Heritage golf tournament brings boost to Hilton Head economy

gmartin@islandpacket.comApril 16, 2012 

For a few days, tartan replaced green as the color of money for those in Hilton Head Island's hospitality industry, many of whom reported Monday they were still trying to catch their breath after a week as frenetic as it was fruitful.

Ticket sales for the 2012 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing were up about 10 percent over last year, according to Chris Tobia, ticket director for the Heritage Classic Foundation, which conducts the tournament.

Tobia, who said about 125,000 spectators came to Harbour Town Golf Links during the weeklong tournament, credited an improving economy and new sponsorship with attracting the largest attendance since the recession began in 2007.

"RBC and Boeing breathed new life into the tournament," he said. "It looked different, and it felt different."

Local hotels were among the biggest beneficiaries.

According to Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Charlie Clark, the average occupancy rate at a sampling of eight hotels peaked Friday at 97 percent.

That rate was 93 percent Thursday and 95 percent Saturday.

Clark said those statistics are only a "snapshot view" and do not account for home and villa rentals.

But Tom Ridgway, owner of Hilton Head Rentals and Golf, said he enjoyed a profitable week.

"For the week that ended this past Sunday, our occupancy rate was 98.5 percent," he said.

"In the last several years, due to the recession, we were absolutely not that busy," Ridgway said. "I'm very, very pleased with this, and it's a solid indicator of what should be a great travel season."

Ridgway also said the decline in the current week's occupancy rate, at 77 percent, is a testament to the importance of the tournament to the local hospitality industry.

"We're very thankful for the Heritage, and it's kept us exceptionally busy," he said, adding that his rental rates rise "significantly" during tournament week.

Restaurants and caterers also profited.

Grace Wang of the SERG Restaurant Group, which owns seven eateries on the island, said it was imperative to open an expanded dining room in one of them, WiseGuys, before the tournament began.

"There was a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz," she said. "Some of the restaurants were completely booked each night. (The Heritage) is one of the busiest times of the year, and it helps everyone."

Christine Bohn, owner of Christine's Cafe and Catering on Hilton Head, said she was grateful to cater for a corporate client at the tournament but was relieved that her schedule is no longer so strenuous.

"I'd been coming to work at 6 in the morning for the tournament," she said. Bohn made two sets of 275 sandwiches each day.

"It's just four solid days of work," she said. "Definitely the biggest event of the year for us."

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