Jeff Shain

A long plaid line? RBC Heritage envisions reunion of former champs

Defending champion Jim Furyk drives a ceremonial shot into Calibogue Sound during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at the 18th hole of Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Defending champion Jim Furyk drives a ceremonial shot into Calibogue Sound during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at the 18th hole of Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island. Staff file

What can be better than finally seeing the first South Carolina native slip on the tartan jacket given to the champion of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing?

How about having Wesley Bryan share the opening stage next year with more than two dozen other tartan jackets — not the usual cluster of Heritage Classic Foundation officials (sorry), but as the newest link in the chain of living former winners?

Call it the Long Plaid Line.

Though specifics remain in the planning stages, it’s clear Heritage officials would love if they could get every living former winner on hand to celebrate the tournament’s 50th edition.

“We’ve got some things in the works that hopefully we’ll be able to do,” tournament director Steve Wilmot said Thursday. “We’ve looked at a few different scenarios. We hope the opening ceremonies will be something special that will set the tone for the week.”

Tournament dates already are locked in, with the golden anniversary parade and opening ceremony set for April 9, 2018, along Harbour Town’s 18th fairway. The first round will take place three days later.

Last week’s ceremony featured an extra cannon shot for the first time in honor of the late Arnold Palmer, who died last September. Palmer’s victory on Thanksgiving weekend 1969 is widely credited with lifting the profile of the tournament, the brand-new Harbour Town layout and Hilton Head Island in general.

Palmer is only the second former RBC Heritage champion no longer living; Payne Stewart died in a depressurized “ghost plane” in October 1999. Bryan’s addition means 33 men are around who have donned the champion’s tartan.

It’s an impressive array that features nine World Golf Hall of Famers — Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Hubert Green, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and Greg Norman — along with five-time Heritage winner Davis Love III and six other major champions.

How many would spend a day or two after the Masters helping celebrate at Harbour Town? Could some stay an extra day to tee up in a pro-am, or maybe just be part of a special champions gathering?

Wilmot acknowledges there are a lot of moving parts. Langer, Price and Bob Tway play a steady PGA Tour Champions slate, which features a stop in Atlanta during Heritage Week. Others keep busy schedules with course design and other businesses.

Bob Goalby, the second Heritage champion, will turn 89 next year. It might be wise not to get him too close to the cannon.

The RBC Heritage will be the third PGA Tour event this decade to celebrate its 50th anniversary, though Doral and the Sony Open in Hawaii turned out to be more low-key affairs. Then again, they never had a cannon.

“We have a unique opening ceremony, a rich heritage,” Wilmot said. “We’re certainly going to celebrate it.”

At the same time, Wilmot stressed there’s a balance — the foundation doesn’t want expenses toward putting on a 50th anniversary celebration to take away from the tournament’s charitable efforts.

“It’s pretty special, but we don’t want to spend a lot of money to pat ourselves on the back,” Wilmot said.

That likely means they won’t take up Faldo, now a CBS and Golf Channel analyst, on his idea of tracking down another 30 cannons so everybody has their own personal cannoneer. “The way he put it,” Wilmot said, “he’s like, ‘Let’s fire away.’ 

Looking back, Wilmot said last week’s 49th edition “couldn’t have been scripted any better” — from recovery efforts to seven days of sunshine to a volatile Sunday leaderboard that culminated in the first winner to call South Carolina home.

“This community deserved it,” Wilmot said. “We needed it, but we deserved it at the same time. There was so much hard work from so many to pull off the event. It looked so great on TV. And the accolades that CBS was giving our community — it’s a testament to what we’re all about here.”

Jeff Shain: 843-706-8123, @jeffshain

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