RBC Heritage puts community on the hot seat

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 3, 2012 

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What we have here is a case of the dog catching the car.

Which raises the real question: When the dog catches the car, what does it do with it?

This is what I was thinking last week during media day for the $5.7 million RBC Heritage golf tournament to be played April 9-15 on Hilton Head Island.

All was smiles and back-slapping Monday in an annual gathering prior to the coming PGA Tour event.

But in Beaufort County, we were in a desperate chase for almost two years to catch the elusive dream of a new title sponsor for the Heritage.

Times were rough. The world's economy was tanking. Other tournaments were in the same food line, pleading for the same sponsorship dollars.

The 2011 tournament had no title sponsor. It came and went with nothing but rumors to take to the bank. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Heritage was on its last hole of sudden-death when the white knight glided into the harbor in June.

It was the Royal Bank of Canada, which signed a five-year contract to be title sponsor -- and Boeing, which signed on as presenting sponsor.

The tournament that has helped define Hilton Head since 1969, and came to symbolize the transformation of tourism into the state's No. 1 industry, lived to tell another story.

What will that story be?

We know the history well. By June, every school child could recite what would be lost if the Heritage folded: About $80 million in annual economic impact, $22 million donated to charity since 1987, 18 hours of television coverage of the island's beauty.

The biggest loss would have been to the island's soul. Where would there be any signs of the community that in 1969 had the audacity to invite Arnold Palmer and all the rest to town, when it had fewer hotel rooms than the number of golfers it had invited?

It's that same community pluck that comes back to center stage now.

Will this generation take advantage of the opportunity afforded us by RBC and Boeing?

What can we do?

First, we should start working on the next contract. We saw how long it took to get this one done. And the best sponsors to woo are the ones already in the house: RBC and Boeing.

I'm told that the tournament could use some secondary sponsors -- some in the $200,000 range.

The tournament will need volunteers and paying customers. I was told that the Wednesday Pro-Am is sold out, but spots remain for the Monday Pro-Am.

Most of all, the tournament needs a host county that's up to the challenge.

RBC and Boeing will bring their best clients to town from all over the world. It's up to us to wow them to the point that they want to return as tourists and property owners.

People who use RBC for wealth management, and people who buy jets from Boeing, are the very ones Hilton Head has been chasing for lo these many years. They could represent the next generation of capital investment on Hilton Head.

Jim Little, RBC's chief brand and communications officer, told me RBC will take over the Harbour Town Inn by the clubhouse at Harbour Town Golf Links during the tournament.

Its clients will be taken to dine around town.

And they will be taken to Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton to spend a day.

In this way, RBC and Boeing need us as much as we need them.

So we caught what we were chasing. Are we ready for it, with good food, good service, cleanliness, fresh paint, new flowers, clean natural resources -- and a simple, smiling, warm welcome?

We better be ready, eh? Because, as I heard former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts say recently, "A dog doesn't chase a parked car."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content: Royal Bank of Canada


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