David Lauderdale

How the ‘sweetest, nicest, prettiest lady’ gave life to Hilton Head’s RBC Heritage

Spectator film of Hilton Head’s first Heritage shows the greats

Bill Carson shot super 8mm film of Hilton Head's first Heritage that shows the greats: Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and the golfer that one the first tournament, Arnold Palmer.
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Bill Carson shot super 8mm film of Hilton Head's first Heritage that shows the greats: Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and the golfer that one the first tournament, Arnold Palmer.

Marian McDuffie made little skirts for the girls who marched in the parade starting the first RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

And she died on April 15, the day of the opening parade for this year’s 51st Heritage.

In between, she was a volunteer at the tournament for 45 years.

“The entire community came together to create that first Heritage,” said her daughter, Debbie McDuffie Chester, “and Mother and her new friends sewed brightly multicolored skirts, using mostly fabrics they had on hand, for their girls to wear in that first parade.

“It was a bit psychedelic-looking, but that was the sixties!”

It was the fall of 1969, and by following the thread in Marian McDuffie’s fingers at that time, you can begin to see the fabric of the PGA Tour event, and the Hilton Head Island community that birthed it and sustained it.

The McDuffies defined the early development of Hilton Head: people taking a dare, loving the surroundings, hoping to keep it a special place.

Robert “Bob” McDuffie began working for Charles and Joe Fraser in about 1967 as general contractor for Sea Pines. He was hired to build homes and make their vision of a harbor village come true.

He moved the family over from Savannah in 1968, falling in love with the saltwater and wildlife of the sparsely populated island.

He later worked for island contractor Joe Harden, even moving to the Upstate for a year while Harden renovated the Belmont Inn on the town square in Abbeville.

He liked to sail and fish. They would leave the country to do deep-sea fishing, or fish from a small boat in Lake Mary in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, named for Charles Fraser’s wife.

Bob and Marian reared three children on the island. He passed away in 1989, but Marian remained on the island she loved.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s you were as likely to find Mother barefoot and fishing with a hand line off the dock at Harbour Town as you were to see her at a party wearing one of her quite couture creations,” Debbie said.

Mary Kay Taylor of Hilton Head worked with Marian for almost 30 years in a series of florist shops: O’Connor’s Florists in Pope Avenue Mall, Tropical Patios run by Orion and Alicia Hack, Mum’s the Word, and finally Flowers by Sue.

“Marian was a floral designer,” Taylor said. “She was real artistic. She painted watercolors. She sewed beautifully. She was always picking up something. She was very creative.”

Former Heritage director Bill Carson remembers her as “the kindest, sweetest, nicest, prettiest lady you’ll ever see on Hilton Head.”

That personality helped the fledgling Heritage.

“She loved working for the tournament,” said Bonnie Hunt, who for 46 years was the head volunteer in the tournament office. “She loved interacting with people.”

The idea of a Heritage plaid was hatched after that first parade, an event that tournament and Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser must have known would give the community a common thread, generation after generation.

“Mother was a terrific seamstress and her knowledge of fabrics was handy,” Debbie said. “That was the birth of the Uniform Committee, which Mother co-chaired (with Barbara Borders) or chaired for the following 45 years.”

The Volunteer Tent, a gathering and respite place for those working the tournament, later fell under her supervision as well.

Officially, Marian was the redcoat (chairperson) of the Uniform Committee and Volunteer Tent Committee, the position that Debbie now holds.

And at the same time, she would be swamped working with Sue Yi at Flowers by Sue.

“Heritage was the big party season on Hilton Head, so Mother worked exhausting hours at the florist also, helping Sue and Ed as they created elaborate tablescapes for the many posh corporate and private parties.”

Bonnie Hunt looks back on it and hopes people like Marian McDuffie, who was there for the first Heritage and passed away during Heritage week a half century later, are never forgotten. Or taken for granted.

“That was the groundwork for what we have now,” she said.