Excitement surrounds first day of Heritage

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Welcoming tradition. Disguising trepidation.

Bagpipes sounded the call of springtime in the Lowcountry at Heritage opening ceremonies Monday. But, while tournament week started without a title sponsor, nobody was ready to say this was the beginning of the end for Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event.

"Everybody's engaged and fired up about this week,'' said tournament director Steve Wilmot. "It's great. We'll figure things out down there.''

And perhaps the the mood of the week started to turn right here, as the largest opening ceremony crowd in memory heard a line of speakers speak positively about the Heritage's prospects.

Questions about sponsorship will be an underlying issue this week, as will uncertainty about the tournament's future. But the traditions of the heritage, beginning with today's opening ceremony and through play on sunday could turn concern into optimism.

"I feel like everybody's upbeat and confident it will remain,'' said Heritage fan Matt Rader. "So we hope so.''

"I hope so too,'' added Hilton Head resident Tom Mongello. "I know it's going to be a long struggle to find a new sponsor, but i hope it comes true.''

If it does it could be the result of the optimism across Harbour Town, the thought that today's opening tee shot, hit by defending champion Jim Furyk into the Calibogue Sound, is just the first shot that will be taken to keep the Heritage where it is.

"I know the Tour, the tournament, the Foundation are going to be hosting a lot of different corporations this week,'' said Furyk. "They'll be bringing them in and showing them what this golf tournament is about, show them the entertainment value and hopefully one of them gets very, very excited.''

"I think it's going to be a great four days, especially two days on national network on the weekend,'' Wilmot said of the event, which will be televised on CBS Saturday and Sunday and the Golf Channel Thursday and Friday. "It's a golden opportunity to sell the event and showcase the event to the world.''

And just maybe save their place in it.

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