S.C. Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton has introduced a bill he hopes will allow the state to quickly help the Heritage golf tournament if it cannot find a new title sponsor.
For now, though, the bill offers no specific proposals; it merely summarizes the economic impact of Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event, Herbkersman said.
The details would be added later if the tournament does not secure a new sponsor, he said.
He said the bill will provide a way to discuss the tournament with colleagues so they can swiftly act if necessary.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"It will give us an opportunity to talk about the ramifications, the financial impact on the state and what would happen if we didn't have" the tournament, Herbkersman said.
As soon as possible, he plans to ask legislators for unanimous consent to bring the bill to the House floor, he said Wednesday.
He would then move to adjourn debate on the bill. The bill would move no further until a specific plan is ready, he said.
"Anything that would be put in it would be brought before the body and properly discussed," Herbkersman said.
Herbkersman hopes the preliminary maneuvering also will give him a head start on lobbying lawmakers opposed to aiding the tournament, he said.
Herbkersman said he is asking colleagues not to co-sponsor the bill because it does not yet contain a proposal for aiding the tournament.
Before introducing the bill, Herbkersman said, he got the blessing of Ed Dowaschinski, vice president of finance and administration for the Heritage Classic Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs the tournament.
Simon Fraser, the foundation's chairman, said tournament officials did not seek the bill.
"We're not in any discussions regarding any legislation," he said.
Gov. Nikki Haley has made it "pretty clear" that she doesn't want the Heritage to receive state tax money, Fraser said.
Herbkersman's bill is not state lawmakers' first attempt to help the tournament.
Last year, Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, introduced a proposal to allow the state to lend Beaufort County as much as $10 million "to promote tourism," a plan he said was designed to help the Heritage. The proposal was later stripped from the state budget.
Earlier this year, Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, drafted a bill to allow Beaufort County residents to vote on a local-option sales tax to support the tournament if it doesn't find a sponsor. He backed off introducing that legislation, however, saying tournament organizers suggested he wait until they "exhaust every lead" for a private sponsor.
The foundation and PGA Tour have searched for about 18 months for a sponsor to replace Verizon, which ended its title sponsorship after the 2010 event. The tournament used $1 million commitments each from Hilton Head and Beaufort County to stay on the tour's schedule without a title sponsor this year.
This year's tournament will be April 21-24 at Harbour Town Golf Links.
PGA Tour officials have said it's imperative the tournament find a sponsor to secure its future.
Last year's 42nd annual Heritage produced an economic impact of $81.9 million, about $72 million of which was spending by visitors and the foundation, according to a study by Clemson University and the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
That figure does not include state income taxes on the tournament's $5.7 million purse or spending by Beaufort County residents; the tournament's golfers; their caddies, agents and families; media; major sponsors; vendors; club manufacturers; and tour officials.
The tournament generated more than $4 million in net revenues for local governments and more than $8.5 million in net revenues for the state, according to the study.
The tournament has generated more than $20 million for charity since 1987.