Declines in corporate sponsorship fueled by the recession forced Hilton Head Island Celebrity Golf Tournament organizers to retool the tournament that has become a local Labor Day staple.
This year's event will feature new, affordable events for residents when it is played Sept. 3-5 at three area courses.
For a while earlier this year, it was not clear if the tournament would be around this year for its 30th anniversary. But organizers "re-branded" by incorporating new events and customized marketing packages for sponsors, said tournament producer Carol Kavanaugh.
"The economy has hit everyone hard, but we are hoping bringing some new events will generate renewed interest," she said. "Historically, the tournament has been supported by corporations that would bring clients to the event to entertain them, and those budgets have really dried up. We have a lot more individuals participating on their own, which is why we will have new and affordable opportunities for locals to participate in activities during the weekend."
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New this year is Locals Day, a tournament to be held Friday, Sept. 3, at the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Hall. Residents can play alongside celebrities at a special rate before the weekend rounds, Kavanaugh said. Before the celebrity tournament spanned three days and included only corporate sponsors.
The full celebrity field will not play on Friday, but some celebrities will, Kavanaugh said. For $195, residents also receive a ticket to the Council of Trustees Oceanside party at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa on Friday evening.
"It's an opportunity to get local community support behind the event," Kavanaugh said.
Another new event this year will be a helicopter ball drop, scheduled for Sunday of the tournament. People can purchase a golf ball for $50, or three balls for $100, to be dropped over a hole. The person whose ball lands in the hole or is closest wins $2,500.
"It's something fun and new," said Kim Capin, who is producing the tournament along with Kavanaugh.
More than half of the celebrities scheduled to play in the tournament also are new. They include Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin on NBC's "The Office."
"It was a way for us to refresh the tournament by bringing in new people," Kavanaugh said.
The format of the tournament will also be different. Instead of a "scramble" start, the tournament will feature a "shamble start." Like in a scramble, all members of a team tee off and the best ball of the four tee shots is selected. All players move their balls to the spot of the best ball. From this point, the hole is played out at stroke play, with all team members playing their own ball through the rest of the hole.
"It makes the tournament more competitive for celebrity golfers," Kavanaugh said.
The tournament has distributed more than $3.1 million to children's charities in Beaufort County since its inception. The money goes to programs designed to help disadvantaged children lead self-sufficient and productive lives. Recipients have included the Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry, the Child Abuse Prevention Association, the Children's Relief Fund, the Deep Well Children's Fund and the Providence Children's Center.
"All groups are seeing increases in requests for assistance as well as lower funding. So many people are unemployed who never expected to be unemployed, who have children who are turning to these organizations for support," Kavanaugh said. "We need to take advantage of an opportunity to raise money for these organizations that are struggling to help keep kids safe, fed and lead productive lives."