The opening ceremonies Monday for the 49th annual RBC Heritage were a celebration of the tournament’s most recent winner Branden Grace, but also its first winner.
Arnold Palmer – ‘The King’ of golf who died in September – won the first Heritage golf tournament at Sea Pines in 1969, forever changing the history of Hilton Head Island in the process.
Palmer’s victory that year “literally put Hilton Head Island on the map and ensured the success of this tournament,” said Heritage Classic Foundation chairman Simon Fraser.
The positive publicity for the island generated by the tournament over the neary five decades that followed “would be impossible to measure,” he said.
Monday’s tournament kick-off event featured two ceremonial cannon blasts – one celebrating Grace’s victory last year and the other to honor Palmer. The latter was ignited by Palmer’s grandson and PGA Tour professional Sam Saunders, who is set to play in this year’s tournament.
Grace spoke about Palmer’s legacy Monday after donning the traditional tartan jacket given to winners of the tournament.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet Arnie,” the 28-year-old South African said. “He was a great guy and a great mentor – what an inspiration he’s been to all golfers. He’s done so much for golf. … Without him (the sport) wouldn’t be where it is today.”
On being a fellow Heritage champion, Grace said, “It’s great to be a little part of history that (Palmer) was also part of.”
Monday’s ceremonies also were a celebration of area’s resilience following Hurricane Matthew.
“Its been a tough year for (tournament organizers), and you can see how they’ve really pulled together and got (the course) back to being one of the best stops on tour,” Grace said. Hilton Head Island is “one of those places where you just fall in love the first time you come.”