Time running out for The Heritage

Time is running out for The Heritage golf tournament, Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour vice president, disclosed on Monday.

Time is running out for The Heritage golf tournament, the US PGA Tour event most often associated with the famed red and white Harbour Town lighthouse in Southern Carolina and one of the tour’s most popular events with the players.

Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour vice president, disclosed on Monday that its organisers were urgently seeking a replacement for the event’s long time sponsor, Verizon, who announced nearly 18 months ago that it would not be renewing its quarter-century-old sponsorship agreement after 2010.

“I think it’s imperative for the long-term future of the event to secure a title sponsor,” Votaw said.

The Heritage is set to tee off on April 21 and for the first time in 25 years, will not have Verizon as its title sponsor and while much behind-the-scenes toil has gone into unearthing a new backer, the Tour and tournament organizers have so far been unsuccessful.

“I’ve had to keep up on my blood pressure medicine,” Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot said. “It’s been that tough”.

The Heritage has been a popular springtime Tour regular for nearly 50 years, as much for Pete Dye’s scenic, though sometimes frustrating Harbour Town Golf Links, as for its wonderfully holiday setting at Sea Pines Resort.

It’s the perfect place for the players to bring their families and unwind after the inevitable drama of the Masters at Augusta in nearby Georgia earlier in the month.

At around 7,000 yards the course, perhaps most famous for it’s sea-lapped 18th hole with its large red-and-white striped lighthouse, is not very long when compared to some of the latest monsters like last week’s 7.700-yard Carlton Ritz at Dove Mountain.

But that’s what the players love about it.

“It’s the anti-Augusta,” two-time Heritage champion Stewart Cink said at last year’s event.

Yes, it has never been short of player support as can be seen by its long list of highly-ranked champions such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

Jim Furyk is the reigning champion, having claimed the title in a playoff last April.

“We know we have the support of the players,” Wilmot said.

But it’s the support of recession-hit big business that the organisers are finding so hard to come by.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel, however.

He said the Tour had either renewed existing sponsorships or found new backers for 27 events since 2009 and he was optimistic the Heritage would be the 28th.

Some potential backers and tour officials, it is understood, have talked and further discussions are on the cards.

“We hope to be able to make a lot of people happy over the next several weeks if those conversations continue in the manner they have,” Votaw added.

Wilmot says he has been getting ongoing support from the South Carolina government, including new Governor Nikki Haley, who has pledged to join in the search for a new backer.

As it is, The Heritage Classic Foundation had to scratch up whatever it could to put on this year’s tournament, in the process depleting much of its reserves in underwriting a $4 million guarantee for the show to go on.

Wilmot said. The town of Hilton Head also voted to donate $1 million for the tournament if a sponsor wasn’t found.

Now it’s a matter of wait and see.

“We’re approaching the 12th hour,” a worried Wilmot said on Monday. “There’s a sense of urgency.”