BY THE MID-1980S, SEA PINES
Company was in financial trouble
and the future of the Heritage Classic
was uncertain. Harbour Town
Golf Links, Hilton Head Island-s
own PGA Tour stop since 1969, was
in poor condition because the funds
were not available to properly maintain
its upkeep. Unless something
was done, Harbour Town would lose
its spot on the Tour.
In 1986, Joseph B. Fraser Jr.
stepped to the plate with a plan to
save the tournament, and in doing
so set precedence for giving back to
the community."We had to do something," Fraser
stated. "The course was unacceptable."
Fraser, John Curry and Sol Blatt
put their heads together and enlisted
a group of local businessmen to help.
Together they created the Heritage
Classic Foundation, a non-profit organization
that became the general
sponsor of the Heritage, providing
the financial stability, guidance and
direction the tournament so desperately
needed. The men also raised
the $300,000 necessary to restore
the course to playable condition and
acquired the resources needed to for
the $1 million in prize money.
"Creating the Foundation as a
non-profit was a requirement in order
to get back in good standing with the
golf commissioner," Fraser noted.
However, its formation had an
even greater economic impact on
the community. By establishing it as
a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization,
any proceeds left over from the tournament
were to be donated to local
"They wanted to give back to the
community by giving to charitable
groups who needed it most," said
Steve Wilmot, tournament director.
In that first year, the Heritage
Classic Foundation distributed
$133,695 to 18 charitable organizations.
Last year, it donated a record
$1.6 million to various organizations.
Thanks to that dedication and
support of sponsors, volunteers and
spectators, the Foundation to date
has donated more than $13 million.
Although the Heritage only comes
once a year, organizing it is a year round
effort. According to Wilmot,
the Foundation employs 10 full-time
employees and hires four full-time interns
during the weeks leading up to
the tournament. It also relies heavily
upon volunteers who put in countless
hours of their time to handle registration
duties, update scoreboards, serve
as marshals and scorekeepers, and
help make the professionals and their
families feel welcome.
Past champions of the tournament,
which is now called the Verizon
Heritage, include Nick Faldo,
Hale Irwin, Bernhard Langer, Johnny
Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman,
Nick Price, Arnold Palmer, Tom
Watson and the late Payne Stewart.
But the real winners of the Verizon
Heritage continue to be the
thousands of individuals the tournament
helps each year through the
Foundation. Past recipients include
Hilton Head Heroes, Volunteers in
Medicine, the Children-s Center, and
the Boys & Girls Club.
The Heritage Classic Foundation
donates funds in several different
ways. Each year, the Foundation-s
Charity Committee meets to grant a
portion of the tournament proceeds.
In 2005, it donated $535,000
to 64 non-profit groups throughout
South Carolina and Georgia.
Th rough its Scholar Program, which
was established in 1993, the Foundation
assists Beaufort County students
who want to attend college. In 2005,
13 students were named Foundation
In addition it has a Birdies for
Charity program in which charitable
organizations use the Verizon Heritage
scores as a fund-raiser. Organizations
ask their supporters to pledge a small
amount for each birdie made at the
tournament. Traditionally, the Foundation
has matched each donation."With support from loyal sponsors,
spectators and volunteers, the
Verizon Heritage looks forward to continuing its tradition of giving year after
year," Wilmot said.
While Sea Pines is celebrating its
50th anniversary this year, the Heritage
Classic Foundation is celebrating its
20th year in existence. And Fraser, who
is celebrating his 80th birthday this
year, recently announced his plans to
step down as chairman after this tournament."It-s been a good journey," Fraser
said. "We had to set a limit on the
terms. So when I turned 80 I said I
would step down." His son, Simon
Fraser, currently vice chairman, will
take his place.
The 38th annual Verizon Heritage
will be held April 10-16, 2006.