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Tartan Tradition

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Photo credit: Harbour Town Golf Links/RBC Heritage

By Dr. Sandra Geringer |

Hilton Head Island (HHI) is my happy place. I first visited HHI when my high school tennis coach encouraged me to attend Van Der Meer Tennis Academy. It was a memorable experience and when my parents came to pick me up from camp they liked being on the island so much they bought a timeshare and we have come back every year since. I even lived on the island for five years working for Sea Pines Racquet Club and Daufuskie Island Club and Resort.

One of my favorite worldly structures is the Harbour Town lighthouse located in the Sea Pines Resort. I will be so bold as to compare the level of iconic measure to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (in my world, anyway). When I arrived to HHI for my most recent vacation, my father warned me that there was a big change and he wondered if I would notice. Sure enough – I noticed! My favorite lighthouse with the red and white candy stripes (that is in a painting I have, on my hats, shirts, etc.) was now a white with tartan plaid striped lighthouse. I gasped at the ghastly sight.

Photo: Dr. Sandra Geringer

Ok, maybe I am being a bit dramatic, but there is a reason for the change. The RBC Heritage presented by Boeing was celebrating the golf tournament’s 50th birthday.  The Harbour Town lighthouse goes hand-in-hand with RBC Heritage. Builders rushed to finish it in time for the first tournament in 1969. They didn’t make it. A skeletal form of the lighthouse stood in the background of the 18th hole during the inaugural tournament.

Many credit both – the first tournament — and the lighthouse — for putting HHI on the map as a premiere travel destination. Arnold Palmer hadn’t won a golf tournament in over a year. So when he won the tournament in 1969, his picture — and Harbour Town Golf Links — was displayed on newspapers across the country.

But, isn’t that what sport and sponsorship has become? Where does the tradition actually lie? I thought it was with the iconic white and red candy stripe, but maybe it is the significance of the golf tournament? The (hopefully temporary) change definitely caught my attention. Since the tournament almost always falls the week after the Masters on the PGA Tour schedule, golf fans probably figure there’s some jacket envy of the Masters green jacket. However, the history of the plaid jacket at the RBC Heritage suggests that’s not the case. Tournament organizers were inspired by the famous 1790 golf print of Sir William Innes, who was captain of the Society of Golfers at Blackheath in Scotland, playing in a tartan jacket. Innes’ image was also included in the tournament logo until RBC became the tournament title sponsor in 2012. Ultimately, organizers decided to use the Royal Stewart tartan as the base for their tournament-specific tartan, removing a yellow bar to make it their own. That tartan, now called Heritage Plaid, is the tartan design on the jackets given to tournament winners.

Photo: Dr. Sandra Geringer

So, if the lighthouse stays the same I can appreciate the history as I appreciate the history of all my visits to the island. However, expect another blog post from me if the Eiffel Tower is made into a gigantic tennis racquet during the Roland Garros French Open… actually that would be pretty cool, too!

The following article contributed to this content: https://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/article199381269.html

Dr. Sandra Geringer is the Director of Recreation Management and Sports Studies at the United States Sports Academy. 

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