Heritage Gets New Sponsor

Thanks to a team effort, the popular Heritage tournament in Hilton Head, S.C., is guaranteed to be played again in 2012. For the past two years the event at Harbour Town Golf Links was in danger of falling off the PGA Tour schedule because of a lack of a sponsor.

But all that changed Friday when the PGA Tour announced that RBC (the Royal Bank of Canada) signed a five-year contract to be the title sponsor, while the Boeing Company will serve as the local presenting sponsor. The tournament will now be called RBC Heritage.

"This is a company that knows golf, that knows sports marketing, that's hands-on and will work with the foundation here to build this tournament on into the future," PGA Tour commissioner remarked Finchem of RBC, which is also the title sponsor of the Canadian Open.

The $5.7 million Heritage, a fixture on the tour after it debuted two weeks after the Masters in 1969, was in dire straits after Verizon dropped its 25-year sponsorship at the conclusion of the 2010 tournament. This year's event was held without a title sponsor thanks to donations by local individuals and businesses.

Since Verizon had pulled out, the tour hadn't had any luck finding a replacement. But that problem has been solved for the immediate future. Jim Little, RBC's chief brand and communications officer, said that North America's fifth-largest financial institution hopes to be affiliated with the Heritage "for a very long time."

When the announcement was made before a packed ballroom at Harbour Town, the attendees erupted into applause.

Ever since Verizon pulled out, the PGA Tour has tried to find a new sponsor, working closely with the Heritage Classic Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs the 43-year-old tournament. "Maybe I wouldn't have said this two weeks ago, but we were not planning to leave," Finchem said Friday.

Also assisting in the search for new sponsors was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. "I'm telling you, she has been on this 24/7 for a number of weeks, and she was never going to take 'no' for an answer," Finchem said.

Officials wanted to preserve a sporting event that contributed $82 million in economic impacts along with $20 million to local charities since 1987. "What I hope you realize is, we showed that 'can't' is not an option and we got it done, and we got it done for the people of this state, and we got it done for the people of this country," Haley said.

The tournament enjoys quite the pedigree of champions. Previous winners include golf Hall-of-Famers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, the late Payne Stewart, Nick Faldo, Hale Irwin, Nick Price and Greg Norman. Davis Love III has won five times. Jim Furyk will return to defend his title after winning last year's Heritage in a playoff.

PGA Tour players enjoy the event for its low-key, family-friendly atmosphere and the entertaining Harbour Town golf course. "It's the anti-Augusta," said two-time Heritage champion Stewart Cink at last year's event.