Golf tournament loan passes House after loud opposition (Audio)

The House has voted in support of a proviso in the state budget that would provide a $10 million loan to the Heritage Golf Tournament held in Hilton Head, the state’s only PGA event. During its third day of budget debate Wednesday, members voted 69-43 to aid the event using money from the state’s insurance reserve fund. The Heritage is supported by Verizon this year but currently has no sponsor listed for next year.
 Beaufort County Republican Bill Herbkersman supported it, saying that the tournament generates millions for the state’s general fund last year.
Reports from 2008 indicate that Heritage Classic Foundation raised $8.6 million, spending $8.5 million. The tournament contributes to more than 100 charitable groups.
Lexington Republican Nikki Haley was outspoken against the proposal.  She said lawmakers should just consider the facts, including that the insurance reserve fund is set aside for the state’s emergencies like hurricanes.

“And we’re not talking about the merits of this tournament.  But we don’t want to start down a road where next we have the Camden Cup and the steeple chase event saying they need money.  And if you give them a security blanket, where is the motivation for them to find their own sponsorship?  Parks, Recreation and Tourism is there to help them get sponsorship.”

Those supporting the loan say it would produce 1200 part-time jobs.
Darlington County Republican Jay Lucus was among lawmakers who said that their local festivals were also worthy of special support–events like Hartsville’s Renofest, a bluegrass music festival. Charleston Democrat Leon Stavrinakis, in support of the loan, joked with Lucus that he could get Hartsville’s festival a small amount of cash, to support 120 employees, as opposed to the 1200 workers benefiting during the Heritage.
Lucus suggested that in Stavrinakis’ joking lies the real issue, that rural areas could benefit from a little more attention.  Lucus said with similar help, Renofest could pay for big-name acts and eventually draw just as many people as the golf tournament. 
Berkeley County Republican Jim Merrill warned that the tournament could go away.  Merrill said that money generated by the popular golf event helps to support many small festivals around the state.
(Merrill on The Heritage  MP3  3:08)
Merrill on the Heritage
The Heritage Tournament is held at Harbour Town Golf Links at the Sea Pines resort each April. The tournament has a $5.7 million purse.