April 19, 2013

Harbour Town marina makes waves during Heritage

The feel of the Harbour Town Yacht Basin morphs from a quiet Italian fishing village into one of the South's greatest parties when the PGA Tour is visiting Hilton Head Island.

The feel of the Harbour Town Yacht Basin morphs from a quiet Italian fishing village into one of the South's greatest parties when the PGA Tour is visiting Hilton Head Island.

Every slip available in the marina beneath the Harbour Town Lighthouse is filled, and the boats will be rocking to more than the Lowcountry tide as the sun sets over Calibogue Sound tonight.

Joe Rice of Charleston always brings one of the largest yachts, a 130-foot Westport called Rice Quarters. It sleeps 10 in five staterooms, but it's better known as a yacht where at least 50 people will drop in throughout the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing .

"It's going to be a late night," he said Friday.

He calls the Heritage "spring break for adults."

Rice is a South Carolinian born and bred, from nearby Barnwell. Usually, his yacht has his alma mater's garnet and black Gamecocks flag whipping in the wind from high atop its third deck.

"I think the Heritage is one of the best events we have in South Carolina, and it's one of the best marketing tools the state of South Carolina could possibly have," he said.

Two years ago, when the Heritage was struggling to find a title sponsor, the Rice Quarters was one of the places state leaders hosted face time with prospects.

Business and pleasure are mixed like a morning bloody Mary on boats all over the marina.

"It's both business and just social friends and acquaintances," Rice said. "I meet a lot of people down here, and I went to school in South Carolina, and my wife (Lisa) was born and raised in (Newberry) South Carolina, so we see people from all over the state.

"Sometimes we see them once a year here, and then some are friends from Charleston, and I bring clients down. I do a golf-management business, and a lot of my golfers stop by."

Rice is one of the nation's most feared and respected trial lawyers. He and his partner, South Carolina native Ron Motley, negotiated a $250 billion settlement for 46 states from Big Tobacco. They settled for billions more from asbestos manufacturers. And they have gone to bat for the families of Sept. 11 victims, seeking $1 trillion from the financial backers of the terrorism.

Motley used to bring his 156-foot yacht Themis to the Heritage.

"He can't get it in," Rice said, because of the silt that is slowly filling the circular marina.

"Harbour Town and the lighthouse and this marina make up the showcase boating facility in South Carolina by far," Rice said. "They're getting ready to lose that. If they don't dredge this marina, these boats won't be back next year, and if the boats don't come back, the people don't come back. If people don't come, the tournament will die."

Rice's first trip to Hilton Head was for the Heritage. It was in the early 1980s, and he was invited by Miles and Ann Loadholt of Barnwell. The Loadholts were at the first Heritage in 1969. Winner Arnold Palmer signed a pair of Ann's white slacks. And Miles remembers sitting on the clubhouse steps sharing something unusual with Palmer -- a Rolling Rock beer.

The Loadholts eased into a slip Friday near the Rice Quarters, commuting from their river house in Bluffton. They've downsized from a 54-foot Hatteras to a 35-foot Predator, but it still has the name Misjustice.

"It has nothing to do with the legal system," said Loadholt, a lawyer and longtime chairman of the University of South Carolina board. "The name means that you will never get any justice owning a boat. There is no rhyme or reason to own a boat. It doesn't make any sense."

Unless, of course, it is Heritage weekend, when a boat means fun with friends and family. The Loadholts were traveling with Boyd and Liz Loadholt of Mount Pleasant.

They have missed precious few Heritage tournaments. Ann said she missed 1972 to have a baby, but jokes "that didn't affect anybody else but me."

Joe and Lisa Rice and their only child, Ann E. Rice Ervin, who practices law with her father's large Motley Rice firm, hopped aboard to hug and welcome their friends.

Rice always plays in the Monday After the Masters tournament, then meets his boat at Harbour Town. He plays in the Wednesday pro-am. On Thursday, he plays either the Long Cove Club on Hilton Head or the Secession course in Beaufort in a North-South competition against friends he met here who are from Ohio.

Then he walks around sipping his endless insulated glass of sweet tea and does what everyone else does at Harbour Town during the Heritage -- meet and greet, and sometimes dance under the Carolina moon.

"It shows South Carolina in a wonderful light," Ann Loadholt said. "We get a lot of bad raps. It's good to have something nice."

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