The dates were November 27-30, 1969, Thanksgiving Weekend, and innovative Sea Pines designer Charles Fraser gave the first tournament on the newly created Harbour Town Golf Links a traditional twist by calling it the "Heritage Classic".
Back then, nearly everyone had to reach for a map to discover Hilton Head’s whereabouts. Would anyone show up on Thanksgiving Weekend, especially to a remote, unknown spot? And would the world’s top golfers want to be challenged by a new, unfamiliar course?
Still the best in the game came. The King, Arnold Palmer, and the equally great Jack Nicklaus, who helped design Harbour Town along with young Pete Dye, were among the first to commit.
Then, good fortune smiled on the Harbour Town Golf Links when Palmer went on to win that initial Heritage, his first victory in 14 months, and the media did the rest by cranking out volume of glowing copy about Arnold’s victory, Dye's superb, new links course as well as Hilton Head Island.
Since that humble beginning, the tournament, of course, has changed with the times. From those early Thanksgiving dates, it's been moved to a more advantageous date, the week after the Masters in April. The purse mushroomed from the original $100,000 (with Palmer winning only $20,000) to $5.8 million in 2014. The crowds and media exposure have also kept pace. Some 100,000 fans attend the tournament each year, with CBS and The Golf Channel blocking out 15 hours of live TV coverage.
These TV signals are transmitted globally to Europe, South America and the Orient. All of this exposure, of course, translates into a stream of tourism and sales that pump the economics of both Hilton Head Island and the State of South Carolina. A 2010 Clemson Economic Impact Study said the tournament infuses $80 million into the state each and every year.
The tournament is proud of its champions, some of the most distinguished players in golf’s history. In addition to Arnold Palmer; Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, Johnny Miller Greg Norman, Nick Price, Tom Watson, Davis Love III and the late Payne Stewart are just a few of the names inscribed upon our champions' trophy.