RBC moving forward on Hilton Head sponsorship
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot is glad the uncertainty for his PGA Tour event is over, even if his stomach hasn't fully settled from the nearly two-year search for a title sponsor.
Last week, the tour, the state of South Carolina and the Heritage Classic Foundation announced that Royal Bank of Canada had agreed to underwrite the cash-strapped event through 2016.
The Boeing Co. will be a local presenting sponsor, securing the Heritage's immediate future since Verizon's decision to stop sponsoring the event in the fall of 2009.
"People have no idea," Wilmot told The Associated Press by phone. "I went to work last Monday (June 13) not even thinking that this was on the radar."
Instead, Wilmot figured on more of the frantic, last-ditch scramble for companies willing to underwrite the nearly $8 million or so required to put on the tournament. Wilmot said he was not given any drop-dead date by the PGA Tour for the longtime event to make the 2012 schedule. Still, the foundation discussed staff furloughs and other cost-saving measures as the search continued.
Verizon backed the tournament from 1987 until 2010. The tournament, first played in 1969, had become a PGA Tour staple and Harbour Town Golf Links with its famous red-and-white striped lighthouse behind the 18th green an iconic golf image.
Wilmot didn't expect such a lengthy, angst-filled search, but he didn't count on an economy where companies large and small rethought the sense of sponsoring sports events. "It was kind of in the tanks," he said. "It was the perfect storm this year."
Added to that turbulence was the 2012 PGA Championships scheduled for The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, which vied for Southern sponsorship dollars. "We've run into that because of companies who made that commitment long ago to have the PGA," Wilmot said. "We'll be impacted by that, but how exciting is it to have the PGA?"
Organizers for The Ocean Course, like Harbour Town designed by famed architect Pete Dye, are also happy the Heritage's future is firmed up.
"I think the only concern people had during this was were we stealing sponsors from the Heritage and by our analysis, we weren't," said Roger Warren, Kiawah Island Golf Resort president and general chairman of next year's PGA Championship.
Wilmot said having Verizon for so many years gave his group an organizational ease they may not have fully appreciated until it was gone. Once it was, Wilmot became caught up in a whirlwind chase of leads for a new sponsor. He thought one potential sponsor was locked in last winter for last April's event. Signs were prepared, tournament bibs with the new sponsor's name were printed and contracts were under legal review when things fell apart at the 11th hour.
There were also ominous signs a healthy tournament generally doesn't have, like being shifted from its week following the Masters and sharing the weekend with a Champions Tour event less than 30 minutes away in Savannah, Ga.
Buzz of an RBC sponsorship picked up during tournament week, players even getting questions about the company as they came off the 18th green on the final day. RBC leaders visited during the tournament, but Wilmot said nothing gelled until a few days before last Thursday's announcement.
RBC's Jim Little, the chief brand and communications officer, said the Heritage sponsorship will help build the company's U.S. presence. "The RBC Heritage provides very attractive opportunities for our U.S. businesses to reach target markets and foster new business development," he said.
When the news became official, Wilmot said he heard congratulations from players like former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and five-time Heritage champion Davis Love III, along with fellow tournament directors and friends of the tournament.
The tournament returns next year to its preferred date the week after the Masters for next season.
Wilmot said he's ready to build the relationship with RBC and Boeing and others who might want to sign on to South Carolina's lone PGA Tour - but just maybe not right away.
"Talk to me in August and then maybe we'll be caught up," Wilmot said.