Jokes, memorials and the customary cannon blast echoed on the 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links on Monday, marking the start of the 46th edition of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell launched a tee shot into Calibogue Sound using a hickory-shafted club after a ceremony filled with quips from McDowell, Heritage Foundation honorary chairman Don Calhoon and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
The defending champion of Hilton Head Island's annual PGA Tour event nervously took the ceremonial swing with the cannon beside him. Afterward, he said no past champion warned him how loud it would be.
"I thought I hit it pretty well, considering I was about a foot off the ground a second later," he joked.
McDowell received his tartan jacket at Monday's ceremony before taking his shot into the sound. He won last year's tournament on a windy Sunday, edging Webb Simpson on the first playoff hole. The finish marked the third time in four years the Heritage has been determined in a playoff.
McDowell referred to the Hilton Head tournament as "adult spring break."
"The Masters is like the final exam, followed by adult spring break here," he said. "I got a big fat 'F' last week though, so I'll be working harder this week."
McDowell shot rounds of 72 and 78 to miss Friday's cut at Augusta National.
That hardly diminished the adoration Jim and Anne Marie Kearns and Dave and Laurie Richards feel for the Heritage champ. The foursome, self-described "golf-tournament junkies," traveled to Sea Pines from Springville, N.Y., for the tournament -- the Kearnses' first Heritage and the Richardses' second.
Dave and Laurie Richards witnessed McDowell's 2013 victory, but they didn't become big McDowell fans until the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a few weeks later.
"I wanted to take his picture, but the caddy kept telling me I couldn't take the picture," Laurie Richards said. "He turned around and said, 'You can take my picture anytime, baby.' He thanked us all for being there and for taking pictures of him."
Dave Richards said McDowell even thanked his wife for asking for an autograph.
"He's a true gentleman," Richards said.
Calhoon's speech honored Joseph B. Fraser Jr., who was key to the tournament's creation in 1969 and managed it until 1982. Fraser died of natural causes in Bluffton on March 12. He was 88.
"Joe had the vision for this tournament and was the driving force behind it," Calhoon said.
Calhoon also lauded improvements at Sea Pines Plantation, such as the dredging of the Harbour Town Yacht Basin and renovations to the Beach Club and the Plantation Club clubhouse. Similar renovations are planned for the Harbour Town clubhouse as soon as this edition of the Heritage is over.
Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin said the changes were a positive sign for Hilton Head and the tournament.
"It shows the confidence in the future of the island, and the confidence in the future of this tournament," he said.
Scott, wearing a cap with the familiar plaid scheme, participated in the opening parade, along with state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and state Reps. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, and Weston Newton, R-Bluffton.
Also during opening ceremonies, Ward Kirby, chairman of the Heritage Foundation's scholarship committee, said he would step down after the tournament. Kirby, who announced the seven winners of the 2014 scholarships during the ceremony, said 260 scholarships totaling $3.2 million have been awarded since the program's start in 1993.
There will be practice rounds and pro-ams through Wednesday before tournament play opens Thursday and continues through Sunday. Thanks to the return of golfing legends Tom Watson and Nick Faldo for this year's event, 13 former champions, representing 20 of the 45 Heritage titles, will be in the field.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.