WorldCom Classic to continue with or without title sponsor

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Telecommunications giant WorldCom may be sinking faster than a three-foot putt, but the WorldCom Classic has no plans to go the way of its title sponsor.

David Warren, director of marketing for Sea Pines Resort and host course Harbour Town Golf Links, told that the tournament would go on next year with or without WorldCom's monetary support.

"We are under contract with them, but we are not counting on them being a sponsor," Warren said. "We are prepared to move ahead without them. We could host the event for a year without a major sponsor, but then we'll have to land something else."

Reports released this week indicate that WorldCom is set to file the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. corporate history, this following last week's announcement of a company-wide accounting scandal. WorldCom has served as the title sponsor of Hilton Head's annual PGA Tour stop, The Heritage of Golf, since 2001. The event has been held at Harbour Town since the course opened in 1969, typically following the Masters in mid-April.

The sponsorship officially began back in 1987 when MCI took over for the Sea Pines Resort, and together the two parties have put on arguably the most successful non-major event on the Tour schedule.

PGA Tour players adore the course, a Pete Dye design that is among the top 100 in the country according to most major golf publications, and players' families relish the laid-back atmosphere, beach access and shopping opportunities.

"According to the Tour, we are still the most popular tournament out there," Warren said. "But it would be cavalier to say that we aren't concerned. There are at least seven other events out there searching for a major sponsor, so nothing is a foregone conclusion."

WorldCom and Sea Pines Resort recently hosted one of the most successful tournaments in the event's history, with Justin Leonard (at left) posting his first win of 2002 and dawning his first tartan jacket in six attempts. Leonard closed with a 2-over 73 14-under 270 total, a stroke ahead of Heath Slocum and two in front of Phil Mickelson, and pocketed the $720,000 winner's check.

Just as importantly, Harbour Town Golf Links' new look was also showcased in front of a national television audience for the second straight year. In May of 2000, Dye was brought in to restore the greens, tee boxes and bunkers to their original form, and the putting surfaces were re-turfed with TifEagle Bermuda grass.

"The Tour players' response was that we had done a great thing, and the recreational players' was the same," Warren says. "We were not about to make wholesale changes to a course with this much history."

That history, at least as far a tournament sponsor goes, could be in jeopardy if WorldCom files Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week and ultimately forfeits its contractual obligation to Sea Pines for sponsorship of the 2003 Heritage of Golf.

Warren says that the PGA Tour has indicated that it will do everything within its power to help Sea Pines procure another major sponsor, and that Harbour Town has no intentions of relinquishing the Tour's most coveted event.

"There is no other event on Tour where the players can walk out the doors of their golf villas, hit some balls, come back home to their families and go to dinner or to the beach," Warren says. "For years, this has been the place they have looked forwarded to visiting, and it's evident by our roster of champions."

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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