RBC Heritage

Documents reveal Haley's efforts to find a new sponsor for the Heritage

COLUMBIA -- On the job for just two weeks Gov. Nikki Haley sat down with two Cabinet directors and Lowcountry officials to set a priority for her new administration -- find a sponsor for the Heritage Classic golf tournament on Hilton Head Island.

Haley, who has said finding a sponsor for the Heritage is a top priority, met regularly with her Cabinet, fielded calls with potential corporate sponsors and held meetings with Lowcountry leaders who thought they might have a lead to replace Verizon, which ended its affiliation with the PGA Tour event in 2010, according to emails, schedules and other documents obtained by The (Columbia) State newspaper in a public records request.

The efforts to find a new Heritage sponsor included floating the idea of rotating the tournament's location among golf courses at Hilton Head, Kiawah Island and Myrtle Beach.

The recruitment efforts culminated the week of the tournament, held April 21-24, with an April 20 Harbor Town social event aboard Charleston attorney Joe Rice's yacht. Attending were a potential sponsor, University of South Carolina football coach and noted golf enthusiast Steve Spurrier, and Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Duane Parrish.

"The boat is called Rice Quarters on the T-dock in the marina," Parrish emailed one executive with the corporate prospect. "Can't miss it -- 126 feet.'"

After the event, Parrish urged Haley and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to meet personally with corporate officers of the prospective sponsor.

"I think they are close to sold. If I can get you to give them a 'we'd love to have you here talk,' that will help," Parrish wrote to Haley in an April 20 email.

The names of all businesses contacted were redacted from the documents obtained by The State.

Parrish later wrote Haley: "I really need you and Senator Graham at the Inn at Harbor Town lobby around 6:30 tomorrow night."

Haley responded: "I have also been talking with a company that is considering. We need to see this through. Borrowing a yacht The efforts have yet to pay off."

But state and tournament officials said they came very close to signing a sponsor, and a deal may be announced soon.

Landing a sponsor is important to ensure the event, which has an economic impact of about $80 million a year, stays in South Carolina. Tournament officials approached almost 50 sponsors, according to the documents, with half declining outright.

"We were very close. A lot of effort was put in by all the parties," Parrish said last week. "We just could not convince the chairman of that organization."

The documents offer tantalizing details about company identities, with references to prospects staying warm, managing Caribbean offices, and traveling to London and Toronto.

In many emails, a very short company name is blacked out.

Golf World reported the week of the tournament that RBC -- Royal Bank of Canada -- was close to signing on, but tournament sponsors denied that. Subsequently, talk of RBC, which has endorsement deals with a half-dozen high-profile golfers on the PGA Tour, has faded as the company has said it will sell its U.S. banking operations, headquartered in Raleigh .

Other rumored prospects have included Boeing and BMW, companies with S.C. manufacturing plants.

Parrish said recruiting efforts have continued since the tournament, aided by this year's tourney playoff and CBS' national coverage of the sponsor search.

"We have a good many companies very interested," Simon Fraser, chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation, which organizes the event, told The State. "We actually have an offer on the table."

Charleston attorney Rice said he offered use of his yacht for the save-the-Heritage effort because losing the tournament would adversely affect South Carolina's reputation as a golf destination.

Rice also used the opportunity to urge Haley to push state agencies to allow harbor dredging at Hilton Head, saying, unless that happens, moored boats will no longer be able to be anchor close enough to provide the tournament's signature background.

"If we can't keep the one professional (PGA) event in South Carolina, then that's going to hurt," Rice told The State. "It will have an effect on the entire South Carolina coast."

The records show Haley has spent a significant amount of time on the Heritage since the first documented meeting on its sponsorship issue on Feb. 1.

Haley has met at least every other week with Parrish or Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, and her schedule shows a half-dozen items listed as economic development or Heritage-related calls in March and April.

In addition, Haley or agency staff met with local leaders pitching their own sponsorship plans.

At one point, emails showed Hitt was willing to cancel a previous engagement in order to attend a meeting about the Heritage.

"Must attend Heritage," Hitt wrote an aide about backing out of an event at Clemson, "we need to consider alternatives.'"

According to the emails, state agencies spent $10,000 to produce a marketing video to try to win a sponsor.

One idea would have rotated the tournament among Hilton Head, Kiawah Island, Myrtle Beach and even Bermuda to generate interest among golf and sailing enthusiasts.

The emails also show tournament organizers drafted a backup plan that would tap state, county and local money to buy $3.9 million in television advertising time during future Heritage tournament broadcasts. The state's share of that cost would be $2.65 million. That plan also called for the Heritage Classic Foundation and Sea Pines Resorts to chip in $2.4 million for the tournament's prize purse.

Beaufort County lawmakers also have introduced a bill earmarking $3 million in accommodations taxes, backed up by state sales taxes, if needed for the tournament's use.

However, Haley has repeatedly said she opposes use of taxpayer money for the tournament.

"I don't think it's going to be necessary," Heritage Classic Foundation chairman Fraser said of the use of state or local money.