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Heritage Tour stop lands RBC for five years

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – The Heritage announced Thursday that RBC will serve as its new title sponsor, ensuring the PGA Tour will continue to make an annual stop in South Carolina for the next five years.

Officials said the tournament at Hilton Head Island will be renamed the RBC-Heritage through 2016. Boeing Co., which has opened a massive production plant in the state, will serve as a local sponsor.

RBC is the name used by the umbrella company that includes the Royal Bank of Canada and its subsidiaries.

Traditionally played the week after the Masters, the Heritage is often associated with the iconic lighthouse near the 18th green at Harbour Town Golf Links. It had been looking for a title sponsor since Verizon pulled out after last year’s tournament.

The Heritage, a PGA Tour fixture since 1969, had been without a title sponsor and desperately seeking the $8 million or so it would take to underwrite the tournament. Tour and event officials had called it imperative to find a backer for the world’s best golfers to return in 2012.

The Heritage Classic Foundation cobbled together $4 million in reserves and $1 million in local government help to hold the tournament this past April. That was not feasible for 2012. The foundation depleted its funds, and while Gov. Nikki Haley pledged support for the event, she said taxpayer money was not an option to keep it going.

The island was a little thought of spot at the bottom of the state when Pete Dye crafted the Harbour Town course. It’s less than 7,000 yards, yet its fairways are tight, its green are small and fast, and the wind off Calibogue Sound typically makes the final three holes some of the most difficult on the tour.

Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event in 1969, and the list of champions includes Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.

Seven of the top 20 players took part in this year’s tournament. No. 3 Luke Donald had the chance to rise to No. 1 before losing in a dramatic, three-hole playoff to Brandt Snedeker.

The Heritage is one of South Carolina’s few annual national sporting events, alongside NASCAR’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and the WTA’s Family Circle Cup playing in Charleston.

In July, the Heritage Classic Foundation released a study that found the 2010 golf tournament brought nearly $82 million to South Carolina and the coastal region. The survey was conducted by Clemson’s International Institute for Tourism Research and Development with help from USC Beaufort.