Title Play

RBC Heritage


When the savior of Hilton Head Island’s annual PGA Tour stop was announced in June 2011, the collective sigh throughout South Carolina was followed quickly by a collective brow-raising.

Why, many wondered, would the Royal Bank of Canada lay out millions of dollars a year to sponsor a golf tournament in South Carolina?

On the surface, it seemed a curious marriage, to say the least. But as the partnership enters its eighth year — and with an extension to the initial five-year deal running through 2023 — it’s clear it has turned out to be a match made in golf heaven.

“I think we’re getting more than what we expected,” said Mark Soder, RBC’s director of brand marketing. “There were a few visionaries who could see the long-term vision of what it could be. The blend of our assets that we have, from our player ambassadors to the two tournaments, when you bring that all together it creates a really cohesive golf platform that really works for our company and our brand, especially here in the U.S.”

Tournament organizers obviously saw the potential. RBC was among the first companies they approached after learning Verizon would not renew its title sponsorship after the 2010 tournament.

It was impressive foresight considering RBC had only begun its foray into professional golf sponsorship in 2008, when it became the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open, and had endorsement deals with only a handful of individual golfers. As it turned out, sponsoring the Heritage became the next step in an aggressive move into the global golf marketplace.

The opportunity to sponsor the Heritage presented a chance to make deeper inroads in the U.S. market — where RBC has a stronger hold than one might realize, with more than 12,000 employees — and the golfers who were early members of Team RBC urged the company to help save one of their favorite tour stops.

“This is an event we are so proud to be affiliated with,” Soder said. “Heading into its 51st year, there is so much heritage and you can see the community comes out. This truly is a staple in the community and the state, and that speaks volumes to what goes on here.”

The relationship has been symbiotic. Although many players on Team RBC’s roster were regular visitors to Harbour Town — like past champions Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell — the affiliation attracted other big names who didn’t often make the trek down from Augusta, Georgia, following the Masters. Most notably, the addition of Dustin Johnson to the Team RBC roster last year lured the South Carolina native back to Harbour Town for the first time since 2009.

That was all part of the long-term plan for RBC, which viewed partnering with individual golfers as a two-fold strategy that keeps the brand front and center throughout the year. It also helps ensure both the RBC Canadian Open and RBC Heritage will have strong fields, which in turn increases television viewership and draws more fans to the events, increasing the brand’s marketing reach.

And adding the Heritage to the mix has given RBC an opportunity that the Canadian Open doesn’t necessarily offer in terms of entertaining clients local to the Canadian market.

“What’s unique about this event is when our clients come down to Hilton Head, they are immersed in the programming 24 hours a day,” Soder said. “Whether it’s a two-, three-, four-day experience for some, you really are immersed into the Hilton Head experience.”

Soder says the company’s corporate hospitality numbers at the Heritage have increased each year — once the company’s executives and clients get a taste of Hilton Head in the spring, they line up for more tickets the next year. “We’ve said internally a few times that our clients and even our executives have gotten their sea legs a little bit in terms of how to embrace and engage and take better part of the Heritage,” Soder said.

The challenge for Heritage organizers is to ensure that the relationship continues to bear fruit.

“We need to keep it fresh for them, no doubt about it,” said RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot. “They’re going to have a boat this year, and they did some things at the Beach Club, some things that you can’t get at your typical PGA Tour stop.”