heritage in 1969.

A decade later, I covered the tournament as a sports writer. The press room was downstairs where the carts are stored. Long tables loaded with heavy electric typewriters filled the room.

I remember when Tom Watson won it, he and his wife came bounding down the steps into our smoky dungeon, skipping and laughing, giddy as teenagers.

I remember him calling out, "What's your charity?"

The Heritage didn't have a charity. It was itself sort of charity, as was much of the island. Tournament director Bill Carson said, "Hilton Head Hospital," and Watson wrote out a nice check from his winnings of $54,000.

Kuchar's share of the $5.8 million purse this year was $1,044,000. And the tournament has now given more than $23 million to charity.

When the clubhouse somehow lent a sense of stability to the first Heritage, the total purse was $100,000.

That's how much things have changed since Charles E. Fraser had the audacity to suggest inviting the world's best golfers to a course and clubhouse that had not even been built.

My favorite memory in the clubhouse, which will start being dismantled this week, took place as far from the basement as you can get. I was chatting with Charles' older brother, Joe Fraser, who died a month ago. We were sitting on the patio off the Heritage Room upstairs. We sipped sweet tea from stemmed glasses and looked over the Heritage fans and players around the tiny ninth green.

We were talking about his brother and why he would suggest such a thing as a golf tournament to help sell his real estate. Joe Fraser said in his typical deadpan way, "Charles was always interested in no stress."

So that's why we've got ulcers, and the clubhouse has creaks. We're stressed out helping others experience no stress.

To me, the clubhouse stood as a symbol of the spirit of Hilton Head. It's a can-do spirit, calling for all hands on deck and everyone to lead, follow or get out of the way. It's a spirit that aimed high.

Yes, it took bluster and duct tape and spray paint and volunteers and serendipity to pull the clubhouse and its tournament together. Over time, it had almost become like the home of an eccentric aunt, with its minuscule restrooms, oil paintings everywhere, and odd collection of old golf stuff.

Now that grand dream of the Frasers will be replaced by the vision of today's owners of Sea Pines, the family of William H. "Bill" Goodwin Jr. of Richmond, Va. People tell me that Bill Goodwin gets it. They say he understands the spirit of golf, and Hilton Head.

It is up the rest of us to aim high, show class and dare to welcome the world to come and de-stress.

Tom Watson was back in the Heritage field this year. At 64, not much was expected of him. His 20-year-old playing partner Jordan Spieth called him "Mr. Watson."

I asked the old pro if he remembered bounding down the steps like a giddy teenager and writing a check to our hospital. He said he often did that.

And then he shared an observation that we should remember as the new replaces the old on Hilton Head.

"Listen, the game of golf is very strong," Watson said. "It's hard to compare the types of players before to now because the equipment is so different. But you still have to get the ball in the hole."

In her own way, the old clubhouse got the ball in the hole.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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