HOSTING THE RBC HERITAGE TAKES A YEAR OF PRECISE PLANNING
BY CLAY BONNYMAN EVANS | PHOTO BY MADISON ELROD
Imagine how much organization, planning and human resources to accomplish the following:
First, getting 155 automobiles — courtesy of a professional partnership with BMW — from Greer, South Carolina to Hilton Head Island, 250 miles and a four-hour drive away.
Then, getting those cars to any one of four airports, from the island to Savannah, Ga., in time to hand them off to scores of professional golfers and their entourages who are arriving at almost any hour over several days to compete in the RBC Heritage golf tournament.
By the way, you also must make sure there is parking available for the cars and if, as at Hilton Head Island Airport, there isn’t, someone must meet the golfers upon arrival.
“It’s kind of a unique situation,” says Morgan Hyde, vice president of operations for the tournament. “It takes a lot of coordination.”
It certainly does. Yet providing those cars — provided through a partnership with BMW — is just one small piece of the complicated logistics required to pull off the island’s largest sporting and social event each year.
The 54th RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing is April 11-17 at Harbour Town Golf Links, fully accessible to the public after two truncated events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve really had to remember how to do everything because we haven’t had a ‘real one’ since 2019,” Hyde says. The usual crowd of more than 100,000 spectators is expected this year.
Planning for the tournament begins with the drop of the final putt the previous year. Everything that’s been built must be taken down again, portable toilets must be hauled away, BMWs returned, bills and people paid, acknowledgements given.
“Then we take a short breather, have a board meeting, and we’re right back at it,” Hyde says.
The sales team immediately gets to work securing high-end products and sponsorships from beverage makers and distributors, jewelers and countless other merchandisers who will offer their wares at the beer garden, on the Heritage lawn and in merchandise areas between the 1st and 9th holes.
Those products, typically nailed down by the first of the year, guide nearly every subsequent decision.
“We coordinate with the sales team on what products will be offered on the course, where they fit best, and the number of sky boxes and tents. How many restrooms we’ll need,” Hyde says. “Everything we sell has a domino effect on everything else.”
Superintendent Jonathon Wright says getting Harbour Town Golf Links ready for the tournament never really stops.
“Our prep starts more than a year in advance, prior to the end of this year’s tournament for next year,” he says. “If we are not ready by tournament week, we are not going to be ready.”
And then there’s “parking, parking, parking,” as Hyde puts it.
For most of the tournament’s history, spectators parked their vehicles at locations in Sea Pines. But after rain washed out parking areas, parking was moved nine miles away to Honey Horn, where spectators board shuttles to the golf course.
“We had a real moment where it was, ‘Wow, we should have been doing this the whole time,” Hyde says. Now the trick is managing all those shuttles.
Also in Hyde’s portfolio: furniture, feeding players and entourages, weather evacuation plans, golf-course maintenance and even an alligator-management plan, should one of the native reptiles prove nettlesome.
As the tournament approaches, crews from Ohio-based contractor Sports America begin construction on the dozens of structures needed for the event, from the media center to the beer garden and first-aid tents. Eventually, several huge video boards will be set up and connected.
Staff from two other Sea Pines courses, Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point, and a few former staffers join the Harbour Town crew to make up the 50-person agronomic team that will mow, replace divots, groom bunkers and more, often beneath light towers before dawn and after dark.
Hyde supervises 11 year-round employees, as well as six to eight interns starting in January and another four to six during tournament week, most of them college students. He also oversees a crew of 150 contract security guards.
Perhaps most important, Hyde coordinates some 1,200 volunteers, who are recruited the previous fall. Volunteers serve as course marshals, input data for the ShotLink statistics platform, scan tickets, work concession stands and more. Volunteers from the Bluffton High School football team help with waste management, while players from Hilton Head Island High School assist with parking.
“Volunteers are the number one thing,” Hyde says. “A tournament this size doesn’t happen if you don’t have them.”