The Heritage golf tournament begins in Hilton Head this weekend, but organizers are worried it might be the last time unless the event can find a primary sponsor for next year.
The Heritage Classic Foundation, along with local and state officials, has been scrambling for over a year to replace Verizon Wireless after the longtime sponsor ended its partnership in 2010. A combination of the Foundation’s reserves and $1 million in commitments from Hilton Head and Beaufort County will largely finance the tournament this year.
Legislators from the Lowcountry are very concerned about losing the event, which they say has a major impact on the local economy. Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R-Beaufort) wants to secure the Heritage next year with a $3 million loan from the state government. The money would not be critical this year, but Herbkersman said it would show the PGA golf tour that South Carolina was committed to keeping the tournament.
Opponents say that would take money away from education and health services, and argue the state is giving a lifeline to a privately-owned tournament. Herbkersman countered the event raises enough from the weekend’s sales tax revenue to cover the loan and provide additional money for those services.
We’re picking a winner right here. This is a true winner. We have $140 million to education from a golf tournament. This is a performing asset that the state has. And you know what you do with a performing asset? You maintain it.
Under the bill, the state would provide the loan until the Heritage found a sponsor. That money would come from accommodations tax revenue, which is traditionally used for tourism in the state. If no primary sponsor is found, the loan would be repaid under sales tax revenue collected that weekend. The state Board of Economic Advisors would estimate the additional revenue and transfer it, as necessary.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Horry) opposed the loans, saying the Legislature should not get involved in golf tournaments.
This is a one-time event. Granted, it makes money. Granted, it’s good for the state… but, is this not a private enterprise that is going to have to make it or not make it on its own?
The House passed a similar $10 million loan last year as a line on the state budget. It was later removed by the Senate after a public outcry. At the time, then-Rep. Nikki Haley was very public in her opposition to the loan. Gov. Haley has said she opposes using taxpayer money for the golf tournament and is expected to veto the bill if it comes to her desk. However, Haley says she supports the tournament and has been working through state agencies to find a sponsor for it.
Although the bill is on the House calendar, its supporters have repeatedly delayed debate on the loans– possibly due to strong opposition against them among other legislators. The House is on furlough until next week.