Tournament officials and fans caught a glimpse Saturday of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing's potential parking set up for next year, which could include moving spectator parking outside the Sea Pines gates.
Heavy rain that flooded the Sea Pines lots forced parking off-site, providing a dry run for the possible changes. Patrons parked at the Hilton Head High School complex and Honey Horn before catching shuttles to Harbour Town Golf Links. They will park at Honey Horn on Sunday.
"The rain kind of forced our hand," tournament director Steve Wilmot said of the discussion to move parking off-site. "I'm asking everybody, 'how was everything?' because we are going to learn something from this experience."
Though no decisions have been made, Wilmot and his team are exploring those two locations for off-site parking next year. Other possible areas include The Crossings Park and the Salty Fare Landing lot near the back gate of Hilton Head Plantation.
Ticket holders would park for free and catch shuttles from the sites to Harbour Town Golf Links, similar to what happens now from the Sea Pines lots. There's also the possibility of moving volunteer or worker parking outside the gates, Wilmot said.
Officials say moving parking from Sea Pines to other parts of Hilton Head Island could reduce traffic congestion and keep patrons out of low-lying grass lots prone to flooding.
It also would open more parking spaces for an increasingly crowded tournament, they said. Together Hilton Head High and Honey Horn can hold about 2,500 cars. Sea Pines has a similar amount when all lots are operational.
"I think it's a good problem to have to take it outside (Sea Pines)," Sea Pines security director Toby McSwain said. "I know some people are upset about space, but it means we're growing."
He and Wilmot were adamant it is not a ploy to sell more tickets.
"This is not an issue of generating revenue," McSwain said. "We need to release the stress of traffic inside Sea Pines."
Parking this week inside the complex has been a bear, many patrons have said.
Traffic at Sea Pines gate backed up to the Hilton Head toll plaza on Thursday. In some cases ticket holders waited 45 minutes to get inside the complex.
On Friday six cars were towed from a general parking lot near the Lawton Stables, which was largely lost to parking after the rainfall.
Some ticket holders said Saturday that the shuttle ride from Hilton Head High took less time than sitting in traffic in Sea Pines.
"Honestly getting into Sea Pines is such a pain in the rear, this could be better," said Joe Green of Alexandria, Va., who parked at the high school.
Others who parked at Honey Horn said they felt more comfortable leaving their cars on higher ground rather than the muddied fields at Sea Pines.
"Plus I can't complain about free parking," said David Wischerath of Metter, Ga.
Wilmot said he realized the allure of parking inside picturesque Sea Pines, but pointed out that most PGA Tour events don't have parking close to the action.
"I understand that everybody wants to park next door, but if you look around the tour, it's not necessarily the case."
It is widely believed that a lack of parking is one reason Harbour Town Golf Link has never hosted a major.
Asked if the parking changes were a step toward that goal, Wilmot said: "Players say they would love to have it here, but even with parking we wouldn't have the infrastructure."
"It doesn't hurt to dream," McSwain added.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.