Plaid Goes Gold: Inside the 50th RBC Heritage
It all started with a lighthouse.
Charles Fraser, the developer behind Sea Pines, knew he needed something splashy to draw national interest in the resort he was building on a sleepy sea island in the middle of nowhere. The answer, he realized, would be a golf tournament.
The first Heritage was held in 1969, while construction on the Harbour Town Lighthouse was still underway. In fact, you can see the scaffolding surrounding it in photos of inaugural champion Arnold Palmer accepting his plaque. That plaque would eventually become the signature prize awarded every April in Harbour Town, launching one of many grand traditions associated with the tournament.
One of those traditions lies in the way it honors golf in the state of South Carolina. While digging around for a name that would suit his new tournament, Fraser unearthed an 18th-century manifest from a ship entering Charleston revealing its precious cargo of golf equipment. Thus, it was discovered that when golf first landed in the New World, it landed in South Carolina. The name “Heritage” reflects South Carolina’s rich heritage when it comes to the sport.
As we head into the 50th Heritage, South Carolinians are getting ready for a memorable celebration. This golden celebration comes amid a wave of excitement for two South Carolina golfers participating in this year’s tournament. The first, defending champion Wesley Bryan, a USC graduate and native of Irmo S.C. During the 2017 tournament, Bryan not only became the first South Carolinian to win the tournament, he also became just the sixth to win it on the first attempt.
The second player generating massive buzz for this year’s tournament is Bryan’s fellow South Carolinian (in fact, they attended the same high school) and No. 1 golfer in the world Dustin Johnson. The latest player to join Team RBC alongside Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk, Johnson will make his return to the RBC Heritage after nearly a decade away from the tournament.
This Palmetto State Excitement continues with a few new additions to the tournament. The Tartan Invitational celebrates South Carolina with an all-new event on April 11 pairing players with a spate of our state’s biggest celebrities. Teams will play alongside such names as tennis legend Stan Smith, NFL great Sterling Sharpe and reality star Shep Rose. In addition, a new Charleston Club skybox will let members of the Charleston business community get a taste of how we do things in the lower 843.
Alongside world-class golf from some of the biggest names in the sport, another of the grand traditions of the Heritage is its dedication to giving back. Through the Heritage Classic Foundation, the tournament has generated roughly $38 million for area charities over the last 49 years. These funds are distributed through such venues as Birdies for Charity, in which area nonprofits can earn donations for every birdie scored during the tournament (last year, for example, saw 1,389 birdies during play). This charitable effort also supports the Scholar Program, which has given more than $4 million to 322 students since it began.
But the big headline for this year’s tournament, naturally, is the celebration of the 50th Heritage. This golden celebration has elevated this year’s tournament with a bevy of special events and ways to salute the event’s history. Throughout the month of March, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina will host a special exhibit of the famed portraits that are produced each year to celebrate Heritage champions. Titled, “The Art of Golf,” this special exhibit salutes 50 years of champions who have taken home their own tartan jacket.
But the unmistakable symbol of the golden anniversary is the lighthouse itself, wrapped in a custom designed tartan pattern and emblazoned with a bold 50. As it all started with a lighthouse, it only seems appropriate that it takes center stage as the tournament celebrates its golden anniversary.