For all the pomp on opening day and the party atmosphere throughout the week, Hilton Head Island's annual PGA Tour event is serious business for the Lowcountry and South Carolina.
Just how serious was brought into keen focus last year as we raced to find the Heritage a new title sponsor with an urgency we hadn't seen in 25 years, the last time we came perilously close to losing the area's signature event and its multimillion-dollar economic boost. An event with an estimated $82 million impact and worldwide television coverage is not something you want to let slip away, even in the best of times.
So it is with a sense of relief and renewed appreciation that we welcome new title sponsor Royal Bank of Canada and presenting sponsor the Boeing Co. We thank them for their vote of confidence in the Heritage Classic Foundation, Harbour Town Golf Links, Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County and South Carolina. It came when we needed it most, after a nearly two-year sponsor search and at the tail end of an economic downturn the likes of which we hope to never see again.
We're sure they won't find that confidence misplaced. The Heritage has long provided a relaxed, fun atmosphere to cultivate new business ties and cement old ones. The Lowcountry is at its finest in the spring, even if the azaleas are now past their peak. Our natural beauty can't be beat. Our amenities are top rate. Our service is the best. Our people the friendliest.
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RBC is no stranger to tournament golf and sports marketing. It is title sponsor of the Canadian Open and has helped build that tournament into one of the tour's premiere events, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said when the five-year title sponsorship deal was announced last June. The company also has endorsement deals with a half-dozen of the tour's high-profile players.
Boeing, which has a plant in North Charleston and also sponsors a Champions Tour event in Washington state, didn't have to help the Heritage, Gov. Nikki Haley said at the announcement, but did so "to be a friend to us at the time we needed it."
Boeing vice president of human resources Rick Stephens called his company's sponsorship a way to say "thank you very much." The company received hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives for its North Charleston plant.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, an old friend of Boeing's general counsel, said he broached the subject of Boeing's sponsorship at a dinner for major South Carolina employers held before last year's tournament, hosted by a local couple and the state Department of Commerce at Harbour Town Golf Links.
That's how it works. The Heritage provides the atmosphere and the opportunity to do business, as well as watch some great golf.
And it is a window to what we do here day in and day out -- provide a beautiful, relaxing venue for those who come to visit.
And the Heritage's reach extends beyond the business community's collective bottom line.
The nonprofit Heritage Classic Foundation, which stages the tournament, has donated $22 million to local and regional charities since it was created in 1987. It recently awarded $250,000 in scholarships to 15 graduating seniors, bringing scholarship totals to $2.7 million and 237 students since 1993.
That reach is why our governor and senator -- and so many others -- worked hard to keep the tournament here.
And it is why we should all send up a cheer -- and a sigh of relief -- when the cannon shot announcing the start of the 44th annual Heritage booms across Calibogue Sound on Monday.