Gov. Nikki Haley watched the Heritage on Saturday, absolutely certain it was not the last time she'll have that opportunity on the island she considers her second home.
"We've had very serious meetings and conversations on the phone and in person with a few people," she said of the chase to find a title sponsor for the PGA Tour event played at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island since 1969.
"The conversations are going well. There is not going to be an announcement this week, but there are serious conversations going on."
In an interview at the Harbour Town Inn, Haley repeated her adamant stand that the sponsorship not include tax dollars, whether from existing revenue or new taxes. Her stand is in contrast to local leaders proposing various mixtures of state and local tax dollars for the title sponsorship that has an annual price tag of about $8 million.
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"The Heritage is a successful tournament," Haley said. "The second we make it the Heritage golf tournament sponsored by the South Carolina taxpayers, we will kill this tournament. The perception will go down, the success will go down, the feeling of how proud we are of this tournament will go down, and I'm not going to allow that to happen. We WILL find a sponsor."
'DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO'
Her Heritage game plan has been marked by confidence since she took office in January.
" 'Can't' is not an option with me," she said.
She instructed Duane Parrish -- new director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism -- to make finding a Heritage sponsor his top priority.
"We've been meeting and talking to people on the phone for months, especially in the past several weeks," Haley said. "We have had serious conversations with some great companies. We have been bragging about the Heritage. This is one of the best attractions South Carolina has, and it is going to continue to be."
Her work at the tournament this weekend will include TV appearances and meetings with prospective sponsors, but she said most of her meetings have already taken place.
"We've had face time for the last several weeks, so we have been able to show it this week in the way that some companies needed to see it firsthand. Now next week we go back into talks of, 'OK, we told you about it. You saw it. Now let's do what we need to do.' "
Haley said attending the Heritage has long been a part of her life, especially after marrying Michael, son of Bill and Carole Haley of Hilton Head Island. The Haleys moved to the island from Cleveland, Ohio, when Michael was in the ninth grade. He is a 1988 graduate of Hilton Head Preparatory School.
Michael and Nikki were married at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church on Pope Avenue. The ceremony had to be postponed when the governor ordered an evacuation for Hurricane Fran in 1996. A wedding in the faith of her Indian family took place in Columbia as scheduled, and the Christian ceremony took place here several weeks later.
Nikki Haley and their two children, Rena, 12, and Nalin, 9, were baptized at the St. Andrew church.
The governor said they always celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving on Hilton Head.
"This is like a second home for us," she said. "We very much feel comfortable here and always have."
They do what many families do. They go to the pool and the beach. They run, shop and engage in competitive miniature golf.
And, she said, they count on the Heritage.
"This is always what we have done -- to come out to this golf tournament," Haley said.