Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Heritage Monday: Pettersson enjoys “cool tradition” of cannon-accompanied first shot

Posted 4/15/2013 7:37:00 PM

Carl Pettersson was resplendent in his plaid blazer, symbolic of his RBC Heritage victory a year ago, after he took part in the tournament’s traditional opening ceremony Monday at Harbour Town Golf Links’ 18th green.

Cheered by large and enthusiastic crowd gathered in a misting rain, the native of Sweden, who attended N.C. State and is now an American citizen, wielded an antique golf club to launch a ball into the waters of Calibogue Sound alongside the 18th green. His shot was accompanied, as always, by a blast from a Revolutionary War-style cannon, but Pettersson didn’t flinch at the boom, as have some past RBC Heritage champions.

“This is a cool tradition, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said afterward. “It’s very special to come out and swing that old golf club. (The ceremony) has been going on a long time. Now I’m ready for the week to start.”

A year ago, Pettersson skillfully mastered the tight confines and small but undulating greens at Harbour Town, a course voted the second-favorite annual venue by PGA Tour players in 2012 (trailing only Augusta National). The Pete Dye- and Jack Nicklaus-designed layout demands precision and patience, traits Pettersson displayed during his solid five-shot victory over runner-up Zach Johnson.

“I’ve enjoyed all my years coming here,” Pettersson said as he prepared for his 11th consecutive RBC Heritage. “And I look forward to many more.” He called Harbour Town an “old school, tree-lined” course, one that forces players to think and create. “Every time you play (a) hole, you have a different shot, and you have to shape your shots both ways,” he said. “It’s just fun to play. All the PGA players love to come here.”

Monday was a family affair for Pettersson, who was accompanied to the ceremony by his wife, DeAnna, daughter Carlie and son Chase. Gov. Nikki Haley, scheduled to be on hand for the event, was not in attendance after her plane was unable to land in the Hilton Head Island area.

Standing in for the Governor and addressing the crowd were John Taft, head of RBC Wealth Management, and Jack Jones, general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

What might have been: Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing are in the second year of a five-year sponsorship of the Heritage, now in its 45th year. But in 2011 when the tournament was conducted without a title sponsor, there were contingency plans with the PGA Tour that might’ve changed the face of the event.

Longtime tournament director Steve Wilmot said that one option considered by the Heritage Classic Foundation was to take a year off (2012) and then return as host of the Accenture Match Play, currently staged near Tucson, Ariz. Because only three percent of matches reach the 18th hole, Wilmot said, plans were being considered to change the course’s routing to insure most matches would reach Harbour Town’s iconic 18th hole.

“At first there was talk of flipping the nines,” he said, “and then we talked about rerouting the course.” He said the new route would’ve had Nos. 1 through 8 followed by Nos. 11-18, making the waterside final hole the 16th, with Nos. 10 and 9 coming last.

“We thought No. 9 (a short par-4) would be a good finishing hole, and we didn’t want to take the 18th out of the mix,” Wilmot said. “It would’ve been … interesting,” he added with a chuckle.

No change for security: The shock of a possible terrorist bombing Monday at the Boston Marathon had sports venues nationwide scrambling to upgrade security, but no changes had been made at the RBC Heritage as of late Monday.

A tournament spokesperson said that tournament security was “status quo,” but added that could change when PGA Tour security officials arrived Tuesday. Any changes will be announced via the tournament web site, www.rbcheritage.com.