Harbour Town Lighthouse turns plaid to mark milestone

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The iconic and world-famous Harbour Town Lighthouse was wrapped in plaid vinyl in February to commemorate the 50th edition of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament. COURTESY HERITAGE CLASSIC FOUNDATION

There is a new look to the Harbour Town Lighthouse as visitors pour onto Hilton Head Island and through the gates of the Sea Pines Resort community the week of April 9-15 for the 50th RBC Heritage Golf tournament presented by Boeing.

The iconic lighthouse's red stripes have disappeared - replaced by the signature red tartan characteristic of the golf tournament nearly since its inception 50 years ago.

The tournament's golden anniversary is heartwarming to Heritage Classic Foundation board member Jim Chaffin, who has had a hand in the event across all five decades. He was among the board members who signed off on the idea to temporarily change the lighthouse from red and white to plaid and white.

Once Sea Pines Resort agreed, a task force headed by fellow board member Al Kennickell, president of Kennickell Group (a global print fulfillment company based in Savannah), set forth to accomplish the objective.

In recent conversations, Chaffin fondly recalled the heady moments of the initial 1960s planning that led to the original lighthouse design. He remembers serious-faced architects, Sea Pines executives and other pundits, which even included Elizabeth Gordon, long-time editor of House Beautiful magazine, huddled around a giant conference table in the old sales center near Sea Pines Circle. All peered intently at photos of dozens of other lighthouses and pondered whether to choose a hexagon column shape, discussing the most practicable height and what the colors should be.

Chaffin chuckles that one architect thought the stripes should be vertical - and green.

"Actually a lot of folks thought the whole idea of building a lighthouse that had no navigation purpose was ridiculous," said Chaffin, "but Charles (Fraser) was adamant that a colorful lighthouse would attract boaters from the Intracoastal Waterway. He wanted the colors to be bright, happy colors, and as it turned out, his brother Joe came up with the crimson choice while walking beneath the 90-foot column under construction and seeing the burnished reflections from the structural red steel beams."

Glen McCaskey, another Sea Pines executive back then, concurs that a majority of Fraser's staff thought spending money on such a meaningless structure when finances were tight was downright foolishness. "They called the lighthouse 'Fraser's Folly'," McCaskey recalled. "Now people say it was pure genius, as millions see it on TV overlooking the 18th green of the Harbour Town Golf Links. Over the past 50 years, it has become not only the symbol of Hilton Head Island, but also the most recognized landmark in South Carolina."

All the more reason that changing the look of the lighthouse to help commemorate a golf event was a daring step.

Kennickell, however, recognized the challenge. No known lighthouse had ever been wrapped in vinyl before this. Teaming with his friend, Craig Campbell at ORAFOL Americas Inc., they assembled a top crew of installers.

Jeremy Connor is a certified master vinyl installer from Charlotte, N.C. His company, cleverly named Who Did That?!, has a motto: "If it can be wrapped, we can wrap it."

Conner was called in to assess the situation. Countless hours were put into planning and measuring. More than half a mile of plaid adhesive vinyl was produced. Rolls were individually cut and numbered to go in a certain sequence. Many were 8 feet by 10 feet. "We started at the bottom and moved toward the top," said Connor.

Working from a Monday morning to a Thursday night, the crew got the job done without a hitch.

The response has been so positive thus far that Sea Pines plans are to keep the plaid through the summer.

Edward Thomas is a freelance writer based on Hilton Head Island.

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