More than 130,000 golf enthusiasts attended the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing last year and most probably weren't aware they were enjoying life in the midst of a concerted focus on tournament sustainability.
Some signs of this effort might have been subtle to spectators: 100 recycling receptacles positioned around the course and concessions served in compostable or recyclable food packaging.
Other efforts might have been virtually unnoticeable: the recycling of 19 tons of waste; landscape debris being turned into mulch; and 100 percent renewable energy-sourced electricity saving 23 tons of CO2 emissions while reducing the total operational carbon footprint by 11 percent.
The RBC Heritage and Heritage Classic Foundation take the sustainability of the tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links seriously, very seriously. So does the Sea Pines Resort, which owns the course. This year's Heritage will be held April 10-16.
"Pursuing a more sustainable event is a natural fit given the pride and history surrounding this great tournament," said Morgan Hyde, Foundation vice president of operations. "We have been getting our feet wet the last couple of years and learning from Experience Green and the Golf Environmental Organization (GEO). Sustainability is more than just recycling cans. It's been a learning curve for us."
GEO, an international body that recognizes quality course management in a "sustainable and environmentally ethical manner," has partnered with the Foundation to help the tournament attain the status of being a GEO Certified Tournament.
The Foundation also is collaborating with Experience Green, a non-profit county organization that educates individuals and businesses about sustainability of the environment.
The Resort and Harbour Town Golf Links, designed in 1969 by Pete Dye and host of the premiere Heritage that year, and its two other public courses (Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes) earned the GEO certification in 2015.
Additionally, all three courses also notched the prestigious Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries status in 2006 for their protection and preservation of the environment.
"The Sea Pines Resort is honored to achieve certification by the GEO for our commitment to sustainable environmental standards for our property," said Resort president Steve Birdwell on the resort's web site. "Our stewardship ensures our guests and members will enjoy this incredible nature-rich part of Hilton Head Island for generations to come."
The GEO cites six criterion as part of its grading process: nature, energy, water, supply chain, community and pollution prevention. Its 2016 Sustainability Review of the Heritage tournament noted the efforts the Foundation has demonstrated on its path to certification.
"The 2016 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing is a showcase example of a major sporting event partnering with a renowned golf facility to demonstrate sustainability in and through golf," GEO has said. For instance, all of the water used in course management is filtered and reused, and all engine oil and plastic containers are recycled.
"RBC and Heritage Foundation have really stepped up to work with GEO to attempt this certification of the event," said Tony Wartko, resort director of facility services. "We have worked daily with the Foundation and their vendors over the last several months to implement sustainable purchasing practices... We work closely with (tournament director) Steve Wilmot and Morgan Hyde who taken the lead on producing a sustainable event."
Resort staff, the Foundation and Sea Pines residents have assumed environmental stewardship from the beginning, as envisioned in the late 1950s by visionary developer Charles Fraser as a harmonious co-existence between nature and wildlife, people and buildings.
"The whole thing is, the environment is the golden goose," said Wartko, who also is a certified green professional. "It lays its golden eggs, and we've lived with it since Charles Fraser was here... When people come here, they want to see the egrets, the blue herons and the alligators, and the only way you keep those around is by keeping the environment healthy."
That demonstrates forward-thinking. So does heading back and forth to the tournament via park-and-ride shuttle transportation, bicycling, walking and carpooling.
As Wartko says, "Long term, it's all about sustainability."