Outside the ropes: Heritage's impact felt beyond Harbour Town, Sea Pines

gmartin@islandpacket.comApril 12, 2012 

Since its completion in 1970, the Harbour Town lighthouse has been a beacon for golf fans around the country, according to Cary Corbitt.

The president of the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and Sea Pines Resort's director of sports said the PGA Tour event played at Harbour Town Golf Links since 1969 and the landmark that has become its prominent backdrop have elevated the entire area's reputation.

So when the Heritage faced an uncertain future last spring, Corbitt heard concerns from golf course owners around southern Beaufort County.

"They know their businesses are terrifically impacted by this experience -- the golf course, the tournament, the red and white lighthouse," Corbitt said. "It drives so much exposure and traffic to each of them."

With the tournament's sponsorship secured, it's again driving outings at clubs and resorts throughout the county this week, according to representatives of local golf courses, hotels and communities.

For years, Long Cove Club on Hilton Head had resisted that traffic, according to its head golf professional, Bob Patton, who said he felt compelled this year to change that policy.

Today, the club will accommodate the inaugural First Gentleman's Invitational, hosted by Michael Haley, husband of Gov. Nikki Haley. About 40 businessmen will participate in what Patton called a gesture of gratitude for the governor.

"We felt the governor was instrumental in saving the tournament, and we chose to do this because we're appreciative of her efforts," Patton said. "The exposure we get through the national media this week is invaluable."

Patton said this weekend, more than any other, drives interest in memberships and home sales at Long Cove.

"People come here from out of the area and decide it might be a nice place to live," he said. "There's no question (the tournament) benefits private clubs, public clubs and resorts around here."

One of those resorts, the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, is enjoying a busier week than usual, according to sales and marketing director Skip James.

"I'd say over 60 percent of our business right now is directly related to the tournament," he said. "Usually, it's about 80 percent, but without new sponsors being named until (June,) we had to book some other things at the same time out of uncertainty."

But the tournament's effect isn't confined to Hilton Head. Clubs and communities on the mainland also report a substantial boost in outings and interest each year.

"Without a doubt, the Heritage means a lot to us," said Mary Claire Gaze, general manager of Hampton Hall, a private golf and residential community in Bluffton.

"A lot of our nonresident members bring guests each year (to the tournament), and I'd estimate about 30 percent of them consider relocating here," Gaze said. "Many of them end up seeing us as a retirement destination or a place to buy a second home."

Another private community, Belfair, also sees a "surge" in interest during the week, according to Nicki Jacoby, its director of communications. She said she markets the Bluffton gated community in Georgia during the Masters to entice out-of-state visitors.

Even communities west of S.C. 170 benefit from the tournament, according to Martin Smith, director of communications at Sun City Hilton Head.

Earlier in the week, Smith advertised a promotion enabling nonresidents to play the retirement community's three courses for under $90.

"We're working to overcome the perception that Sun City courses aren't open to the public," he said. "The promotion is certainly timed to take advantage of the Heritage.

"It's always an important week for us."

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