The MCI Heritage

MCI HeritageDidn’t someone famous once say, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you handle the post-game?” When Darren Clarke visited the media room after dropping nine shots to par in the last 13 holes at Harbour Town and blowing a four-shot lad at the MCI Heritage over Peter Lonard (Clarke being willing to talk about his train wreck was surprising enough) he said, not so surprisingly considering his week, “Anybody got a beer?”

Had he hung around a little longer, Lonard would have bought it for him. The first-time winner on the PGA TOUR didn’t want to leave Harbour Town when the tourney was over.

MCI HeritageLong after the official photos and speeches were over, he joined the entire MCI Heritage staff for their post-tourney “team picture”, then asked where the staff party was. In Australia, tearing down all the support facilities waits until after the party. Told the worn-out staff didn’t have any extra-curricular plans, Lonard rounded them all up and started his own party at Quarterdeck, then moved it later to Rider’s Lounge, leaving a fair amount of his tournament-record $936,000 winner’s check in the same town he earned it. Of course, given Clarke’s reported escapades throughout the week, some have joked that he needed a significant chunk of his $343,200 second-place-tie check to cover the bar bill. Who says the 2004 MCI Heritage lacked flavor?

It did lack “Top-10” names in 2004. Tournament Director Steve Wilmot says the two things he goes into each year’s Heritage knowing he can’t control are the field and the weather. The chilly, blustery conditions on Thursday and Friday of tournament week were one thing, but the eternal weather delays that plagued nearly every spring tournament (the two tourneys leading up to the pressure-packed, and also rain-plagued Masters had to have Monday finishes) fried any number of players. Also, agents for more than a couple of the world’s Top 10 committed their players to overseas sponsor appearances immediately after Augusta. Yet by the weekend the weather was “Chamber of Commerce” perfect, and nine of the top 12 finishers are ranked in the Top-50 in the world rankings.

Despite the perceived weakness of the field and the weather, the Heritage’s bottom line appears not to have been adversely affected. That bottom line is the amount that the Heritage Classic Foundation can give back to the community, an amount that reached $1.4-million in 2004 and should be “in the same ballpark” in 2005 (even with setting aside some extra “rainy day” funds) thanks to increased sponsorship support and, believe it or not, an increase in walk-up sales.

This year’s “new twist” for the players and sponsors, a fishing pro-am, not only made money in its start-up performance, it was so popular Wilmot’s already been called by a Colorado company that wants six boats and 12 pro-am golf spots next year. Investment in the “field” for years down the road continues with the Player’s Amateur at Belfair July 11-17 that brings the country’s top amateurs together and has produced future MCI Heritage players like Lucas Glover, Ben Curtis, Matt Kuchar and Bill Haas.

Lonard will be back to defend, telling tourney officials he’ll work his schedule around the Heritage’s next year. Clarke says he’ll return too, for as long as he’s healthy. That should be great news to Hilton Head golf fans, and late-night watering holes!

 

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