The 52nd RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing is back on the PGA tournament schedule – for now.
The local event, a perennial favorite among tour players and golf fans worldwide, has been rescheduled for June 18-21 at the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. Originally scheduled for April 16-19, the week after the Masters – as it has been for decades, the event was canceled March 17 because of health and safety concerns about the global coronavirus pandemic.
“We canceled the event for all the right reasons: safety and the well-being of all,” said Steve Wilmot, tournament director for 34 years.
Now he’s thrilled and working harder than ever since receiving a phone call on April 6 from PGA Tour headquarters about rescheduling the event to June.
“When I got that call on Monday, the furthest thing from my mind was, ‘Would you be interested or is there a possibility that you would want to do this and try to pull it off?’,” he said. “‘Yes’ is the answer; what is the question? Let’s try to figure it out.
“When we were presented with the opportunity, we felt it was great for the Sea Pines Resort, this community, the Lowcountry and the state of South Carolina,” Wilmot said. “It was good for all … It’s easy to say we want to do it, not so easy to say we can do it.”
Unlike business as usual since its founding in 1969, the tournament has a few new wrinkles as part of this year’s reshuffled plans: The tournament will be played without spectators or sponsors, and the field will increase from 132 to 144 players. Wilmot said he expects a full field to compete.
The decision to reschedule the tournament was jointly made among the PGA Tour, the Heritage Classic Foundation, Hilton Head Island Mayor John McCann, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, and the RBC.
“The tour was trying to get to the new norm,” Wilmot said. “Golf is different than other sports. Get these golf professionals back to their jobs. They weren’t driven by the almighty dollar to get it started.”
The specter of a second tournament cancellation still looms, Wilmot said, depending on safety factors. “We still continue to monitor what’s happening toward the new normal,” he said. “In this community, there are still some concerns and questions about if we’re doing it too early, too soon. We’re working with local authorities, statewide authorities, the tour, the CDC. If it’s OK to go, we’ll go.
“There’s no game plan or playbook for this,” he said.
The tournament received a public relations boost the weekend of April 18-19 when CBS and the Golf Channel broadcasted reruns of past tournaments. For golf-starved fans, it was a welcome sight.
The tournament annually injects more than $100 million into the economy, but that won’t happen this year.
“The economic impact didn’t happen and won’t happen,” he said, including about $3 million to local nonprofit organizations each year. “Now, we’re working on a different budget and working toward the June event with no revenue opportunities.”
But rest assured the financial returns on a tournament that has worldwide coverage has no limits.
Wilmot said he hasn’t lost any sleep over the situation because he doesn’t sleep anyway.
Here’s a sampling of the revised 2020 PGA TOUR season schedule, as of press time:
• June 8-14: Charles Schwab Challenge, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
• June 15-21: RBC Heritage, Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, S.C.
• July 13-19: The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio
• July 27-Aug. 2: World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tenn.
• Aug. 3-9: PGA Championship, TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, Calif.
• Aug. 31-Sept. 7: Tour Championship, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga.
• Sept.14-20: U.S. Open, Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
• Sept. 21-27: Ryder Cup, Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisc.
• Nov. 9-15: Masters Tournament, Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.