First time attending the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, huh? You're in for a real treat, but arriving at Harbour Town Golf Links can be a bit daunting to a first-time spectator.
Let's get the most important thing out of the way first. Do not, under any circumstance, yell "GET IN THE HOLE!" Just don't do it. The marshals are instructed to lead anyone who does so to the nearest lagoon and feed them to the alligators. (OK, that last part is not true, but it's still not advisable.)
Now that we're clear on that…
It's hard to have anything less than a great time at any PGA Tour event, much less one that incorporates the great tradition of the Heritage and the natural beauty of Hilton Head Island and Harbour Town. And there's no right or wrong way to go about attending a golf tournament — other than abiding by simple etiquette such as obeying marshals, staying outside the ropes and respecting play — but we can pass along a few tips that might make your experience more enjoyable and memorable.
- Explore the course.
So it's your first time at Harbour Town Golf Links. You want to see Harbour Town, right? So many spectators stroll out to the ninth green or the picturesque 18th — admittedly fine viewing areas — and never see any other part of the course. That's a shame, because some of the track's more intriguing holes are far-flung from the clubhouse. If you're able, spend part of a day walking the course and making mental notes that you can refer to while watching the scoreboard or tuning into a future television broadcast.
- Use the map.
It can be easy to get turned around and lose track of where you are on any golf course, and Harbour Town is no different. Luckily, there's a course map in the daily pairings sheets available at the entrance to the course and at various other spots around Harbour Town. The map also indicates where you can find bleachers, concessions stands, first aid, cellphone zones and other important areas.
- Pound the pavement.
Here's a true insider's tip, because not all course maps show it — using Plantation Drive is one of the fastest ways to get from point A to point B in a hurry. The road runs between the first green and second tee, the eighth green and ninth tee, the 10th green and 11th tee, and the 15th green and 16th tee, so it's a quick way to jump around the course without walking for hours. This comes in especially handy when, hypothetically speaking, you're following the leaders on the front nine Sunday when some mop-haired kid like Brandt Snedeker goes out early and gets on a birdie binge to charge up the leaderboard and you need to catch his last few holes. Hypothetically.
- Follow the leaders.
While I'm all for getting out to see the course and watching as many different players as possible on Thursday and Friday, and even Saturday, there is nothing more exciting than setting out with the lead group from the first tee on Sunday and seeing them through to the end. Keep an eye on the leaderboard throughout the day and be prepared to change your plans, but if it becomes a two-horse race, it's great to be able to look back and say you saw every shot the leaders hit on Sunday and replay the round in your mind.
- Use your head.
Some rules should go without saying, but you never can tell when alcohol is involved. A few years back, a spectator stripped down and went for a swim in the lagoon along the 10th fairway. He lost one of his flip-flops to a gator and wound up in handcuffs. Don't be stupid. Don't be that guy.
HARBOUR TOWN 'HOT SPOTS'
There's no bad place to be at Harbour Town during the Heritage. The world's greatest golfers will provide "oohs" and "ahhs" at every hole, and every hole is great in its own right. But sometimes you just want to sit a spell or catch up with friends and socialize, and there are several great places to do so. After all, the Heritage is all about Southern hospitality. If you're lucky enough, you might finagle an invitation to one of the skyboxes at Nos. 16, 17 or 18, but if you don't have friends in such high places, you're not out of luck. Check out these hot spots:
- For my money, attending a PGA Tour event is one of the best values in sports. For $170, you get tickets for all seven days — three practice rounds and four competition rounds — and for another $55, you can add clubhouse access and access to two newly renovated on-course hospitality venues. But if you really want to splurge, the "Doc's BBQ Club" package is as good as it gets. For $395, you get a ticket for all seven days with access to a private entertainment venue on the 15th green from Thursday to Sunday. There's a climate-controlled dining section with a daily buffet provided by Doc's BBQ out of Columbia, and the ticket price includes draft beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. That's tough to beat.
- All the hospitality tents along the 18th fairway empty into a courtyard-type area that includes a massive Jumbotron where you can watch television coverage of the tournament while grabbing a snack or ice cold beverage and kicking your feet up.
- The area between the 10th and 16th fairways is a short walk from the clubhouse and becomes a popular spot to see and be seen, especially if the weather is nice. Often referred to as "Sundress City" or "The Bermuda Shorts Triangle" — OK, maybe I'm the only person who calls it the Bermuda Shorts Triangle, but trust me, it fits — the crowd that gathers here will show you that the Heritage really is the social event of the year on Hilton Head. They're also quite charitable to the concessionaires who sell alcohol. Philanthropy at its finest — and funnest.
- It's not quite the party spot that Sundress City is, but the area between the second green and third tee and the sixth green and seventh tee is a great place to catch a glimpse of a large number of players passing through. No. 2 is a short par-5, and thus a potential eagle hole, the par-4 No. 6 produces a good number of birdie chances, and the tee shot at the par-3 seventh is a tough one that produces lots of memorable shots. Plus, there's a permanent restroom facility and a concessions area nearby for convenience.