RBC Heritage

As Heritage week starts, organizers vow 43rd tournament won't be the last

Organizers and supporters of the Heritage golf tournament are confident this won't be the last year a ground-shaking blast from a cannon begins Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event.

On Monday, as organizers opened the 43rd annual tournament with the customary golf shot across the beach and into the water from the 18th green of Harbour Town Golf Links, speakers said they intend to stage the ritual for years to come.

State officials, including Duane Parrish, recently installed as director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, say landing a title sponsor is their top priority.

"We will find a sponsor," Parrish told a crowd watching from the stands. Failure, he said, "is not an option."

Earlier in the ceremony, Simon Fraser, chairman of the foundation that has run the tournament for 25 years, spoke with similar optimism.

"We plan to be here for another 25 or more years -- however and whatever it takes," Fraser said to a round of applause.

Even though tournament organizers are "walking on eggshells" this week, defending champion Jim Furyk said he and others on the tour want the Heritage to live on.

"We would love to put on the show for a long time to come," he said.

The Heritage has searched for a replacement for previous title sponsor Verizon for more than a year and a half. This year, the tournament landed a date on the tour's schedule by pledging all $4 million of its reserves and securing $1 million commitments from Hilton Head and Beaufort County.

Tour officials have said it's imperative for the tournament to find a new sponsor. Gov. Nikki Haley has directed Parrish and Bobby Hitt, secretary of the S.C. Department of Commerce, to help the tournament do that.

Parrish, who has been on the job about two months, said discussions are "pretty far along" with "a couple" of prospective companies.

The tournament recently was so close to landing a sponsor that Parrish "went to bed one night thinking it was done," he said.

If the tournament showcases itself well this week, Parrish believes a company will sign on soon thereafter.

That sponsorship, however, might not look exactly like Verizon's, he said. Parrish said the Heritage is pursuing options such as reducing the cost by using contributions from companies that don't want or need the TV advertising time or name recognition that comes with being title sponsor.

The state has assembled a package of benefits from other South Carolina events, Parrish said.

A company that sponsors the Heritage also would receive tickets, private tents, skyboxes and other enticements at events including the 2012 PGA Championship on Kiawah Island, NASCAR's Southern 500 auto race in Darlington, the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am in the Upstate and a trio of Charleston events: the Family Circle Cup, a pro tennis event; the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, an art and nature event; and Spoleto Festival USA, a performing-arts event.

The state also has compiled a three-and-a-half-minute video to send to prospective companies and give the Heritage's pitch "a little sizzle," Parrish said. That video has helped bring one prospective company back to the negotiating table, he said.

If a title sponsor comes aboard, Parrish vowed that the company would be satisfied with its decision. He said Haley and the state would be "forever indebted."

"I'll make sure that whoever sponsors it, they'll be glad they did it," Parrish said.

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