RBC increases golf footprint

RBC is opening its wallet and lending its name to another PGA Tour event.

RBC is opening its wallet and lending its name to another PGA Tour event.

The bank announced a five-year agreement to take over title sponsorship of The Heritage on Thursday, giving it one more major golf property to go with the RBC Canadian Open.

“The benefit of two tournaments in two different countries is we’ll get different people following us,” Jim Little, RBC’s chief brand and communications officer, said from Hilton Head, S.C. “We’ll also get a little relationship benefit with the PGA Tour. We’re now a significant and growing partner of theirs.”

RBC has shown a strong commitment to the sport since taking over title sponsorship of the Canadian Open in November 2007.

Little insists that having a second tournament in the company’s portfolio won’t negatively affect the Canadian Open — “absolutely the opposite” — and indicated that RBC will now turn its attention to working out an extension with Golf Canada.

The current title sponsorship deal for the Canadian Open expires next year.

“We have started talking about an extension,” said Little. “We’ve been pretty transparent with them that we were interested in something south of the border as well. They’ve been aware and kind of following from a distance, knowing that we need to get this one done first.

“Now we’re going to grind away and try to figure out the best deal for both sides up in Canada.”

The Heritage has been played at the Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina since 1969. The tournament is held in April shortly after the Masters.

It was operated without a title sponsor this year after having its previous deal with Verizon expire — not unlike what happened with the Canadian Open when Bell walked away in 2005.

“It feels a lot like what we did in Canada,” said Little. “They needed someone to step in and we sought value. We negotiated hard and we’re thrilled.”

The feeling was mutual.

“My thanks go out to RBC for coming forward and giving us the helping hand we needed,” said Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot. “This has been a rough couple of years for our beloved tournament we have worked so hard to keep it alive and I want to recognize the important role RBC has played in saving the Heritage and keeping it in our community.”

It’s a busy time for the bank.

RBC is expecting big things from next month’s Canadian Open at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club. While the official list of commitments won’t be released until next week, individual sponsorship deals with world No. 1 Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim and Matt Kuchar virtually ensure those players will take part.

The tournament has come a long way in a few short years.

“We’ve dusted it off and brought it back,” said Little. “We really feel the field this year is going to be as good as we ever had. It’s in Vancouver, we like the fact that we move it around, we like the fact that our clients love it.

“Canada is our home and there’s no way we can be in golf without a strong Canadian Open golf tournament.”

They hope to replicate that success in the U.S. with a tournament that will now be known as the RBC Heritage.

“We know what we need to do,” said Little.