Just eight weeks after Hurricane Matthew, the PGA Tour’s competition chief suggested Friday that the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing already may have cleared its biggest hurdles ahead of the tournament’s 49th edition.
With a full slate of corporate representatives headed to the Harbour Town clubhouse exit to warm up for a sponsor outing, Andy Pazder said the ability to assure players the course had rebounded quickly went a long way.
“To be able to say they’re fine (and) and put their concerns at rest, we’ve already done that,” said Pazder, set to become the tour’s No.2 executive next month when Jay Monahan replaces retiring commissioner Tim Finchem.
“I think when the players start arriving next April, it’s going to be the RBC Heritage they all know.”
Initial reports and photos from Sea Pines after Matthew roared through Oct. 8 raised concerns about how long Harbour Town would need to recover. As the cleanup project began to unfold, however, early discouragement gave way to pragmatism.
All three Sea Pines courses were open again within four weeks, with a final count of 268 trees fallen at Harbour Town. The Heritage’s home course since has started to replace key trees, with more than a dozen going in before Thanksgiving and more arriving next month.
“In 3 1/2 weeks, we had this golf course ready to where you’d be hard-pressed to see we had a major storm out here,” Cary Corbitt, Sea Pines’ vice president of sports and operations, told Friday’s sponsor day gathering.
Pazder, who has spent the past six years as the tour’s operations chief, got his first up-close look at Harbour Town on Friday. Even though he’d received assurances from the tour’s operations and agronomy staff, seeing it himself brought a new dimension.
“That was pretty eye-opening,” he said.
Pazder also noted Harbour Town was on the minds of “a couple dozen” PGA Tour pros who stopped him to inquire at various stops on the tour’s fall schedule.
“There was concern among the players, because it is a favorite stop,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many players in my travels between October 8th and the end of our season came up and, ‘Hey, how’d they do at Harbour Town?’”
An additional layer of comfort, Pazder said, came from the tour’s previous dealings with Bill Goodwin, chairman of Sea Pines’ parent company Riverstone Group LLC. Goodwin has been a member of the tour’s golf course properties board for several years.
“What Mr. Goodwin has always demonstrated over decades with Harbour Town is that he is constantly investing in the property,” Pazder said. “Knowing what Mr. Goodwin and Cary are all about, we didn’t have too significant a concern.”
By the time the tournament rolls around in April, more than seven months will have passed since Matthew’s visit. Though local officials have estimated it’ll take two years for the island to fully recover from the damage, Pazder suggested the RBC Heritage should offer a chance to applaud.
“What these folks have done is pretty special,” he said. “I think next year’s tournament will be a bit of a celebration. For the tournament, the residents, all the businesses, it’s a celebration of all the hard work. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”