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Verizon Heritage memories: 40 years of great PGA Tour golf on Hilton Head

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
Harbour Town Golf Links
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Even after four decades, Harbour Town Golf Links remains a favorite of many PGA Tour players. (Courtesy of Harbour Town Golf Links)

This week the Verizon Heritage celebrates its 40th incarnation. The Heritage is unique on the PGA Tour in that it's such a small-town event, on the South Carolina resort island of Hilton Head, but with a big reputation in terms of prestige, the list of champions crowned, and importance to the local community. It's undoubtedly the biggest event of the year on the island.

In honor of this milestone anniversary, here is a list of 40 memories of the event, from dozens of individuals who have been close to, or involved in the proceedings ...

1. Steve Wilmot, tournament director: "In 1988 when Greg Norman granted a "Make a Wish" to a young man with a terminal illness named Jamie Hutton. He wanted to meet Greg, he came here, walked inside the ropes with him, and Greg ended up winning, and gave the trophy to Jamie. That situation went well beyond just a golf tournament."

2. Angus Cotton, original founder of the Heritage Foundation along with Sea Pines visionary Charles Fraser: "When we started the Foundation in 1986, Sea Pines itself was close to bankruptcy. We were trying to make payroll on Fridays, and every Thursday was a scramble to find enough money to pay all the employees and keep the place running, and the tournament in place. Fortunately, the islanders started buying tickets in droves right after the first of the year, and the cash influx finally got us on firmer financial footing, but it was touch-and-go there for quite awhile, regarding whether we were even going to be able to stage the 1987 event."

3. Pete Dye, golf course designer: "My wife Alice designed the 13th hole, that wonderful short par-4, with the island of sand surrounding the green, shored up with railroad ties. I was raking that bunker one morning during that first tournament, and two spectators were waiting for the players to come through. One says to his friend, 'Look at this incredible hole that Jack Nicklaus designed.'

I looked up from the bunker, and said, 'This hole was designed by a beautiful and talented woman.'

I heard the other guy mutter to his friend, 'Can you believe the grounds crew gets drunk this early in the day?'"

4. Alice Dye: "I remember the players were getting ready to tee off on the first day of the first tournament. I can still see Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser walking down the first fairway towards the clubhouse with a huge armload of lateral hazards stakes, saying, 'Who put these ugly red sticks all over our golf course?' He was so new to tournament golf he didn't realize they were part of the course."

5. Doug Weaver, longtime Hilton Head-area golf professional and five-time Heritage participant: "In 1977 I was working as a range attendant at Harbour Town. Gary Player arrived late Wednesday, after the range was closed. I remember him being so polite and respectful, not at all demanding or gruff, when asking if he could please hit some balls. We got him 40 balls, and he rewarded us by putting on a clinic-calling each shot before he hit it-a low cut, high draw, etc. It was a marvelous experience for a teenager who loved golf."

6. Joel Zuckerman, Hilton Head golf writer: "The incredibly beautiful scenery, both of the Calibogue Sound, and the womenfolk who attend the tournament in droves - '10s dressed to the nines!' - It's no wonder plenty of spectators come to the golf tournament, but don't watch a whole lot of golf!"

7. Billy Andrade, 18-time Heritage participant: "One year in the pro-am we had a really strong team, but one of the guys actually hit four separate spectators during the round. He hit a marshal, somebody from his own family, and these weren't glancing blows, or bouncing balls - he knocked a few people down. Luckily, nobody got hurt. We started calling him 'The Assassin,' and afterwards I think his buddies gave him a custom t-shirt with his new nickname as a gag gift."

8. Steve Wilmot: "A few years ago, when Davis Love III won for the fifth time, he took my son Charlie with him in the golf cart, to the interview room, let him hold the trophy, and treated him so wonderfully. Everyone was telling me afterwards how well Davis was treating his son, and I said, 'Wait a minute, that's my son!'"

9. Pete Dye: "I remember Arnold Palmer hitting driver everywhere but the par 3s when he won that first year. These days, the pros are 40 yards longer off the tee, and 20 yards longer on the approach, so the golf course plays 60 yards shorter per hole. But the players don't hit driver too often these days. They may be long, but they aren't necessarily straight!"

10. Gary Snyder, Harbour Town superintendent: "In 2007 we had 40 mph winds on Sunday and play had to be suspended because golf balls were actually blowing off the greens. The bunker sand on the holes near the water - 16, 17 and 18 - blew away, and had to be replaced before play could resume on Monday morning."

11. John Farrell, longtime Harbour Town head professional: "It was the mid-90s, and I was in the locker room, listening to a conversation between previous Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, and upcoming captain Lanny Wadkins. They were discussing strategy, preparation and pairings. What a moment to be a fly on the wall!

12. Bonnie Hunt, Heritage Foundation executive assistant with 39 years of tenure: "One of my favorite memories was meeting Arnold Palmer in person back in 1970. I was a little embarrassed because I was very pregnant at the time, but it was a thrill. Years later I had my picture taken with him, and it's a memento I still treasure."

13. Jeff Kidd, Island Packet sports editor: "In 2001, there was a Monday finish between Jose Coceres and Billy Mayfair. It was such a long day on Sunday, but we were back out Monday. It was surreal - it seemed like just a few dozen, maybe a hundred people around for the finish of a prestigious PGA Tour event."

14. Angela McSwain, Verizon Heritage marketing director: "My favorite moment was in 2006, when Aaron Baddeley spoke at the Sunday morning church service. He was so honest in talking about how his PGA Tour career wasn't going as planned, and how he hadn't met his own, or other people's expectations of him. Then later that day, he won our event for his first victory on tour."

15. Stan Smith, 35-year area resident, former U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis champion: "Frank Conner was a top-ranked junior tennis player my age, and a friend of mine. He had great hands, but didn't move that well on the tennis court, so he turned his focus to golf. In the early '80s he got into a playoff here with Tom Watson. I was behind the green on the 17th, and Frank's putt to win the tournament barely lipped out. Then he hit into the marsh on 18, and Watson won. But I was so impressed with his transition to an entirely different sport."

16. Arnie Burdick, tournament information director: "In 1989, Payne Stewart and Kenny Perry were dead even after two rounds, well ahead of the field. Then Payne walked away from Kenny over the weekend, winning by five, and won a playoff the following year, to become the first player to win back-to-back at Harbour Town.

17. Monty Jett, Longtime Hilton Head radio personality: "We were doing a live radio broadcast of the tournament, and our roving reporter was on the air when Greg Norman made a hole-in-one in 1990. The roar of the crowd was incredible, I could feel the reverberation in my headset for a long time afterwards."

18. Tim Guidera, longtime area sports columnist and television reporter: "I was in the press tent in the mid-90s. Some guy comes in talking about following Bill Britton, who's from my home borough of Staten Island, New York. Then the guy mentions he's from New Dorp, which is my hometown. Then he mentions he went to Monsignor Farrell High School, which is where I went. I still don't recognize him. Turns out he's Pete Iacobelli, the South Carolina AP reporter. He grew up a mile from me, and we graduated two years apart. But we had never crossed paths until that day in the Harbour Town media center."

19. Cary Corbett, Sea Pines sports director: "In '74, the year he won the tournament, Johnny Miller knocks a tee shot on the seventh hole into the live oaks on the left side. It ricochets off the tree, and into the cup for an ace."

20. Monty Jett: "A good friend of mine from Charleston used to bring his boat down to the Harbour Town Yacht Basin for the tournament. We were doing a live broadcast from on board one afternoon, and were joined by half-a-dozen extremely attractive female employees from a local gentlemen's club, which was one of our show sponsors. It was a memorable afternoon, though it wasn't easy to concentrate on my radio duties!"

21. John Richardson, longtime Ocean Course and Heron Point head professional at Sea Pines Resort: "In 1976 I was walking around the yacht basin with family members. We ran into Hubert Green, who was strolling around by himself. He struck up a conversation with us out of the blue. We became fans of his, followed him the next two days, and he ended up winning the tournament by five shots."

22. John Richardson: "When I was in college in '79, I ended up working on the driving range. One day Tom Watson struck up a conversation with me, which must have lasted 20 minutes. It was absolutely freezing that year; he was wearing a ski cap and numerous layers while practicing. Just like Hubert Green several years prior, Tom also ended up winning the tournament by five shots."

23. Kyle Poplin, editor of Bluffton Today: "One year at Media Day they announced the winner of the long-drive contest would be able to donate money to their designated charity. They would take the combined yardages of the top three finishers, and donate that dollar amount. I don't play much golf, and had never won a contest like that. But I somehow won, and we were able to make a nice donation to the Ronald McDonald House in Michigan, where my wife has spent nine months with our baby son, Tyrus."

24. Joel Zuckerman: "A few years ago Ernie Els was in position to win, and he inexplicably hit driver on the hairpin 16th. The ball didn't draw, and it ended up bouncing out-of-bounds, costing him the chance at victory. It proved that the world's best sometimes play as impetuously as the rest of us."

25. Pete Wofford, longtime South Carolina golf writer: "The week after Greg Norman gave away the '96 Masters to Nick Faldo, he came to Hilton Head. He was teeing off on the 10th, and some wise guys started making choking and gagging sounds. His caddie came over to the ropes, and without a word, decked one of the hecklers with a single punch."

26. Kyle Poplin: "Biking to the course with my wife and kids is always a treat, particularly because the auto traffic around Sea Pines during tournament week can be tricky."

27. Bonnie Hunt: "One time Payne Stewart came running into our tournament trailer, pursued by at least a dozen laughing kids. He locked the door, grabbed a beer, chatted with us for awhile, and then went out to sign autographs, laughing the whole time. The crowd was as big when we went out as it was when he came in."

28. Cary Corbett: "Ben Crenshaw once made a 14 on the 14th. He must have put half-a-dozen balls in the water on that par-3, but he was determined to show he had chosen the right club. I guess he wasn't taking into account the wind swirling above the trees. Eventually he took one extra club."

29. Paul deVere, senior writer at Celebrate Hilton Head: "Years ago, my two-year-old twins ran out onto the 10th tee when Fuzzy Zoeller was getting ready to tee off. He very gently escorted them back under the ropes. He hit his drive, then came over and gave each child a tee before he headed down the fairway. The kids are now in college, and they each still have their Fuzzy tee."

30. Brad Faxon, 24-time Heritage participant: "I had caddied for Roger Maltbie one time in California when I was kid. He was a cool guy, but he tipped me with golf balls, not cash. Once I got to college, one of my Furman University golf teammates was Doug Weaver, and his parents had a home near the 11th green at Harbour Town. We were hanging out watching the tournament one year, and Roger Maltbie came down the fairway. I made a derogatory comment about Roger, and said something like, 'I hope he shanks it out of bounds.' Little did I know that his new wife, Donna, was standing next to me! He hits his approach to about five feet, and she kind of makes a face at me, to say 'so there.' Then, he misses the birdie putt, so I make the same face back at her! Little did I know that we would one day all become friends, and I would be fortunate to play the tournament some two-dozen times."

31. Mark Love, brother and caddie for Davis Love III: "I was too young to actually remember his participation, but my father actually played in the inaugural Heritage, in 1969. Years later he would tell us how the pros thought it was one of the most radical courses they'd ever seen when they first arrived. Everyone knows Davis has won the event five times, but it's also pretty cool that my dad was in the very first field."

32. Blanche Sullivan, editor of Hilton Head Monthly: "A conversation I had with Charles Fraser about the very first Heritage is my favorite tournament memory. He was very passionate about pulling the tourney together and how he believed that it would truly put Hilton Head on the map. He explained that an integral part of his plan for success included having a legend, such as Arnold Palmer, participate in the tourney. According to Mr. Fraser, Arnold would only attend if able to fly his own plane to Hilton Head's new airport. Fraser reportedly phoned the airport's 'powers that be' and emphatically requested the runway be cleared for his landing. Arnold came, took home the trophy and the rest, as they say, is history."

33. Mark Love: "I wasn't caddying for Davis in 1987, the first year he won the Heritage. I came home from the beach, and the answering machine was jammed with messages. I started listening to them, and was getting more keyed up as all these different people where offering their congratulations and best wishes. Finally, the fifth or sixth message actually confirmed that he had won the event, and I was incredibly proud and excited to hear he had won a PGA Tour event for the first time.

34. Simon Fraser, chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation: "In the early years, there was an annual oyster roast held during tournament week at the home of Donald O'Quinn, who was the head of development at Sea Pines. Many of the players, including luminaries like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, would attend, showing just how homey and intimate the tournament was in those early years."

35. Billy Andrade: "I was on the driving range post-round a few years ago in late afternoon, with almost nobody else around. I see some 'over-served' goofball strip down, and jump in the lagoon to the left of the 10th fairway, not far from where I'm practicing. His buddies are egging him on and laughing while he's doing some water ballet moves. Meanwhile, a gator starts swimming towards him! He hustles to the edge, loses his flip-flop, which the gator manages to grab, and then runs towards the condos on the far side of the lagoon. Some state troopers in a golf cart hustle over, ask me if I saw where he went, and I point his out, hiding behind a tree. Then all his buddies, obviously drinking all day like the swimmer, start razzing me, for turning him in!"

36. Marion McDuffie, 40-year tournament volunteer: "Doug Sanders was such a fashion plate in the early days, always decked out in matching outfits that might have been turquoise or lavender. One time a woman was rattling her metal folding chair near the green, oblivious of the players putting. Doug actually put down his putter, went to the gallery, helped her open the chair properly, and helped her sit down! Could you imagine that happening today?"

37. Mark Love: "I was on the bag for three of Davis' wins, but in 2003, when he chipped in on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff, which he eventually won, was unbelievable. He told me he was going to make the chip, when it went in he pointed at me, and the roar around the green was the loudest I ever heard outside of a major or the Ryder Cup.

38. Loren Roberts, 1996 MCI Classic Champion: "I've played on Hilton Head more than 20 times, but obviously my fondest memory was '96, when I won. I remember having a three-shot lead on the 17th over Mark O'Meara, but knowing anything can happen on the final two holes. I knocked in a 25-footer for birdie on 17, and Mark converted from 10 feet, to stay within three. Then I ran in a 35-foot putt on the last, and I knew immediately I had set the scoring record. Mark made his putt also, so we both finished birdie-birdie."

39. Marion McDuffie: "In mid-round, Lee Trevino once said to the gallery around the ninth green, 'does anyone have a TV that's working in their villa? Because mine isn't and there's a big game tonight.' A woman I knew said 'sure' and Lee went over to her and got her villa number. Sure enough, he showed up that evening with a few friends, and they all sat around together and watched the game."

40. Jack Nicklaus, course consultant, 1975 champion: "Harbour Town was the first golf course in which I was ever involved, so that, in and by itself, makes it a very special place to me. I am not only proud that the players always talk so favorably about it being a fine golf course, but today, it remains a great golf course. If you think about it, Harbour Town opened for play in 1969, and although so much has happened in the game of golf over the last 40 years and, because of equipment, we are constantly seeing newer golf courses rendered obsolete the day they open, Harbour Town has not had to be substantially changed to meet the demands of today's players. It is one that has stood the test of time. On another note, it is certainly a source of pride that I was able to win a tournament on a golf course that I helped design."

- Joel Zuckerman's golf stories have appeared in more than 100 publications and his books include "Golf in the Lowcountry, "Golf Charms of Charleston," "Misfits on the Links" and "A Hacker's Humiliations." His next book, "Pete Dye Golf Courses - 50 Years of Inspired Design," will be released in September, 2008. Visit www.vagabondgolfer.com for more information.

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Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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