RBC Heritage

David Lauderdale: Judge Blatt arrives at his 43rd Heritage with tales of ice-hunting and lot-buying

Senior U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr. arrived like clockwork at the Heritage on Friday, parking in his spot near the Harbour Town clubhouse door.

Blatt, two months short of his 90th birthday and still sitting on the bench in Charleston, believes he's never missed a Heritage.

"It's such a wonderful tradition, and it means so much to South Carolina, not just Hilton Head," he said. "I just hope the state can do something to help keep it."

Blatt knows South Carolina tradition. His father all but ran the state as speaker of the House for almost 40 years. He was a representative from Barnwell for 54 years.

Young Sol Jr. has been on the federal bench for 40 years. He oversaw a bankruptcy that involved five Hilton Head Island communities, including Sea Pines, in 1986. Later, the town named the Cross Island Parkway in his honor.

On Friday, Blatt told a good Lowcountry story of how he came to buy a lot in Palmetto Dunes in 1968. It has to do with a German chemical company and a cocktail that needed some ice.

"I came down to Hilton Head one Sunday," Blatt recalls. "Five of us. Gov. Bob McNair had made arrangements with (Sea Pines founder) Charles (Fraser) to have his No. 1 man show us property around Harbour Town. The harbor hadn't even been built, but they had cleared some land."

But then McNair and Fraser had a falling out over a BASF chemical plant proposed for the Colleton River near Bluffton. McNair and all other powers that be wanted the plant. Fraser and a small cadre of Hilton Head retirees and native islanders did not. They thought it would ruin the budding tourism and retirement industries here, and like David vs. Goliath, they prevailed.

So when Blatt's party arrived to look at property, McNair was missing and so was Fraser's No. 1 man.

As Blatt's party headed home, they cracked open the liquor, with a designated driver, of course. They quickly ran out of ice.

"It was about dark on a summer day and the only light we saw was at the sales office at Palmetto Dunes," Blatt said. "I said I'd go in and see if they had some ice. I ran into E.G. Robinson III, Johnny White and Stewart Dunbar. We partook of their hospitality until about midnight and then we all go lot-hunting."

Their jeep got stuck in the sand, but onward they trudged until a salesman asked: "How would you like that corner lot? You can get it real cheap -- $2,500."

"You can imagine how well we could see it, with a regular little flashlight," Blatt said. "Anyway, I bought the lot."

His wife, Carolyn, couldn't complain because she was part of the purchase. He said it turned out to be the best thing they ever did, and he held onto it until shortly after Carolyn's death in 2004.

Blatt said they joined pharmacist Joe and Joanne Capin in building the first homes in Palmetto Dunes. "It's the only thing I ever sold at the top of the market," he said.

Blatt's favorite Heritage tradition died along with his good friend, former Gov. John C. West of Hilton Head.

He said he and "The Gov" had an annual date on Friday during the Heritage.

"We'd start at the clubhouse and end up at the Quarterdeck," he said. "It was from mid-day ... until."

That tradition never involved driving, but sometimes dancing. I asked the judge if he was going to dance at this year's Heritage.

"You never know," he said.