David Lauderdale

RBC Heritage on Hilton Head a way for SC to cash in on the greens, big-time

Defending RBC Heritage champion starts tournament with tee shot into Calibogue Sound

RBC Heritage 2018 winner and defending champion Satoshi Kodaira hits the ceremonial tee shot.
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RBC Heritage 2018 winner and defending champion Satoshi Kodaira hits the ceremonial tee shot.

Golf has been very good to South Carolina.

So declared Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, grasping her notes in a stiff wind at Monday’s opening ceremony of the 51st RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at the 18th green of the Harbour Town Golf Links.

Evette said South Carolina has more than 300 golf courses, and the ancient and vexing game has a $26 billion annual economic impact on the state. More than 31,000 people work in golf-related jobs in South Carolina, she said.

And it is a driver of the state’s $21 billion tourism industry, which will attract 28 million visitors this year. The Heritage alone will have a $96 million impact on the economy, it was said.

But for the crowd gathered for the cannon blast that opens the state’s only PGA Tour event, this is old news.

In relative terms for Hilton Head Island, which didn’t have a bridge to the mainland until 1956, the power of golf is as old as the 19th century wooden golf stick that defending champion Satoshi Kodaira used to play a ceremonial opening shot into Calibogue Sound.

The festivities can be as odd as the game itself.

Men stood in red plaid knickers aflutter in the wind as preacher John Wall in a kilt, and with a dagger in his knee sock, assured the assembled that golf could only have been created by the spirit of God, with its lessons on failure and endurance, hope, perseverance, comradeship and character.

It was brought to these shores by Scots with names like Fraser, who “also brought a rugged determination,” he said.

Rugged enough to dream that one day bagpipers from South Carolina’s military college, The Citadel, would screech and wheeze the celebration of a young man from Japan, wearing a plaid jacket, saying through interpreters — two aspiring golfers from Hilton Head’s International Junior Golf Academy, 14-year-old One Kashima and 17-year-old Sae Saito — that his playoff win at this same blessed spot a year ago was the happiest moment of his life.

And they were rugged enough to make this dream come to life, so that one day South Carolina secretary of agriculture Hugh Weathers would open a golf tournament singing “The Star Spangled Banner” a cappella while Sandlapper growers of strawberries, peaches, peanuts and industrial hemp also compete on the international stage.

Hilton Head’s mayor, John McCann, unfortunately, did not bring interpreters. But I think he said in his thick New York City accent that the tournament not only showcases South Carolina’s beauty and the economic might of frivolity, but introduces the world to the home folks, 1,100 of whom serve the tournament as volunteers.

This year’s tournament chairman, Al Kennickell, a third-generation printer from Savannah whose firm put the plaid in the Harbour Town Lighthouse stripes, stressed all the spinoff bucks that golf has brought to the table.

He mentioned the $41 million given to charity since the Heritage Classic Foundation took over as general sponsor in 1987, including $4.3 million in college scholarships for 332 extremely smart children from Beaufort County.

And this year, the PGA Tour gave $30,000 to the local Second Helpings charity, with its simple but powerful idea of getting prepared foods that 50 stores and restaurants would otherwise have thrown away and delivering it to 57 food pantries and soup kitchens and nonprofits across three counties.

Second Helpings — with 341 volunteers getting out 3 million pounds of food last year making 48,000 meals weekly — was chosen the tour’s 2018 Charity of the Year, over some 3,000 charities that the tour assists each year. The tour and its tournaments have generated an all-time total of $2.84 billion for charity.

RBC representative Doug McGregor, a Hilton Head homeowner who is chairman and CEO of RBC Capital Markets, announced that the RBC Foundation and Heritage Classic Foundation have made a $300,000 commitment over the next three years for the state Technical College System to support workforce development and skills training across the state.

So, yes, golf, in any language, has been very good to South Carolina.