Players Should Stand Up, Save Heritage Themselves

If they love the Hilton Head event so much, take a cue from LPGA Tour and turn it into a no-purse, all-charity week.

Thrash TalkThere’s been an awful lot of hand wringing and furrowed brows over the future of the PGA Tour’s Hilton Head Island stop, thanks to a lack of sponsorship to continue carrying the Heritage.

From players who rave about Harbour Town Golf Links as well as the beautiful HHI setting to the locals who say the tournament creates millions in revenue for the local economy, it seems no one wants to see it go.

I’ve got a solution for the players: Fund it yourselves.

By diminishing the purse significantly, maintaining FedExCup and World Ranking points, and continuing to fundraise for local charities, the event can still thrive, even if the winner won’t make enough money to fill a swimming pool with.

Estimates say it will take $8 million to put on the Heritage, no small sum of money. But according to a study, done earlier this year (as reported by, 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.

I’m not an economics expert, but it seems to me that the state of South Carolina greatly benefits from this event. I know that fans do. And if you were to ask the businesses on Hilton Head, from the little mom and pop restaurants up to the big name hotels, the benefit isn’t just the mobs of people who fill the place during the tournament. They also cash in on that iconic image of the lighthouse overlooking the 18th hole year-round.

Listening to the players, they love the venue and the atmosphere that surrounds it. Currently there are too many struggling tournaments, fighting to keep decent fields and struggling to stay afloat. Listen to comments, and the actions, of the players when it comes to the others. It’s barely a shrug, and for the most part, so few of the top players are playing, if they vanish tomorrow it won’t shake the golf world.

Much as the Bob Hope is entrenched in PGA Tour history, and recently got the sort of bailout it needed when former President Bill Clinton and Humana teamed up to inject cash, prestige and stability to the event, the Heritage needs the same. I never thought I’d say this, but I suggest the PGA Tour take a page out of the LPGA’s playbook.

In one of the few early stops on the LPGA Tour, they held a purse-free tournament. There was lots of griping and grumbling among the players, but in the end, there was near consensus that it was not only a great, competitive week, but it was rewarding in a way your run-of-the-mill week of ladies golf could never match.

Right now the PGA Tour purses range from $3.5 million to just shy of $10 million. At $5.7 million, the Heritage is a step above the Mayakoba Classics and Puerto Rico Opens on the schedule, but those are both played opposite WGC events. In terms of centerstage events, the Heritage is in the same ballpark as some other events with decent history. The (embattled) Bob Hope, Farmers at Torrey Pines and Florida stops Honda Classic and Transitions Championship are all in the $5 million range. Add the Houston Open, St. Jude Classic, Canadian Open and the Wyndham Championship and you’ve pretty well defined the Tour’s purgatory.

The events that post mid-$5 million purses are the full of the ones fighting for their lives, both in terms of sponsors and attracting big-name players. Match the lineup at the Heritage to the fields at some of these others and it wins hands down against each one but the Farmers, which benefits from a big-time venue and regular appearances from Tiger and Phil.

What I’m suggesting is that the players talk the talk regarding the Heritage. They show up (seven of the top 20 were there this year) even without the big-time purses that greet them at a WGC event ($8.5 million), the Players ($9.5 million) , or many of the $6 million-plus stops such as this week in New Orleans ($6.4M) or next week at Quail Hollow ($6.5M).

So wouldn’t it be something if they spend one week playing a golf course they love, in a location they rave about and it was all about the competition, and not the dollars? Do the quick math. The event needs $8 million to run. Almost 75 percent of that goes toward the purse. Let’s set aside a million bucks for caddie fees, travel expenses and money that would go toward the charity of the winner’s choice. Find a way to factor the results into the money list and FedExCup points, and most importantly, turn it into a must play week. Not through legislation, but through peer pressure.

The LPGA stirred up quite a fuss when they put this into place, but the sight of their tour’s founders greeting players as they finished was a stirring scene.

The PGA Tour prides itself in raising buckets upon buckets of money for charity. And every stop currently benefits. But of the dozens of tournaments played each year, the Heritage could become the real “Players” event. One that’s less about the dollar signs and more about keeping alive an event we all love.

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