On the endangered species list five years ago, South Carolina’s lone stop on the PGA Tour is flourishing in the days leading to the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, set for April 13-19 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.
Much will be familiar, especially Harbour Town’s demanding layout that put a premium on precision. But some things – including general parking and the starting time for the opening ceremonies – will be different for the tournament’s 47th edition.
“The tournament’s rich legacy is so important; not many events can claim the list of champions we have,” long-time tournament director Steve Wilmot said. “But at the same time, people are used to how things have been, and when charge is necessary, the longevity works against us.”
Biggest change: the will-call location and general spectator parking will at the Coastal Discovery Museum on the north end of Hilton Head Island. No general spectator parking will be allowed inside Sea Pines Resort. Free shuttle service will run continuously from 6 a.m. until the conclusion of play each day.
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Lesser change: the opening ceremonies will begin at 11 a.m. rather than noon on Monday of tournament week.
What won’t change: the tournament that features a purse of $5.9 million – $1.066 million to the winner – will attract its usual stellar field. RBC’s sponsorship assures the corporation’s “Ambassadors” will compete, and the members include defending champion Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker.
The tournament struggled financially after Verizon ended its long-time sponsorship, but RBC and Boeing came to the rescue for the 2012 event. The turn-around has been amazing, Wilmot said.
“We are well ahead of last year in ticket sales, and both the Monday and Wednesday pro-ams are sold out for the first time in a long time,” he said. “The demand has been so strong that we’re having a third pro-am on the Wednesday of tournament week in Savannah.”
The sponsors have seen the rebound, too.
“The first year, we had one airline customer come to participate in the pro-am,” Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina vice president and general manager, said. “Last year, we had teams from seven customers who asked to come. What’s special is that (the customers) represent international carriers. They go back home and say great things about the fine golf and about Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. It’s a destination event for Boeing.”
It’s a destination for the players, too. The family atmosphere is a welcome respite the week after the Masters, and on-the-course drama is the norm. Kuchar holed out from a bunker on the final hole to win a year ago and McDowell (2013), Snedeker (2011) and Jim Furyk (2010) have won in playoffs in recent Heritages.
“We can’t guarantee that type of finish,” Wilmot said, “but those are pretty common.”
Tickets are on sale online at rbcheritage.com or by phone at (843) 671-2448.
Chip shots The 14th annual Columbia Golf Ball, which benefits the South Carolina Junior Golf Foundation, will be April 9, at the State Fairgrounds. The SCJGF funds scholarships and develops opportunities for juniors. The state’s junior program, which one publication has ranked No. 1 in the nation, has alumni who have won the U.S. Open (Lucas Glover), the FedEx Cup championship (Bill Haas) and PGA and LPGA tournaments as well as earned berths on the Walker Cup, Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams. For tickets and information, call the SCGA office (803-732-9311). ... The CGA will hold rules seminars this month with five scheduled in South Carolina. Sites include Moss Creek GC (Hilton Head Island) on Tuesday, CC of Charleston on Wednesday, the Dunes Golf & Beach Club (Myrtle Beach) on Thursday, Thornblade Club (Greer) on March 18 and Cobblestone GC (Blythewood) on March 19. Seminar are free of change and run from 5:30-7 p.m. Participants can preregister at carolinasgolf.org/2015-seminars. For details, call (910) 673-1000.