Steve Wilmot has watched the highs and lows unfold during his 30 years with the RBC Heritage, the PGA Tour’s annual stop on Hilton Head Island.
He had seen everything – miraculous finishes on Harbour Town Golf Links’ storied 18th hole to struggles to find a title sponsor to fierce winds turning tree limbs into missiles and stopping play.
Then, along came a new dimension: Hurricane Matthew.
The storm walloped the Hilton Head area with its best punch in October. Trees toppled like tooth picks and blue tarps that cover damaged homes and businesses provide a poignant reminder of the hurricane’s wrath. The Island’s trademark boats mostly disappeared. Lives changed – perhaps forever. The damage is stunning.
But the idea of cancelling the 2017 tournament never became a topic of discussion. To the contrary, Wilmot said, “We want this one – the 49th – to be the best yet.”
Indeed, the mid-April event that brings the eyes of the golf world to South Carolina might be called an Ode to Recovery this year.
“We want to get better every year, and that’s especially true for 2017,” said Wilmot, the long-time tournament director. “The tournament means so much not only to the community, but to the entire state.”
To that end, schedules had to be adjusted and priorities changed, but change comes with the territory in any endeavor
In Matthew’s aftermath, tournament officials delayed the launch of the 2017 ticket sale. Without fanfare, the tournament foundation donated $100,000 from its reserves to assist with the community recovery.
“We know people and organizations are hurting,” Wilmot said. “(Tournament personnel) had damage concerns, too. Giving back is important and we wanted to get the funds to where they would do the most good. Neighbors have been asking neighbors, ‘How can I help?’ That’s how we felt.”
Two months later, recovery continues – and will continue for a while. But the Heritage folks are taking a full-speed-ahead approach. Tickets are now on sale (see www.rbcheritage.com for details) and the website has a new look. The portrait of the 2016 champion, Branden Grace, has been unveiled. The courses at Sea Pines have re-opened.
Prior to Matthew, 2016 looked like the best of times for the tournament. RBC extended its title sponsorship in July and Boeing, the presenting sponsor, soon followed suit.
“Christmas came early; we’re set through 2023 with two great partners,’ Wilmot said. “We always want to grow, and the hurricane just added another challenge. People hear about the number of trees down at Harbour Town and think, ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’ What they don’t realize is that number represents a small percentage of the trees damaged in the area.
“Giving up or cutting back are not options. We at the tournament are like people in the area. We’re going to bounce back, and we’re going to get better.”
Todd White (Spartanburg, first team men’s Mid-Amateurs), Katelyn Dambaugh (Goose Creek/USC, second team women’s Amateurs) and Dawn Woodard (Greer, honorable mention women’s Mid-Amateurs) have been named to Global Golf Post’s All-Amateur teams. … The Midlands Golf Course Owners Association has placed its 2017 VIP Value Books on sale in time for Christmas gifts. The $60 “Gold” book offers special rates at 19 courses, including Cobblestone, Golden Hills and Woodlands. The $80 “Platinum” book includes nine additional courses, including Columbia CC, Spring Valley CC and the CC of Lexington. Details are available at www.scmidlandsgolf.com. Books can be purchased on line at the website or at both Koosa Golf Locations (Lexington and Two Notch Road), the SCGA office in Irmo, The Spur at Northwoods, Woodlands CC and Par Tee Golf Center. Part of the proceeds are earmarked for the South Carolina Junior Golf Association.