Heritage purse remains same for 3rd straight year

ccox@islandpacket.comApril 11, 2012 

Steve Wilmot saw the gradual increases being made to the RBC Heritage purse. The tournament director had seen it every year since he started working with the event way back in 1987, when the purse was just $650,000.

But for the third consecutive year, Wilmot won't see that increase. The tournament's purse, which reached $5.7 million in 2009, will remain at that number for the fourth straight year after 17 consecutive years of steady accrual.

"You realize the increase, but you don't realize how far it might go," Wilmot said. "That's out there with $6.5 million purses and $8 million purses. Whether that makes them better or bigger or whatever, that'd be tough to tell."

There isn't any particular reason why the purse did not increase this year, Wilmot said.

The tournament is backed for the next five years by the Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing, who joined last June as sponsors after the Heritage survived 2011 without a title sponsor.

The Heritage Classic Foundation had to use $4 million of its reserves -- along with a grant from the town of Hilton Head and a $1 million loan from Beaufort County -- to keep the tournament alive after Verizon departed following the 2010 tournament.

"It was certainly a sensitivity to us ... knowing what we just went through in the last year and a half in looking for a title sponsor," Wilmot said. "Obviously, the town supported us. The county supported us, as well."

In the past, the PGA Tour required the Heritage to raise its purse each year, but has since relaxed those contractual requirements. Wilmot said the Heritage talked with the tour several years ago about raising the purse but was told it wasn't a necessity.

According to pgatour.com, total purses for the tour have dipped 4 percent (in 2011 dollars) since peaking in 2004,

"Yes, it was a part of the contract, but the tour was working with us in the agreement of, 'Let's stay status quo and we'll address the future in the future,' " he said.

"It's never been a tour issue and the players have never (had an issue). I'm sure you'll never hear a player say, 'I'm not going to go there because it's X amount.' "

Those players are flocking to the RBC Heritage for much more than the purse, which will result in a check for $1.026 million for the winner this year. Harbour Town Golf Links was voted by players as their second-favorite course on the tour in a survey earlier this year by Golf World.

Harbour Town was behind only Augusta National.

"Just to be the richest purse out on tour doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have the best tournament out there, either," Wilmot said. "We certainly realize that we've traditionally been in the top third or so. We've probably dropped a little bit in purse, but we also know that we have a special event on the PGA Tour, and the purse isn't the only reason that these players are coming here."

Wilmot said the Heritage will get together with its title sponsors after the tournament to discuss the future of the event, which naturally includes the amount of the purse. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.

"Just to throw money into the pot again won't necessarily bring us players, but then again it might be important to be in that elite group of tournaments from the purse side," he said. "But we feel we have something very special here. Certainly RBC and Boeing feel the same way."

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