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Heritage sponsorship rumors just premature speculation

Remember that game you used to play in grade school -- we called it "telephone" -- in which someone whispered a phrase in another someone's ear, and the whispers spread it across the room until you got to the last person, who invariably spouted out something that scarcely resembled the original phrase?

A gigantic version of that game took place last week at Harbour Town Golf Links -- and all over Hilton Head Island and the rest of the golf universe, for that matter -- resulting in a number of speculative rumors regarding the Heritage's search for a title sponsor.

The usual suspects cropped up -- BMW, Boeing, Coca-Cola -- along with a few new ones, some more interesting (and believable) than others.

A mid-week whisper involved the Royal Bank of Scotland -- a real head-scratcher, considering the bank recently needed a government bailout to survive a disastrous collapse after an ill-timed acquisition -- and that company again cropped up Sunday, when it was rumored to have bought up all the Monday tee times at Harbour Town, allegedly booting paying customers off the coveted course.

Wow, that's a lot of detail for a rumor, we thought. So we asked Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot whether there was anything to it.

"Nobody's playing golf here tomorrow," he said. "We're tearing everything down. There are no tee times here tomorrow."


But Wilmot had heard an even better one. Someone approached him during the final round to ask about the rumor that Island Car Wash was poised to sponsor the tournament.

How many car washes does it take to get to $8 million?

Way too many, if I had to guess.

By Monday morning, the Royal Bank of ... wait, what?

The lines got crossed somewhere along the way, because that RBS rumor had morphed into one about RBC -- the Royal Bank of Canada -- which, according to a Golf World report, was close to signing a four-year deal to sponsor the Heritage.

By the end of the day Monday, I had seen the Golf World story pop up in my Facebook feed several times, and the posts were of an almost celebratory nature, as if the deal were done and the Heritage saved.

Never mind that Wilmot quickly shot down the rumor hours earlier -- and reiterated Saturday that no deal is imminent -- and Jim Furyk, one of several PGA Tour players sponsored by RBC, had cast a pessimistic view on the prospect on Sunday.

"It would be interesting for them to pick up two events," Furyk said, referring to RBC's sponsorship of the Canadian Open.

Coincidentally, the BMW rumors are even more far-fetched, considering that company already sponsors a PGA Tour event and a Nationwide Tour event and also does its part for the Heritage by lending courtesy vehicles, but that hasn't stopped it from repeatedly popping up in conversations about the sponsor search.

The RBC rumor has legs, too, as evidenced by the fact it cropped up again Friday night, when writer John Hawkins reported that RBC has agreed in principle to a four-year deal, citing an anonymous former member of the PGA Tour's Policy Board.

But it's hard to ignore the possibility that both reports were generated from bad information gathered via ripples from the same splash.

And trying to track the genesis of such rumors? Good luck with that. You're liable to wind up with something out of Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

"My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this guy who's dating the girl whose dad saw Steve Wilmot at 31 Flavors last night. He was with a guy whose shirt had an RBC logo. I guess it's pretty serious."

Maybe the reports are accurate -- I, for one, hope so -- but we might not know for several weeks. In the meantime, let's be careful not to blindly believe everything we read or hear and read every report with a critical eye, paying close attention to the sources cited (or not cited, in many cases).

And when you hear something, for goodness sake, try to whisper more clearly. Nobody can tell your S's from your C's.