On a day when the quest for the national open began, the PGA Tour had to be feeling as if it already had won a major championship of its own. A five-year deal has been struck with the Royal Bank of Canada to serve as title sponsor to one of the tour’s iconic stops, the Heritage on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
“This is a great day in South Carolina, and we’re going to celebrate,” Gov. Nikki Haley said.
Boeing, which has opened a massive production plant in South Carolina, will be part of the RBC-Heritage as a local presenting sponsor. Hilton Head town officials also have given the OK to get involved, essentially investing money to boost tourism.
Having debuted in 1969, the tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links has become hugely popular with the PGA Tour membership, with the quaint golf course and waterfront resort town as huge attractions. However, Verizon ended a 24-year run as title sponsor in 2010, and the search has been on since then to save this tournament.
“It’s just been a fantastic part of the PGA Tour over the years, and we’re delighted that it’s going to continue with great sponsorship,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
This past April, the tournament was kept together in hybrid fashion – $4 million from its reserves, a $1 million loan from Beaufort County and a $1 million grant from the town – but that was just a one-year Band-Aid. It was not going to survive without a title sponsor, so to that point Tour officials have scored a major coup, one that surely will please its membership.
Jim Furyk, the 2010 Heritage champion, said he was excited to hear of the agreement, calling the Hilton Head stop “probably one of my three favorite events on Tour.”
Stewart Cink acknowledged that hopes among the players for a deal had been waning.
“I’m really glad, because it’s one of my favorite golf courses,” Cink said, “and the whole place is great, the week after the Masters. It’s a good exhale after the inhale (of Augusta).”
Asked whether the tournament would move back to its longtime schedule slot during the week after the Masters, a Tour source indicated that contracts never include a commitment to a particular date, but “certainly the flexibility is there to make adjustments.”
With Hilton Head a convenient ride from Augusta, Ga., many players have been drawn to the tournament for that reason, but this past April the Heritage was two weeks after the Masters. With RBC and Boeing on board, look for Hilton Head to move back to its old spot.
“The plan,” Finchem said, “is that (The Heritage) would resume its normal week-after-The-Masters schedule.”
- Alex Miceli contributed