David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: RBC Heritage honorary chair sees links to the future of golf

Charlie Rountree III on the iconic 18th of Harbour Town Golf Links on Monday, April 11, 2016 at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island following opening ceremonies of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
Charlie Rountree III on the iconic 18th of Harbour Town Golf Links on Monday, April 11, 2016 at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island following opening ceremonies of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. dlauderdale@islandpacket.com

Charlie Rountree III has so much Heritage in his blood, it probably runs plaid.

He’s a high-powered lobbyist and public relations specialist from Lexington, right outside of Columbia, who is the honorary chairman of the 48th RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. It’s an honor for the Heritage Classic Foundation board member, now in his fifth year with the nonprofit that stages the PGA Tour event on Hilton Head Island.

Rountree has a rare perspective on the game’s past, present and future.

He was here when it all began for the Heritage. He still has the badges that were used as admission to the first tournament in 1969.

We’re the Green Bay of the PGA Tour.

Charlie Rountree III

He was a caddy in the 1973 Heritage, winning the honor by finishing in the top two in a Columbia junior tournament. But it doesn’t sound like a huge honor. Caddies stayed at Camp Fraser, a rustic camp on land off Cordillo Parkway donated to the Presbyterian church by the Fraser family, founders of Sea Pines and the Heritage.

He vividly remembers that the camp had no hot water.

“We took a bar of soap and jumped in the indoor pool at the Plantation Club to take our baths,” Rountree recalls.

And then five years ago, his stepdaughter got engaged on the first fairway at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines, where tour players will compete this Thursday through Sunday.

“It was at night,” Rountree said of the big moment for Grant and Rebecca Gillespie of Columbia. “He gave her a drink. He had the ring in an ice cube in the drink and he kept waiting for her to finish. She went absolutely wild.”

This week, as he strolls about in his plaid jacket and gold tie, Rountree may have two new grandchildren in tow.

But Rountree also understands the significance of today’s Heritage.

“This is the No. 1 sporting event by far in South Carolina, and we only have two,” he said. It’s the Heritage and the Bojangles Southern 500 NASCAR race in Darlington, “the graddaddy of them all.”

“This is one that cannot be replaced,” Rountree said. “We’re too small of a market to ever get it again. We absolutely cannot let it go away. We’re the Green Bay of the PGA Tour.”

Rountree is an outgoing, constant ambassador for golf. He participated in Golf Day at the Statehouse, when Sir Willie the Heritage mascot came and gave all the legislators plaid glasses.

Make golf fun.

Charlie Rountree III

And Rountree also has studied carefully the future of golf. His father was a leader in South Carolina junior golf, and so is he.

He is past president of the S.C. Golf Association and is a leader in the state Junior Golf Association. He can rattle off many ways the Heritage plays a role in golf development statewide. Not the least of it is that South Carolina juniors can see others from their state competing for the $5.9 million purse at the Heritage, he said.

But Rountree has a lot of other ideas to make the sport relevant to today’s kids.

Your grandfather’s country clubs are not going to pull golf out of the rough, he said.

The game needs to be fun for kids, he said. A round needs to be six holes. And it must become a part of each community’s public recreation offerings, like soccer, baseball and football. Families need golf-league schedules taped to the refrigerator door.

He said the Spartanburg Country Club has dedicated a professional just to junior golf.

“Make golf fun,” Rountree said. “We take kids out there for a golf ‘clinic.’ It sounds like they’re going to get their teeth pulled. We hand them 70 balls and tell them to hit them, and hit them and hit them. That’s no fun.

“We need to quit worrying about pounding them with etiquette and the rules of the golf course. We need to teach a kid how to play. Give them a ball and a club and say hit it in the hole. We can teach all that other stuff later.”

Clearly, too many golf courses were built in South Carolina, most of them to sell homes.

The future demands more players, and they need to learn the game as kids, Rountree said.

“If you’re going to wait around for the country club to do that, it’s not going to happen,” Rountree said.

When Rountree tells it with all of his enthusiasm, it sounds simple and makes sense.

Like bathing in an indoor pool when there’s no hot water.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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