(Editor’s note: Jean Harris interviewed Angela McSwain in February, well before the RBC Heritage tournament was canceled. Because of the impact the tournament has on our community, we chose to run this story to describe what goes into producing the event, the only PGA Tour stop in South Carolina.)
Angela McSwain, marketing and communications director for the Heritage Classic Foundation for the past 17 years, is instrumental in promoting the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing to boost ticket sales, sponsorship sales, volunteer recruitment, concessions and PGA Tour communications. We asked her about the behind-the-scenes efforts that are needed to run the tournament.
“Normally the planning starts for the next Heritage almost immediately after the previous tournament,” McSwain said. “We look at what went well, and what we want to change for next year. We then have a board meeting in May and lay out some long-range plans.”
Once the board has a marketing plan, they start selling tickets in October. Next they start recruiting volunteers. They send out information on social media about all the different volunteer committees. New volunteers can check off the areas they would like to be involved.
“This year we had a record amount of volunteers – 1,237,” McSwain said. “Most of the volunteers come back year after year. We have a dedicated group of volunteers who have retired in our area from big high-powered jobs and they treat their volunteer committee like they did at their jobs.”
McSwain said Sun City residents are a huge resource and many become volunteers for 10 or more years.
The RBC Heritage sales team meets with the sponsors. They have three employees who work with potential sponsors. One of the group lives in Charleston and goes throughout the state talking to potential sponsors.
The team lets the sponsors know that the earlier they get on board, the better the deal they get. This year, there would have been new cabanas on the ninth green for businesses interested in entertaining a small number of clients with food and drinks.
New and improved concession stand menus had been planned by the SERG restaurant group.
Civic and other nonprofit organizations have always had a chance to make money during the RBC Heritage. They man the concession stands and the proceeds go to their charities.
The Heritage sales and marketing team talks to PGA Tour business affairs folks at least once a month, and they give the sales team updates on what other tournaments are doing. “However, what works in one market may not work for us,” McSwain said.
Agronomists meet with John Wright, the course superintendent, throughout the year to make sure the grass is perfect. In February, we drove around the golf course, it was obviously in awesome shape.
McSwain normally meets with PGA Tour officials and all media before and during the tournament. The PGA Tour handles coverage inside the ropes and McSwain handles all media outside the ropes. Once the tournament starts, the rules officials become the boss on the course and can make necessary changes.
The RBC Heritage has always been an event to which the players love to bring their families. “We have a great child care program and take kids on dolphin tours and bike rides,” McSwain said. “Since the tournament usually takes place during Spring break there are a lot of kids around.”
Once the RBC Heritage was notified that the 2020 tournament was cancelled, the sales and marketing group had the task of getting in touch with ticket holders and volunteers. “Anyone who bought a ticket will have three options: Request a refund that will be given within 30 days; defer their ticket for next year, or donate the cost of the ticket back to the Heritage Classic Foundation,” McSwain said.
Volunteers who paid $100 for their uniforms and lunches will have options also. The Heritage will keep their uniform for next year, since they have not been distributed, and hold them a volunteer spot, or the volunteers can get their money back and still keep a spot for next year.
The 10-member Heritage Classic Foundation staff is trying to stay positive throughout this experience. “We are so disappointed. The RBC Heritage was an annual event for 51 years,” McSwain said. “The tourist industry, the restaurants, hotels, bars and all of our charities will really feel the impact.”
The RBC Heritage distributes $3 million dollars a year for local charities and has a yearly economic impact of $102 million for the state of South Carolina. That amount is calculated by Clemson University and USCB every five years by taking surveys of tournament spectators. Many questions are asked such as, How much will you spend while you are here? How much money do you make? How many people are in your group? Where are you from? How many times have you been to the RBC Heritage tournament?
Sports America, out of Ohio, is the contractor tasked with setting up the spectator bleachers throughout the course. They started in February bringing in their bleachers. They must be brought in stages because Sea Pines is such a small area and there is not enough space to store large items. The good news is that even though it takes a lot of time to set up bleachers and concessions, it is easier to take them down, McSwain said.
McSwain’s daughter, Annabella, has been a volunteer on the driving range during the tournament. One of her friends was upset about the cancellation of the tournament, because she will be unable to get her community service hours. So, even the younger generation has been affected by the closure.
Normally, proceeds from the tournament are given back to the community through the Heritage Classic Foundation. As McSwain said, local charities will feel a tremendous impact this year by the lack of funds. To learn more about giving, visit HeritageClassic Foundation.com or contact Alexis Romero-Grove, director of Foundation initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jean Harris is an LPGA Master Professional and teaches at local c