David Lauderdale

The $5 million idea that saved the food at RBC Heritage, and made Hilton Head

Here’s a few things you didn’t know about the RBC Heritage cannon

The RBC Heritage cannon has been around for 50 years, but until recently, little was known about it. The Heritage Classic Foundation recently had it looked at. Here's what they found out.
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The RBC Heritage cannon has been around for 50 years, but until recently, little was known about it. The Heritage Classic Foundation recently had it looked at. Here's what they found out.

The world is Hilton Head Island’s oyster when the PGA Tour comes to town.

One year, it was literally so.

The RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing — with its 51st opening ceremony set for Monday and its final round on Easter Sunday — wasn’t always the multi-million-dollar charitable machine that it has become.

How that got started is a tale of bad hot dogs, two dynamic women — and oysters on the half shell.

But it’s much more than that, really. It’s the story of Hilton Head, and how spunk, brains, a can-do attitude and the constant effort to do everything better than it had to be done set it apart.

It’s the story of the concession stands at the Heritage. And millions and millions of dollars.

In the beginning, a professional concessionaire who traveled to festivals and fairs provided that service here.

By all accounts, it was horrible.

Indeed, when Bill Carson became tournament director in 1976, he got a report saying attendance the year before had been 25,000 and two things needed to be fixed: roping in a couple of places where the players had to cross spectator paths; and the bad food.

No Masters sandwiches

Carson had been around a while.

He came in the 1960s to work for Sea Pines. He was on-site construction manager for the Harbour Town Golf Links, working under the late Donald O’Quinn of Bluffton.

Carson knew people on the staff at Augusta National, host of the best-run golf tournament in the world. They had helped him in every way as Harbour Town came to life, except they wouldn’t part with the formula for the green-colored sand they used to fill divots.

The concessionaire for the Masters was willing to talk about coming two hours down the road to do it here. But the tournaments were too close together and he rightfully didn’t want to mess anything up at the Masters, so he turned Carson down.

We came that close to having pimento cheese sandwiches in little green bags.

But the Heritage got something much better.

“One thing that Sea Pines had in abundance was intelligent, energetic young people, and Dave Bachelder was one,” Carson writes in his personal account of Heritage history. “As a recent graduate of Duke University and an occasional golf partner, I knew he was a good choice.”

Bachelder was president of the Jaycees, he was eager for his group to help upgrade the Heritage food.

But Carson had been in the Jaycees and “remembered that, no matter how enthusiastic people were when volunteering, only about 10 percent show up when it’s time to go to work.”

He told Bachelder the Jaycees couldn’t handle the whole job, and he would turn to other civic clubs to help.

“Remember that this was 1976 and Hilton Head was only a fraction of what it is today in population and organizations,” Carson said.

He first approached the Rotary Club, which turned him down.

But the Heritage got something much better.

Mamas on a mission

Peg Robinson and Marianne Barker aren’t in the big names associated with the Heritage, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Charles Fraser and Pete Dye.

But there should be statue of them somewhere.

They were a powerful combination. They had a houseful of kids and young husbands trying to beat the odds in an out-of-the-way place — E.G. Robinson III in sales at the brand new Palmetto Dunes (the Robinsons were its third permanent residents) and Maynard Barker in insurance.

Carson was a coach with Maynard Barker in the Hilton Head Gators youth football program, playing on a field they would eventually name for Barker.

Marianne and Peg ran the concession stand for the Gator games on Saturdays, selling food provided by Gene Martin at the Red & White (now Piggly Wiggly) at Coligny Plaza.

“I asked Marianne if she and Peg would be willing to operate a booth at the Heritage and her response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive,” Carson said.

“So Marianne and Peg can get credit for providing the impetus to a successful operation that is now putting hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the community, and Dave Bachelder and his assistant, Steve Gladden, for making it work.”

They didn’t know what they were getting into. But the can-do spirit never left any of them.

Bachelder and Gladden built a successful commercial real estate company together. Bachelder was a founder of the Hilton Head Celebrity Golf Tournament, which raised millions for children’s charities.

Peg and Marianne helped many charitable and fundraising events. Peg, who died in 2013, was a charter member of the Hilton Head Island Shag Club and helped organize and host the Sun, Sand and Sea beach-music dance that attracted hundreds of people on Friday night of Heritage week to promote youth athletic programs.

And for more than 20 years, Peg and Marianne were co-owners of Classic Consignments Fine Furniture and Antiques.

The first five

Islanders took over the Heritage concession stands in 1977.

Carson said these five organizations ran stands that year:

Sea Pines Academy (now Hilton Head Preparatory School), 1st tee.

Island School Council, 10th tee.

Sea Pines Montessori Academy, 10th fairway.

Gator football program, 15th fairway.

Jaycees, 18th fairway.

Also, Carson said, Jim Buckingham operated a concession stand near the 2nd green and 3rd tee year-round, so he was permitted to stay.

And Lee and Berry Edwards, whose parents Ruthie and Berry Edwards Sr. were trying to get The Greenery business off the ground, periodically ran a lemonade stand near the 13th green, so they were grandfathered in, Carson said. Today, the younger Berry runs The Greenery and Lee runs Island Tire and Automotive.

The local volunteers came roaring out of the chute.

The Montessori School offered homemade chocolate chip cookies and hot soup.

Peg and Marianne’s Gator booth sent someone to Savannah every morning to pick up Chick-fil-A sandwiches, Carson said.

But it was Sea Pines Academy that won the academy award.

Its booth offered oysters on the half shell. It became the talk of the PGA Tour, Carson said. Even players stopped in for the delicacy, which were apparently only offered that one year.

“Through the hard work of Dave and Steve, our concession stand operation went from worst to first in one year,” Carson said. “Gross sales went from $7,000 in 1976 as reported by the professional concessionaire to $33,000 in 1977.”

Heritage Classic Foundation

Soon, Hilton Head Hospital, the Lions Club and Rotary Club had booths.

But there were problems.

“If word got around that the barbecue was good, it was not available at all the stands,” Bachelder said, “and the price for a hamburger or hotdog was different from stand to stand.

“Then the health department got involved. Food served to the public had to be from an inspected and approved facility.”

Soon, the menu and prices were standardized, all the food was prepared in an inspected kitchen, and an architect drew plans for uniform wooden concession stands. Bachelder said another charitable organization took on the task of running a commissary to serve the booths.

Bachelder and Gladden ran it for 14 years.

“The whole thing sort of took on a life of its own,” said Bachelder. “It was a perfect mix of opportunity and people willing to help. It just happened.”

He said it requires tremendous manpower to run a booth for a week, and complex logistics to get the right food to the right place at the right time.

“It was something the community as a whole embraced totally,” Bachelder said. “It was kind of laid in their lap and they turned it into a wonderful thing.

“The tournament is important to the history of Hilton Head because it shows people visually what a beautiful place it is and what a great place it is. But it’s the people, all these volunteers, who have made Hilton Head such a beautiful, wonderful place.

“I’d hate to think how much much money has gone to those charitable organizations through the concession stands, and how that has made the island a better place to live.”

According to the nonprofit Heritage Classic Foundation, the general sponsor of the Heritage since 1987, more than $5 million has been raised for charities by the nonprofit groups that staff the tournament’s concession stands.