COLUMBIA, S.C. – There will be no shortage of golf along the Georgia-South Carolina coast next April.
The PGA Tour announced Thursday the Heritage golf tournament in South Carolina will be played a week later than usual in 2011 on April 21-24, the same week that the popular Champions Tour event, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, is taking place about an hour’s drive south in Savannah, Ga.
The change to the longtime event at Harbour Town Golf Links, usually played the week following the Masters, came because The Players Championship was shifted to a week later in May. That forced a date change for the Texas Open, which moved into the Heritage’s normal slot.
PGA Tour chief of operations Rick George says the switch is for next year only with all intentions to move the Heritage back to the week after the year’s first major.
But for next year at least, it means two marquee events will battle for competitors, volunteers and fans.
“We know this is not an ideal situation,” George said.
The Heritage may not have been in any position to protest. The tournament’s spot on the schedule was in doubt since it lost Verizon as its longtime sponsor. A replacement has not been secured with less than eight months left before the 2011 Heritage.
“That’s still a work in progress,” said Steve Wilmot, Heritage tournament director.
Wilmot guaranteed last March that there would be a Heritage in 2011 with or without a title sponsor. But organizers have not found anyone willing to put the $8 million or so necessary to underwrite the event.
Earlier this summer, Beaufort County agreed to loan the golf tournament $1 million to make sure it returned to Hilton Head. The town of Hilton Head promised to award a $1 million grant if the golf tournament can’t find a sponsor by next April.
George said the tour and the Heritage finalized their agreement for 2011 earlier Thursday.
George says PGA Tour leaders were continuing to work with Wilmot in searching out a sponsor to keep the Heritage on the schedule past 2011.
In July, the Heritage Classic Foundation released a study that found last April’s golf tournament brought nearly $82 million to South Carolina and its coastal region. The survey was conducted by Clemson’s International Institute for Tourism Research and Development with help from USC Beaufort.
While George said the tour looked at scenarios if the Heritage deal fell through, it never sought out a replacement location. He said the Heritage Classic Foundation had enough funds in reserve that tour leaders felt good about returning to Harbour Town.
Wilmot and George said nothing is guaranteed for the Heritage past 2011.
For now, Wilmot says he and Legends of Golf executive director Joe Rotellini will work on not infringing on the other’s tournament and on allowing fans interested in attending both events a way to do so.
“It should be a tremendous week of golf for our sponsors, and certainly unique,” Wilmot said.