Stewart Cink birdies the 9th hole during the 2021 RBC Heritage at Harbor Town Golf Links at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

For the package

So: Steve Wilmot signed on to help Tournament Director Mike Stevens organize the PGA Tour Heritage Classic on Hilton Head Island in the summer of 1986. Office staff could hold a staff meeting in a room the size of a broom closet.

Today: Wilmot, who became tournament director in 1997, oversees a staff that has grown exponentially with full-time employees supplemented by interns, and the office is bustling with activity.

Before: In Wilmot’s first Heritage in 1987, PGA Tour players battled for shares of the $650,000 purse and Davis Love III took home the winner’s loot, $117,000.

Now: In Wilmot’s 36th tournament on the Harbor Town Golf Links, $8 million will be at stake in the RBC Heritage, and the winner will take home more than Stewart Cink’s $1.278 million from a year ago. The player who finishes 15th will likely match Love’s 1987 check.

Times change, of course.

Title sponsors have come and gone, creating multiple names — but almost always including “Heritage.” They even played for a year without a company providing the financial means to allow the tournament to function. The great players of one generation have been replaced by the stars of the next generation.

But one constant remains.

“We always want to improve the fan experience, to make the next tournament the best yet,” said Wilmot. “It will happen this year. The staff is energized and things are moving. We are absolutely back, full speed ahead.

As with many other companies, the coronavirus outbreak has taken its toll on the tournament. The Tour canceled the spring tournaments in 2020, then a Legacy without spectators emerged in the reconfigured schedule. Security measures limited the 2021 event to 5,000 fans per day.

“We just wanted to get to ’22,” Wilmot said.

The 54th edition of this tournament will take place in about two months, from April 14 to 17, and the most notable change will concern the distribution of tickets. All tickets will be processed virtually, “a project that lasted four or five years,” Wilmot said.

More important for Harbor Town fans: the lines will be shorter – the product of Wilmot’s ‘enhance the experience’ credo.

“We look back after every tournament and every review, to see what we can do better,” he said. “Obviously ’20 (no fans) and ’21 (limited viewers) are not good measuring sticks, so we’re going back to ’19.

“We realized on Saturday in 2019 that we couldn’t have another person on the course. did not have an optimal experience. We came out of this number of tickets.

With that in mind, in addition to keeping health and safety concerns front and center, “we planned a little differently,” Wilmot said. “Last year, with limited fans, we created a different vibe, but we couldn’t survive financially so small. We will definitely have added value for our fans in April.

The tournament director takes a lesson from the changes over the years and “expects a few hiccups” from the move to digital tickets. “Spectators will be given something wearable like an ID badge,” he said, “but virtual tickets are the future.”

In terms of tickets, he reports that sales are ahead of the pace of 2019, and “they’re really picking up in February and March,” he said. “We are where we expected” in sales.

Officials haven’t announced any players who are committed to competing this year, but RBC-sponsored golfers are almost certain to be on the course. They include Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Corey Conners and Adam Hadwin. South Carolina’s contingent will likely include 2017 champion Wesley Bryan, Kevin Kisner, Lucas Glover and Matt NeSmith.

Rest assured that the 54th Heritage will crown a worthy champion. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since a guy named Arnold Palmer won the first one in 1969.

Chip shots. The Augusta 2022 Women’s National Amateur Champ will include five players with South Carolina ties: Jensen Castle, West Columbia/Kentucky; Anna Morgan, Spartanburg/Furman; Hannah Darling, USC; Ivy Shepherd, Clemson; and Savannah Grewal, Clemson. … The South Carolina Junior Golf Association will introduce the Players Series this year, which will allow juniors to develop their skills and earn byes to the organization’s major championships. Priority will be given to boys ages 13-18 outside of the top 75 in the state rankings and to all girls ages 13-18. … The Daniel Island Club, located near Charleston, has been chosen as the host site for two USGA championships – the 2023 US Junior Amateur and the 2026 US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball.