Finding a title sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament will be the top priority of Gov. Nikki Haley's pick to lead the state tourism department, the governor said Thursday.
Haley nominated Duane Parrish, chairman of the S.C. Hospitality Association, to be director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
"So the first priority that we have given Duane is to find a sponsor for that PGA (tour) event before June," Haley said during a press conference to announce the nomination.
Haley, however, said she opposes state tax dollars being used for the tournament.
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"And we know with the Heritage on Hilton Head they have talked about taxpayers footing the expense for that sponsorship and trying to bring that forward," she said. "We don't want to do that."
State Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, who spoke at the press conference, said earlier this month he would introduce a bill to fund the Heritage if a title sponsor could not be found in time to save the 2012 tournament. But he backed off introducing that legislation, which would allow Beaufort County residents to vote on a local-option sales tax to support the tournament played at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Tournament organizers suggested he wait until they could "exhaust every lead before we go that route," Patrick has said.
Patrick didn't mention the proposed legislation during the press conference Thursday.
He thanked Haley and Parrish for their commitment to the Heritage and pledged to work with them to save the tournament. "The economic impact of that event cannot be underestimated," he said.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, also praised Haley and her nominee and spoke of the Heritage's importance to Hilton Head and the state's economy.
"It is incredibly important, to Hilton Head in particular," Davis said. "Fifty million dollars worth of spending every year is directly related to the Heritage that will not be there if we don't have a Heritage."
The tournament began the search for a title sponsor about 16 months ago, after Verizon announced 2010 would mark its final tournament in that capacity. Opening ceremonies for this year's tournament will be April 18. The final round is scheduled for April 24.
Parrish, 51, of Charleston, is president of Premier Hospitality Group, according to a news release from Haley's office. Before forming Premier, he held senior management positions with Promus Hotels (now Hilton Hotels), Holiday Inn and Ramada Inn. He also has opened, operated or renovated 21 hotels, the release said. His experience also includes management of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Parrish said one of the first things Haley told him when she asked him to serve as director was the need to find a Heritage title sponsor.
He said his business experience gives him the right perspective for the job.
"I have a lot of connections within the industry," he said, "and I think they'll be excited about my selection."
Haley's announcement of Parrish was delayed 20 minutes because she was meeting with members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who complained that her staff and Cabinet lack racial diversity, according to The Associated Press.
South Carolina's first female and first Indian-American governor has made 13 Cabinet nominations, one of them a black woman. None of her 16 executive staff members is black in a state with a 28 percent black population.
"You know, I think that they want to see more diversity in our government," Haley told the AP. "They want to see more diversity in leadership. It's an issue that I share, and certainly we had a great dialogue on it on what we can do going forward," including adding more racial diversity to second-tier jobs in Cabinet agencies.