RBC Heritage Celebrates 50 Years of Excellence on Hilton Head Island
By Allison Hersh
It’s no secret that Hilton Head Island will celebrate a monumental milestone this month. When the RBC Heritage tees off on April 9, this iconic golf tournament will officially celebrate its 50th anniversary.
In 1969, Sea Pines founder and developer Charles Fraser had the idea to host a PGA-level tournament at the newly created Harbour Town Golf Links over Thanksgiving weekend. Many were dubious as to how Hilton Head – a little-known island, at the time – would attract the caliber of talent required to carry a successful golf tournament.
Fortunately, Fraser’s hunch paid off. Today, the RBC Heritage packs a major economic punch, generating $96 million each year, while contributing $38 million to local charities along the way. The tournament has also earned the distinction of being one of the highest-rated and most frequently watched PGA Tour events of the year. With more than 150,000 spectators expected to converge on Hilton Head Island for the 2018 RBC Heritage on April 9-15, this year’s event will surely make its mark on history.
Looking back, the tournament’s legacy started when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus committed to play in the inaugural Heritage Classic. Since then, there’s been a long list of world-class champions donning the tournament’s signature tartan plaid sport coat, including a veritable “who’s who” of golf’s greatest players, including Greg Norman,
Nick Price, Tom Watson, Davis Love III and Payne Stewart, to name a few.
However, beyond the talented golfers who commit to the tournament each year, the love of the game reverberates throughout Hilton Head Island every April.
“The community truly embraces this event,” said Simon Fraser of Hilton Head, nephew of Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser. “Most tournaments are in large communities where 80 percent of the people don’t even know a golf tournament is going on. Whereas on Hilton Head, everybody knows this is the biggest event of the year.”
Sea Pines, in particular, was developed as an environmentally responsible community on more than 5,000 acres at the island’s south end by Charles Fraser. In fact, Charles and his brother Joseph Fraser, Jr., former vice president at the family-owned Sea Pines Plantation Company, were instrumental in creating modern-day Hilton Head Island. The pair worked hard to balance the community’s natural beauty, a perfect convergence of forest and ocean, with strategic growth and smart development.
The Frasers’ foresight and vision proved invaluable. Today, this lush island, and the Southern hospitality extended to PGA Tour players and their families, is a major draw. While the tournament itself is, of course, the primary reason they’re here, it’s the destination itself, the warm welcome they receive and the high level of excitement generated by spectators that keep them coming back year after year.
“These players are traveling most of the year, with many weeks spent in hotel rooms in big cities,” said RBC Heritage Tournament Director Steve Wilmot. “They come from the pressure of the Masters to the relaxation of Hilton Head Island, with great weather, beautiful beaches, water sports, biking and fantastic restaurants. Above all of that, it’s the sense of community on Hilton Head that is so unique and special on the PGA Tour.”
Wilmot is proud of the tournament’s history and remains optimistic about its future.
“I hope Hilton Head Island is still blessed to host the event in 50 years,” he said. “We are fortunate to hold a PGA Tour golf tournament in such a small community. We need to continue to work hard and make sure the tournament evolves and grows, in order to attract new fans and business partners.”
The RBC Heritage’s outstanding record of success can be attributed to a range of reasons, but Wilmot believes it’s mostly because tournament organizers are committed to doing things better each year. And that keeps the fans returning to Sea Pines year after year.
The Heritage Classic Foundation, founded in 1987, has distributed $38 million to those in need across South Carolina and Georgia. Last year alone, the foundation donated $2.9 million to charitable organizations, specifically in the arts, medical institutions and higher education.
“Giving back to the community is what makes the PGA Tour unique,” said RBC Heritage Tournament Director Steve Wilmot. “The money raised is given back to the community. We are able to support many wonderful organizations that help make the Lowcountry a better place for all residents.”
More than 300 high school seniors have received four-year scholarships with these funds. Champions Fore Charity and Birdies for Charity, two programs presented by the Heritage Classic Foundation, are healthy and provide hundreds of charities with financial support each year. With this year’s 50th anniversary, the foundation is looking forward to surpassing all previous charity donations.
“Once you come to the tournament, you want to come back,” Wilmot explained. “It’s more than just a golf tournament – it’s a time to catch up with friends and family and have fun, while enjoying the other activities happening on the course and in Harbour Town. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy, even if you’re not a golfer.”
For more information about the RBC Heritage, click here to go to their website.