One of golf’s most iconic landmarks is going to look very different this week as the RBC Heritage kicks off at Harbor Town Golf Links for the 50th time. To commemorate this golden anniversary, Hilton Head Island’s candy cane striped lighthouse will be wrapped in plaid, and the atmosphere will be louder and more amped-up than it’s ever been before.
Many of the world’s top-ranked players aren’t making the trip to South Carolina this week, instead electing to decompress from what was a Masters for the ages. Still, the invitation-only, 132-player field will include some standout names on the PGA Tour and a host of major champions. Here are five things you need to know about the 50th edition of the RBC Heritage.
Inside the Field
18 Birdies Ambassador Wesley Bryan returns to Harbor Town as the first South Carolina native to defend his title at this tournament, and many players in the field will challenge him for the 2018 Tartan jacket. Harbor Town welcomes seven of the top-25 players in the OWGR, highlighted by World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who’s making his first appearance at the RBC since 2009. Eleven former RBC champions are also in the field, including Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, and five-time winner Davis Love III. Not to be forgotten is Luke Donald, who’s making his 13th appearance at the RBC and has finished runner-up here five times.
Celebrating 50 Years
Plaid Nation has come to play this week and the 50th-anniversary celebration should be a sight to behold. The Hilton Head lighthouse which serves as a backdrop to the 18th hole at Harbor Town is decked out in tartan plaid, and the mood here is brimming with pride. Harbor Town has hosted this event since 1969 when Arnold Palmer became the event’s first winner, and only five courses on the PGA Tour schedule have hosted a tournament longer than Harbor Town. This event pumps about $96 million into the South Carolina economy every year.
The Inaugural Nicklaus Cannon Blast
Wesley Bryan was scheduled to hit the ceremonial ball into Calibogue Sound to kick off RBC Week on Monday, but Opening Ceremony was canceled due to inclement weather. However, the first Opening Ceremony in 1969 didn’t go off without a hitch either. Jack Nicklaus was in the midst of his backswing when the ceremonial cannon fired prematurely. Nicklaus immediately jump-sprinted from the tee, tossed his club aside, and only made his way back to the tee after the smoke had cleared and the laughing gallery assured him it was safe to return. Nicklaus somewhat hesitantly returned to his ready position, and then fired off a perfect shot, this time flawlessly coordinated with the cannon blast.
A Party Atmosphere
Harbor Town Links provides world-class competition for the pros, but the thousands of fans who flock to the island aren’t here just for the quality of golf. The laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere makes it a social event, and the biggest party all year for all ages on the island. In terms of a weekend-long party atmosphere, it rivals the Waste Management Phoenix Open and even the Kentucky Derby. People watching, fan-favorite events throughout the course, and house parties along the fairways are an open invitation. You can win cool swag just by wearing plaid and a host of on-course lounges and eateries makes anywhere the see-and-be-seen classic chill spot.
Ball Striking Reigns Supreme at Harbor Town
Harbor Town’s tight and narrow fairways put a premium on accuracy and shaping the ball. Placement and strategy take precedence over power as large oak trees and overhanging pines stand ready to swat away errant shots. Greens are small and masterfully contoured. Winds can rip through and swirl around the course as well, adding to the challenge. This 7,099 yard, par-71 Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus design will both reward and confound the game’s best shot makers, and the intimidating 472 yard, par-4 No 18 is one of the finest finishing holes in golf. The 18th hole is generous off the tee but tightens severely with marshland encroaching from the left on approach. Players will have to choose between a safe bail-out on the right or the more treacherous forced carry all the way to the green on the left. You can give the tournament away or rally to win it right here.
Dustin Johnson will provide plenty of intrigue this week as he returns to his home state tournament for the first time in nine years. However, you probably want to pass on DJ, who’s yet to break 70 on this track where his power will not be an advantage. Ball placement specialists are your best bet, and Luke Donald clearly has the best track record at Harbor Town of anyone in the field who’s never won this event. Seven top-3 finishes, five runner-ups, and three 54-hole leads he’s failed to convert makes the Englishman a perennial favorite here. Donald has done everything but win here, but this week he finally solves the puzzle.