In 1969, Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island hosted the first PGA TOUR event now known as the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. That same year, the Sea Pines Montessori School began its own tradition, selling concessions to the tournament’s hungry and thirsty golf fans to raise money for school projects.
Each year since, volunteers have put in long hours in the school’s booth positioned alongside Harbour Town’s 10th fairway, raking in tens of thousands of dollars.
“We’ve been the second-highest grossing [sales] tent through 2018,” said Montessori Director of Operations Erika Morgan, who, in April 2019, marked her eighth year working the booth.
"What has that income meant? 'We put a new roof on the school in 2018,' she said. 'Now, we’re using the income for scholarships.'”
For the thousands of golf fans who come to The Sea Pines Resort each year, the Heritage is a rite of spring, a chance to see some of the best players in the world up close in the intimate confines of the course. But for the 2,000-some volunteers who man the concessions booths annually, direct auto and foot traffic on and around the course, help with trash cleanup, or hold up “Hush, Y’all” signs when players are hitting, the week is a financial boost to their organizations—and a point of pride in where they live.
Hilton Head Preparatory boasts a battalion of 300 parents, graduates, teachers and students who work in the school's concession stand at the Heritage Lawn complex between holes 17 and 18. In good years, the prep school nets around $36,000, funding college scholarships for one or two students. “It’s an enjoyable way to make money,” said Margot Brown, the school’s director of development, marketing and finance.
HHP also received a $25,000 grant in 2011 from the Heritage Classic Foundation, the tournament's general sponsor, to build a field house, and its golf team receives $500 a year to help with expenses.
“It’s a fun event, and it reminds you what a special place this is to live”
Many of the volunteers return year after year to support the students. In 2019, English teacher Peg Hamilton celebrated her 25th year manning the hot dog assembly line. “It’s a fun event, and it reminds you what a special place this is to live,” Hamilton said.
The mission of the Heritage Classic Foundation—which operates the tournament as a 501(c)3 charity—is “to provide the highest quality PGA Tour golf tournament that generates significant economic impact and promotion for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton area, the Coastal Empire and the State of South Carolina.”
The nonprofit organization has been fulfilling that mission since its founding in 1987. The RBC Heritage is one of the TOUR players’ favorite stops each year, and as of 2019, it has distributed $41 million to charities throughout South Carolina and neighboring Georgia.
Retired tennis champion and longtime Hilton Head Island resident Stan Smith, winner of Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in the 1960s, became chairman of the Heritage Charities Committee in 2010, succeeding the first chairman. “It’s been amazing,” he said.
His first involvement was raising money to build Hilton Head’s Boys & Girls Club; he later worked with Hilton Head Heroes and other charities.
“It’s always been my wish to give back," he said, "and we have an unbelievable community of givers who support all these charities.”
That’s important, Smith said, because the South Carolina Lowcountry has vital needs.
“Hilton Head is viewed from outside as a wealthy place," he said, "and there are a lot of people here who are wealthy. But there are also a lot of people who are not wealthy, people living below the poverty level."
The Boys & Girls Club provides grants for free lunches for children, while other groups offer early-childhood education assistance. Other organizations, such as the Native Island Business & Community Affairs Association (NIBCAA), which has operated a concession stand between the No. 2 green and the No. 7 tee box since 2006, target specific community needs.
The approximately $50,000 grossed by the NIBCAA booth during Heritage week benefits the island's native islanders, most notably funding after-school programs to teach pre-elementary skills.
While in the past the foundation has given grants directly to charities deemed worthy, a new initiative is now helping charities that help themselves. Any organization that raises $150,000 receives a 15 percent ($22,500) bonus. As of 2019, four charities have reached the $150,000 mark.
The foundation also raises funding through Champions of Charity, a program where individuals can donate up to $5,000, and Birdies for Champions, which encourages smaller donors to pledge an amount – a dollar or even less – for each birdie scored during the tournament, up to a maximum per donor of $1,500.
“We also have a scholars program through the foundation where we give 10 scholars each year $5,000 a year for four years,” Smith said.
An outgrowth of the scholars program is a new initiative, sponsored in conjunction with the RBC Foundation, to provide $300,000 from 2019-21 for the S.C. Technical College System to support workforce development and skills training across the state. The program, run through South Carolina’s 16 technical colleges, is designed to produce needed maintenance technicians to work at such in-state companies as Boeing, BMW and Volvo.
"Still, the heart and soul of the Heritage Classic Foundation remains its volunteers."
Still, the heart and soul of the Heritage Classic Foundation remains its volunteers. Those who patrol Harbour Town all week, highly visible in their Heritage golf shirts and hats, pay $100 each for the “privilege” to volunteer.
“We can’t run this tournament without the volunteers,” Smith said. “They want to help, and they know the money is going to charities within Hilton Head and the Lowcountry. It’s a great partnership with the community.”
In addition to the money going to charities, the week-long event generates an economic impact of $92 million or more.
Its success can be attributed to having a golf course the players like and respect, a family atmosphere in a vacation environment, and volunteers who make everyone feel welcome. Since 1987, it has been a winning formula for the golf tournament, the Heritage Classic Foundation, the Lowcountry and South Carolina.