Haley expected to make 'major announcement' on future of the Heritage today

June 15, 2011 

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Gov. Nikki Haley will be on Hilton Head Island today to make what Mayor Drew Laughlin expects will be a long-awaited announcement that the endangered Heritage golf tournament has been saved.

Haley's office issued a news release Wednesday night saying the first-term Republican will make "a major announcement" today at 1 p.m. in the Stewart Ballroom at Harbour Town Golf Links, where the island's annual PGA Tour event is played.

Haley press secretary Rob Godfrey would not elaborate on what the governor will say or the nature of the announcement, saying the news release and its sparse details "speak for itself."

The 43rd rendition of the tournament was held in April without a sponsor. The tournament secured a spot on the PGA Tour's schedule this year without a title sponsor by pledging all $4 million of its reserves and securing $1 million commitments from both the Town of Hilton Head and Beaufort County.

Tournament organizers have searched for a replacement for the previous title sponsor, Verizon, for more than a year and a half.

The timing of Haley's announcement raises eyebrows. It comes an hour after a scheduled Town Council meeting to discuss a request from the Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs the tournament, to buy one-eighth of the TV advertising spots that would normally go to a title sponsor.

"I hope and expect she'll be announcing there are agreements in place to secure the future of the Heritage golf tournament for the next several years," Laughlin said Wednesday. "I don't think she'll be down here to announce something else."

A Heritage Classic Foundation official hinted at such an announcement in an email Wednesday, but remained tight-lipped on details.

"I appreciate your desire for details but you will have to wait for the official announcements," said foundation board chairman Simon Fraser in the email. "These questions will be answered sooner rather than later. Sorry that is all that we can give you now."

Asked if details would be revealed at Thursday's meeting, Fraser replied: "Probably tomorrow but not all at the town meeting. Keep your shoes on."

Laughlin said he expects Council will approve a resolution granting the foundation's request.

"This is not a new issue for this council, and I expect council will act on this in an affirmative way," Laughlin said. "The golf tournament is too important to lose if we can prevent that, and it looks like we can, based on the fact this request has been made and the governor is making an announcement."

The foundation is requesting a five-year commitment worth about $3.2 million, according to the mayor.

Under the proposal, the town would pay $562,500 the first year, with a 5 percent increase per year in the following years, for eight of the 64, 30-second ad spots split between CBS and the Golf Channel that the foundation has rights to. The town would receive four spots on each network, Laughlin said.

Tournament director Steve Wilmot has said organizers have fielded a flurry of interest from potential sponsors since April's tournament. That interest came with some prospects interested in deals far below the $7 to $8 million per year organizers seek, he said.

Wilmot said the tournament is considering an arrangement in which a primary sponsor would agree to pay the bulk of the cost, while secondary sponsors cover the rest.

Go to www.islandpacket.com on Thursday for more on this story.

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