Royal Bank of Canada Heritage Classic

    The annual tournament at Hilton Head Island was known simply as The Heritage Classic when it was first played in 1969. The course (Harbour Town Golf Links) was designed by Pete Dye with additional input from Jack Nicklaus, is considered one of the top layouts in the country. It is a 7,101 yard par 71 layout. While the course is short, by today’s standards, Harbour Town has extremely tight fairways and small greens.

    For years the tournament was sponsored by the phone company MCI (which became World Com and then Verizon). It went without a sponsor in 2011 – a reflection of the tournaments tough spot on the PGA calendar. Royal Bank of Canada stepped in in 2012 and is sponsoring it through this year’s event.

    The tournament is always held the week after the Masters which understandably has hurt the quality of the field over the years. However, since the course is so well-regarded, it usually attracts some of the world’s top players. This year’s field was thinner than most, with only one of the top ten players in the current Official World Golf Rankings playing. Fortunately for Harbour Town, it was current world number one Jason Day. Day kept his part of the bargain through the first two rounds, shooting six under par through 36 holes and teeing off in a tie for the lead going into Saturday’s third round. Day struggled dramatically on Saturday, getting on the bogey train for a back nine score of 41. Day fell from a tie for 1st to a tie for 40th place.

    Englishman, and former world number one, Luke Donald took advantage of Day’s stumble with a round of 69.

    The tournament ultimately belonged to Brendan Grace of South Africa. Grace was tied for the lead after an opening round 66 but stumbled on Friday with a three over par 74. Grace righted the ship on Saturday, shooting 69 putting him just three shots out of the lead. He followed that up with a brilliant 66 on Sunday which put him in the clubhouse two shots better than Donald and a hard-charging Russell Knox who shot a final round 67. For Donald, it was another disappointment. He didn’t exactly collapse on Sunday, shooting an even round par of 71, but victories have been hard to come by recently for the former world number one.

    Brendan Grace is one of the best kept secrets in professional golf. His win vaulted him to #11 in the Official World Golf Rankings. It also earned him more than a million dollars and 500 FedEx Cup points. In reality, his win shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. He has won consistently in Europe and South Africa over the past five years. He also recorded top five finishes at last year’s U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. Grace led the field with 18 birdies during the week at Hilton Head on a course that was giving players lots of fits.

    Masters low-amateur Bryson DeChambeau affirmed his performance at Augusta with an extremely impressive professional debut. DeChambeau shot 68 on Sunday (a score that would have allowed Donald to win the tournament) which followed rounds of 70, 69 and 72. The win was worth just shy of $260,000 and will go a long way towards earning DeChambeau a full-time PGA Tour card.

    This week also re-affirmed Harbour Town’s reputation as a great venue, proof that a course doesn’t have to be mega-long to challenge the game’s best players. Narrow fairways and lighting fast postage-stamp sized greens can wreak havoc on scorecards. There was a 47 on the back nine Saturday and 7 rounds of 80 or higher during the course of the tournament.

    Here’s hoping the organizers of the Heritage Classic convince the Royal Bank of Canada to renew their sponsorship of this great tournament in 2017. RBC signed a five-year deal to sponsor the tournament beginning in 2012 after the tournament was held without a major sponsor in 2011.