Haley keeps Heritage high on state's agenda

Gov. Nikki Haley wasn't just blowing smoke when she vowed to make the search for a new Heritage title sponsor a top priority for her new administration.

This is reassuring, given her insistence that state money not be used to prop up South Carolina's only PGA Tour event.

Just two weeks after her inauguration as South Carolina's governor, Haley met with two Cabinet directors and Lowcountry officials to discuss ways to shore up the annual tournament at Sea Pines' Harbour Town Golf Links.

According to documents obtained by The (Columbia) State newspaper in a public-records request, Haley has spent a significant amount of time on the Heritage since the first documented meeting Feb. 1 to discuss its sponsorship. She has met regularly with her Cabinet, fielded calls with potential corporate sponsors and met with Lowcountry leaders trying to replace Verizon, which ended its title sponsorship with the Heritage after the 2010 event.

And while this year's tournament -- conducted without a title sponsor and sustained on a combination of Heritage Classic Foundation reserves and local-government contributions -- was playing out at Harbour Town, Haley helped gather other big guns to aid in the search. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier were among those who helped woo prospects. The recruitment efforts reached crescendo with an April 20 social event at the tournament, aboard Charleston attorney Joe Rice's 126-foot yacht docked in the Harbour Town Yacht Basin. It included a potential sponsor, Spurrier and S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Duane Parrish, according to records.

In other words, Haley's effort has been intense and sustained.

It might also bear fruit.

"We have a good many companies very interested," Heritage Classic Foundation chairman Simon Fraser told The State. "We actually have an offer on the table."

It's not clear if that offer is a direct result of the governor's efforts, but the energy devoted to this search by all involved can only help convince potential sponsors that local and state governments and the state business community are committed to the tournament.

"If we can't keep the one professional (PGA Tour) event in South Carolina, then that's going to hurt," Rice told The State, summing up the stakes. "It will have an effect on the entire South Carolina coast."

The political stakes are high for Haley, as well.

She has drawn criticism for opposing a sales-tax-break offered as an incentive to Amazon to open a distribution center in Lexington County. That measure was approved by the House on Wednesday, and Haley has indicated that while she still doesn't support the incentive, she won't veto the bill. That stance has been juxtaposed against her vote six years ago, when she was in the state House of Representatives, in favor of a similar sales-tax break for television retailer QVC.

If her position today regarding public subsidy of private enterprise differs from her stance in 2005, she cannot erase the contradiction whether she vetoes the Amazon bill or not.

However, with the Heritage effort, she can demonstrate her maturity and grasp of nuance by with an economic-development approach in which government actively recruits business but disentangles itself from subsidizing it. This is no small matter to those with tea party sympathies, to whom Haley's political rise is closely pegged.

Moreover, Haley has thus far done exactly what she said would do in regard to the Heritage.

That is to her credit and, we should all hope, to the tournament's benefit, as well.