For The Love of Golf (or the Party)!
The plaid of the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island welcomed me back to its merriment after many years!
It’s been six or more years since I had attended the PGA tournament but it resonates with my upbringing on the island.
Decked out in a black dress and sassy flats I joined the crowds that descended on day one of tournament play. A shuttle took us to the Harbour Town Golf Links within Sea Pines residential gates. I asked the gentleman sitting across the aisle how long he had been coming to the Heritage. “20 years! I haven’t missed one since living here!” he replied. His answer was consistent with most of the tournament goers that I met. He went on to say, “That was the year Tom Watson won in a toboggan hat.” I have my own recollections of Payne Stewart knickers and cap fashion, repeat winnings by Davis Love III and the German Bernard Langer with his Nordic good looks.
The ride was just long enough for nostalgic banter of past years before arriving at the newly renovated (and stunning!) Harbour Town Golf Links Clubhouse. Security has tightened over the years. I sported my clear official RBC Heritage messenger bag as I passed the gates into the 47th RBC Heritage tournament grounds. I had not gotten 20 feet inside before I spotted the loudest golf pants I’d ever seen! The man wearing Roy Lichtenstein-inspired golf slacks is an expat living in England, another lives in Savannah while the youngest attends the University of Florida. They attend the Heritage PGA stop yearly. 10 years!
At the practice putting green and driving range, golf bags lined the green with caddies and golfers scattered about in their huddles concentrating. I asked the man next to me who was also watching quietly if he could tell who any of the four golfers closest to us were. He couldn’t. This was his 5th year attending the RBC Heritage. Yearly he and a group of three golfing buddies visit to enjoy good company while watching some of the best golfers in the world compete. Stopping for a cold beer felt like a golfing “must” so I endulged. I was stopped by the Heritage mascot, Sir William Innes. I made the faux pas of neglecting Heritage plaid so he handed me a “Get Your Plaid On” temporary tattoo.
Spotting fashion statements among the crowd wasn’t a hard assignment! Harbour Town truly comes alive with Lily Pulitzer-clad women and colorful golf slacks on the final two days of the tournament – Saturday and Sunday. As this was Thursday and oddly cold, tournament goers seemed to choose comfort over fashion. Then Kelly Logan Graham rounded the corner with his partner Mike Newman. There is that unique Heritage fashion! A black kilt! He’s a local artist based out of Bluffton.
The Harbour Town course winds through rows of tall pines with homes just beyond the trees and golf cart path. This was one of those days where I realize just how absolutely stunning my native island is and it takes my breath away. I came on a noticeably larger crowd following a golfing trio. My suspicions were confirmed! This golfing trio consisted of the 2015 Masters champion from the following week Jordan Spieth, last year’s RBC Heritage winner Matt Kuchar and “the other guy” Patrick Reed for folks like myself who don’t follow the sport. Patrick Reed is actually quite formidable in his own right, ranked #15 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the young age of 24. What a power trio! Kuchar and Spieth are both tall, lanky men. Both also ended up wearing grey slacks with a navy long-sleeve top. From a distance the only easy way to distinguish them was Kuchar had a navy cap and Spieth had a light gray cap. As we all gathered close to the ropes to watch them tee off on hole 12, a gentleman with a Heritage plaid cap standing with a woman in matching head attire inquired if I was with Patrick [Reed]. “No”, I replied, humored at the inquiry. He explained he had seen Patrick play a few other tournaments and that his wife has long, blond hair and looked similar to me in his opinion. I also learned a colorful insight into how Patrick’s wife used to be his caddy until she became pregnant with their daughter. Now life is on the other side of the ropes for her, where I too stood.
I asked him how many years he has been attending the tournament. “25 years coming! Haven’t missed a single one!” he proudly answered. He and his wife live in upstate South Carolina but make the journey every year.
The 13th hole is across a residential street in Sea Pines. The golfer trio stood at the green while Matt Kuchar stood sizing up the fairway as a driver pulled up at the stop sign right below the elevated green. The officials wildly waved and hurried over to the driver to tell him to cut his engine while the three tee off. Matt Kuchar became aware of the emotion and signaled to let the driver pass. The official broke character and said “Well if the reigning Heritage champion says to let him pass, let him pass!” The crowd broke out in laughter and cheers.
After the 15th hole, I broke rank with the crowd following the trio and headed on to the social end of the course. Businesses showed demos to the public, vendors sold goods and concessions helped fill fans hungry bellies. Beer and mixed drinks were fully stocked at all times. Rarely did you spot another sojourner like me that came in alone to the tournament and left alone. The Heritage is a social love affair with locals and visitors alike!
The 18th Fairway Hospitality Tent was my last stop before calling it a day. I chatted up the affable bartender as he poured a draft beer. Colin Wedderbura of Downtown Catering said it was his seventh year working the RBC Heritage and second year working it for Downtown Catering. The Jamaican settled in the Hilton Head Island area for hospitality work.
The social media presence at the tournament was so well orchestrated! RBC Heritage and the PGA itself found superb ways to connect in real-time with golf fans across the country and internationally who did not have the fortune of being at the tournament. This also provided a way for those attending the tournament to share their excitement and personal experiences in real-time with those in their social media circles. Twitter even joined in providing the tournament with a “Twitter Mirror”. This was the first golf tournament that the Twitter Mirror has been used. Check-in locations, referred to as “Tour Stops” provided chances to win RBC Heritage swag and various really cool prizes!
I boarded a bus back to Honey Horn Plantation which had converted into a gigantic parking lot during the tournament. I sat next to a young man, Craig. I struck up conversation and found him to be one of the many volunteers that help make this PGA tournament possible. He’s a Beaufort native and attends University of South Carolina-Beaufort studying Communications with an emphasis on Sports Broadcasting and Journalism. He was to report for CBS Sports from non-televised scenes. The cameras were aimed at players like Spieth and Kuchar while other golfers went under the radar. He followed the trio of Sam Sanders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson) and behind the Irishman Graham McDowell’s trio.
Summing up the RBC Heritage experience for me would be that I found it to be a social tradition that does not require an educated dedication to PGA golf. Those I encountered and observed keep returning year after year because they enjoy the community that develops around the RBC Heritage as well as the breathtaking beauty of the Harbour Town Golf Links course winding through the tall pines. Locals who worked the tournament believed in its importance to the community as well as recognizing as a lucrative event to work. Yes, we learned the names and stats of those players with the most clout coming into the tournament, past winners making a reappearance, and also of course those with impressive performance at the current RBC Heritage. Who won? I can tell you his name but I can’t tell you a thing about the final plays that determined the outcome. Will I go next year? You bet it! If I can find a way, I’ll be there! And this time I won’t miss the weekend events.