Beaufort News

Did Snedeker win the Heritage's last tartan jacket?

If this was the last Heritage, it was anything but a funeral march.

The 43rd edition of Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour stop had everything as it played out Thursday through Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links. It had a breathless sudden-death finish won in three extra holes by the smiling Tennessean Brandt Snedeker, a strong international field, sun-soaked weather, a festive gallery larger than usual and alluring Lowcountry scenery for CBS Sports to beam into the chilly Northeast.

The only thing missing was the answer to the multi-million dollar question: Will a title sponsor emerge to keep the Heritage alive?

The answer: Not yet. And the deadline, while imminent, remains fuzzy.

"The next four to six weeks will be very important to the tournament," tournament director Steve Wilmot said Sunday afternoon.

Still, the optimism and pluck that birthed the tournament in 1969 ruled the week.

"We're not giving up," said Bill Goodwin, whose family company owns Sea Pines, where the Heritage has always been played. "This can only be a win-win. I'm betting -- you can quote me -- I bet it works."

As Goodwin made his remark during Wednesday's Heritage Pro Am, his playing partner Snedeker said, "We're not going to let them give up."

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, whose district includes Hilton Head, said, "I believe a sponsor will be secured."

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said, "I really think we can get this done."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who played in the Heritage Pro-Am with Clyburn and Goodwin, said, "I'm increasingly optimistic that a combination of sponsors is becoming more viable."

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint said, "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Gov. Nikki Haley said, "I have every faith in the world that we are going to find a sponsor."

Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin said, "If it is the last one, we went out like a winner. But I don't think it is the last one."

Wilmot said, "Let's let this thing play out. I'm cautiously optimistic."

Ray Angell, general chairman of the tournament's 1,100 volunteers, said, "We're recruiting, training and preparing for the future."

Jim Nantz, anchor broadcaster for CBS Sports, said, "It's too popular to go away. The players are going to demand: 'Guys, figure it out.' I do 20 (PGA Tour) events a year. It's pretty easy to identify those that are rank and file. This is regarded as a special event."

RUMORS

Numerous fans along the yellow ropes watching the action said it would be a shame if the Heritage went away. When one asked another what the future holds, the answer was the truest thing said all week: "It depends on who you talk to."

Rumors swirled like the winds off Calibogue Sound.

By Sunday, defending champion Jim Furyk was asked by a reporter as he came off the 18th green: "The rumor of the day is RBC (Royal Bank of Canada, title sponsor of the RBC Canadian Open and a sponsor of Furyk) is set to sponsor here. Were you involved in any of the conversations?"

Furyk said: "I was not. It would be news to me, but I hope so. It would be interesting for them to pick up two events."

Wilmot warned not to believe the rumors.

SELLING THE HERITAGE

Wilmot spent most of his time coordinating activities and meetings for as many as eight potential corporate sponsors represented at the tournament. He was more preoccupied with jet tail numbers than bogies and birdies.

"The community has been great with last-minute dinner reservations, boat rides, tee times, accommodations, tours," Wilmot said. "It's been a meeting in the morning, a boat ride to Palmetto Bluff in the afternoon, then a conference call or a private luncheon like the one I had with a gentleman with the venue closed to everyone but three of us. And then someone says, 'How about that leader board?' and I say, 'Leaderboard?' "

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem spent the day here Tuesday.

Graham said: "We're selling as hard as we can sell. It's a full-court press."

DeMint said, "In recent years, some companies were cautious about spending during the recession. That may be over."

DeMint said his role was not to negotiate but to give prospects "assurances that all elected leaders will listen to them. All these companies have legislative issues and an interest in Washington. We just want to assure them that we will be cooperative at the federal and state level."

Haley said she approaches it like other economic development recruitment. "We thank them and we help them on any issues they need," she said. "But more than anything, they become a friend of South Carolina."

'COMMUNITY PRIDE'

After overseeing his 25th closing ceremony, Wilmot said: "I haven't thought yet that it's the last year, that's for sure. But I do know the community pride and support happened this year, more than ever. There was a rallying cry out there. There was a different feel about the tournament. It wasn't about, 'Hey, this is it, let's have a good time and party.' It was, 'Hey, let's do everything we can to continue with the momentum.'

"And we're -- the (Heritage Classic Foundation), the tour, the governor, state officials -- we're going to run with it and the next four to six weeks will be very interesting."

A handful of fans standing on the fringe of the 18th green as Snedeker was given the winner's tartan jacket started a short-lived chant of: "BRING IT BACK! BRING IT BACK!"

Snedeker said at the ceremony: "The Heritage is a great tournament and Hilton Head is a great place. It's been a great week and I look forward to coming back for many more years."

The 43rd edition of the Heritage has come and gone. Let the record show that if it was the last Heritage, she went down swinging.

Staff writer Tom Barton contributed to this report.

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