RBC Heritage adapts and evolves as core values of tournament, course hold true

Scott Schroeder/For The Island Packet

Times change. The RBC Heritage, the PGA Tour’s annual stop on Hilton Head Island that unfolds for the 55th time in April, provides evidence.

The purse: The pros played for shares of $100,000 in the beginning (1969) and champion Arnold Palmer banked $20,000. They will split $20 million this year, and the winner will take home a check north of $3 million.

The name: RBC Heritage presented by Boeing is the event’s seventh different title.

The playing date: The tournament was first held in November, stopped once in September before moving to the spring — a few times in March before settling in April, mostly the week after the Masters. Plus, the 2020 Heritage rescheduled to June due to the COVID pandemic.

But two factors remain the same: The tournament staff always strives to provide a win-win scenario for players, fans, sponsors, vendors and volunteers — anyone involved, really. And the course, Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort, remains the same demanding challenge the golfers discovered so many years ago.

The RBC Heritage “is an elevated event for the players this year” when it’s held April 13-16, tournament director Steve Wilmot said, “but we want is to be elevated for the spectators and everyone else, too.”

The “elevated status” means almost every top PGA Tour player will compete, making the field the strongest ever — even better than the early days that saw a string of champions that are now, or soon will be, in golf’s hall of fame.

“We’re always looking for ways to do things better, and improving the experience for fans became an even greater priority after 2019,” Wilmot said. “On Saturday that year, we couldn’t have gotten another person on the golf course and that’s not good. I hated it.”

The coronavirus outbreak pushed the 2020 Heritage back until June and no spectators could attend. The 2021 event had limited attendance, and that, Wilmot said, “gave us an idea of what we wanted.”

The staff could have sold more tickets last year, but “we wanted to make sure everyone had a great experience,” he said. “People could watch golf, they could park their cars easily, they didn’t have long lines to concessions or to use the restroom.

“Saturday is always our biggest day, and we want to have five Saturdays this year.”

The “elevated” status with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler — golf’s so-called new Big Three — heading the field adds to the appeal, and Wilmot said ticket and hospitality sales are far ahead of previous years.

The field will tackle a Harbour Town course that “has the same shot values that it did 55 years ago,” said John Farrell, Sea Pines’ director of sports operations who previously oversaw the resort’s golf courses.

“We have added yardage through the years (the course played almost 7,200 yards in the 2022 Heritage), but the players face the same challenges,” Farrell said. “We protected the integrity of the course. The design features are the same.

“We have discovered the players have a love affair with this type of venue. They don’t want 7,800 yards and 10,000 square-foot greens. We have a unique style, and we’re proud of it.”

A piece of advice to players who have passed on the Heritage due to its following a major championship: “Really work during your practice rounds,” Farrell said. “You don’t learn the course overnight.”

Ah, but with the winds of change blowing through the PGA Tour schedule, what does the future hold for the Heritage?

“Nothing’s guaranteed, but (the Heritage) is where we need to be,” Wilmot said. “One thing we know is our priority will always be to provide great experiences for everyone involved.”

For ticket information, go online to www.rbcheritage.com.

Chip shots. Nathan Franks tied for second individually in leading USC’s men to a 10-stroke victory in the Palmetto Intercollegiate at Aiken’s Palmetto GC. Rafe Reynolds placed sixth and Evans Lewis and Lansdon Robbins tied for 13th in coach Bill McDonald’s 28th tourney title with the Gamecocks. ... Weston Bell (Piedmont) and Robert Lutomski (Simpsonville) teamed to win the SCGA’s Partners Champion at Spring Valley CC and the Spur at Northwoods. The Simpsonville duo of Duane Barnes and Dennis Schwab won the tournament division. ... Jackson Koivun (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), the nation’s top-ranked junior golfer,earned the boys’ title in the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship at the TPC Myrtle Beach. Ryleigh Knaub (Debray, Florida) led the girls’ division. ... Clemson’s men finished 12th in the Wake Forest Invitational at Pinehurst, North Carolina. Andrew Swanson led the Tigers, placing 28th individually over the Pinehurst No. 2 course. ... USC’s women, ranked fourth nationally in the Golfstat poll, will play Monday and Tuesday in the Papago Intercollegiate in Phoenix, Arizona.