The Heritage is saved; Royal Bank of Canada is new title sponsor

June 16, 2011 

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After two anxious years of searching for a new title sponsor, the Heritage is secure for the next five years, officials announced Thursday.

Royal Bank of Canada, persistently rumored as a potential title sponsor for Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event, will fulfill that role through 2016.

The Boeing Co. will be local presenting sponsor, and the tournament also will receive financial support from local government.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said RBC is committed to helping the sport and the Heritage Classic Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs the 43-year-old tournament.

RBC also is title sponsor of the Canadian Open and has helped build that tournament into one of the tour's premiere events, Finchem said. The company also has endorsement deals with a half-dozen of the tour's high-profile players.

"This is a company that knows golf, that knows sports marketing, that's hands on and will work with the foundation here to build this tournament on into the future," Finchem said after making the announcement to sustained applause in a packed ballroom at Harbour Town Golf Links, where the tournament is played.

Tour and RBC officials declined to disclose terms of the deal, although Finchem said RBC will be "taking the lead financially." Tournament organizers were seeking a total of $7 million to $8 million per year.

Even though RBC's tenure as title sponsor has just begun, tour and company officials were already talking Thursday about extending the partnership.

Jim Little, RBC's chief brand and communications officer, said North America's fifth-largest financial institution hopes to be affiliated with the Heritage "for a very long time."

Finchem said tour officials considered merging the Heritage with another tournament or bringing the Champions Tour to Hilton Head if no new sponsor emerged.

The tour, he said, was eager to return to Hilton Head in some fashion.

"Maybe I wouldn't have said this two weeks ago, but we were not planning to leave," Finchem said.

He also said tour officials plan to return the tournament to its regular spot on the calendar, at least for now.

The Heritage, traditionally played the week after the Masters in Augusta, was moved a week later than usual this year.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Tournament organizers said RBC was among the first companies they contacted once they learned about two years ago that Verizon wouldn't return as title sponsor after 2010.

Verizon and its corporate predecessors had sponsored the event from 1987 through 2010.

This year's tournament was played without a title sponsor after the foundation pledged all $4 million of its reserves and secured $1 million commitments from both Hilton Head and Beaufort County.

RBC officials, who visited the Heritage this year, kept looking for problems with the event but found none, Little said.

Hilton Head is among the smallest markets on the tour but is a favorite among players, several of whom voiced support for the Heritage during the search. That popularity among players helped win over RBC, Little said.

He said the company made an offer about six weeks ago.

It came after much prodding from Gov. Nikki Haley, Little said.

Haley, a first-term Republican, had made finding a new sponsor a priority for her administration.

After RBC came to the table, Haley said, the tournament's backers still had "a little bit more to go."

That, she said, is where Boeing came in.

The airplane manufacturer, which recently opened a plant in North Charleston and also sponsors a Champions Tour event in Washington state, didn't have to help the Heritage but did so "to be a friend to us at the time we needed it," Haley said.

HALEY 'WOULDN'T TAKE NO'

Like Little, Finchem also credited Haley, saying he couldn't recall a government official being so supportive of a tour event.

"I'm telling you, she has been on this 24/7 for a number of weeks, and she was never going to take 'no' for an answer," Finchem said.

Haley joked she felt pressure to find a new sponsor so she could return to her in-laws, who live on Hilton Head, for Thanksgiving.

The tournament is important because it provides the state with worldwide exposure and a tool with which to woo prospective businesses, she said. The Heritage has contributed about $20 million to charity since 1987, and researchers estimated the 2010 tournament's economic impact at about $82 million.

Throughout the sponsorship search, state and local politicians proposed plans to aid the tournament if necessary, but Haley repeatedly said South Carolina taxpayers should not "front the costs of a golf tournament"

She touted Thursday's announcement as a promise kept.

"What I hope you realize is, we showed that 'can't' is not an option, and we got it done, and we got it done for the people of this state, and we got it done for the people of this country," Haley said.

Haley and Finchem both singled out Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who could not attend Thursday's announcement, for his help.

Sports editor Justin Jarrett, staff writer Tom Barton and The (Columbia) State contributed.

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