June 2020

5 Drinks With… Sir William “Willie” Innes

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: John Brackett

He’s drinking: Huger Street IPA
I’m drinking: Lighthouse Blonde

On an intellectual level, we’re all aware that Sir William “Willie” Innes—having been born in the late eighteenth century—is more than likely long passed. It’s certainly something that was in the back of my head as I sat down to interview the shockingly-still-alive Sir Willie, living embodiment of the spirit of the RBC Heritage.

In that spirit, one of the first questions I asked him when we met up at Links, an American Grill inside Harbour Town Clubhouse for a few drinks was, “Are you allowed to speak out of character?”
His response? “What character?”

That alone told me that, as usual, my intellect had failed me. Sir Willie simply is. The face and accent may have gone through a few adjustments over the years, but the dapper plaid-clad fellow casually strolling along during the tournament and presenting the giant checks to charities across the Lowcountry is exactly what he says he is: Sir Willie, the living embodiment of the spirit of the RBC Heritage.

Barry Kaufman: Before we can talk about who you are, we need to talk about what you are.
Willy Innes: I am the spirit and essence of the RBC Heritage. That’s what I am. I’m the spokesperson, I’m the face of it, I’m the energy … I’m the love of what golf is here on Hilton Head Island.

BK: What is it that excites you most about the Heritage?
WI: First off, the fans. The energy here, especially coming off the Masters. You know the Masters is an amazing tournament; it’s fantastic. But it’s a tournament where there’s so much tension when you go there. There’s a lot at stake—a lot of tradition. We have tradition, but we’re fun. We’re tradition, but there’s always a drink in your hand.

BK: Do other sporting events have their own embodiments? Is there a curling world series embodiment, for example?
WI: They do, but they’re not really living. There are mascots, but they have the big furry heads. They’re not real, you know what I mean? You don’t know what faces they’re making underneath those bobble heads. You know what face I’m making.

It’s an important job to have that spirit of the love of what you’re working with. It’s very important. You can tell when people really love it and when they’re just collecting a paycheck. And I do really love it. I enjoy the fans; most of all, I enjoy the kids. The kids who take part in the RBC Heritage, particularly the Coca Cola Youth Day that we partner up with you every year, or the Plaid About Reading Program where we show the importance of picking up a book and reading it. It’s an art form that’s dying out, and we’re trying to bring it back to life here. There’s something special about having a book in your hands.

BK: What do you do for the other 51 weeks out of the year?
WI: I work out. Gym time, prep … I work on my voice to make sure it doesn’t get tired. I go back to Scotland for a while and play some golf. Basically, get ready. This isn’t just during Heritage week. This is a year-round commitment. I mean, I bleed plaid.

It’s a love for the game; it’s a love for the charity. What they give back to the community is absolutely amazing. And that’s a big part of why the Heritage is here. It’s not just the largest professional sporting event in the state of South Carolina, it’s one of the largest sporting events that gives back to the Lowcountry and the community where we live. It’s an amazing thing, and when I’m not doing this, I look forward to doing this.

BK: Given that you walk around with a golf club, it’s surprising to hear that the charity is actually your favorite part of the tournament.
WI: What we give back to the community—to date we’re up to $44.6 million that we’ve given back to South Carolina and the Lowcountry. Just last year was $3.2 million, and I believe right now our total since we created the Heritage Foundation is $102 million that we’ve put into charities, which is an amazing thing.

We’re not only the biggest sporting event in the state, we’re one of the largest contributors back to the community, which is very important to me. Every year I get to visit these charities and see what’s involved and what they give back to. It’s all different ranges of struggles we have here.

(At this point, Sir Willie notices me casually devouring a peanut butter cookie.)

Pockets Full of Sunshine is one of those organizations. They’re fantastic. They always do these amazing peanut butter cookies that you’ll see around the tournament. They’re another big not-for-profit here in the Lowcountry that is worthwhile along with a lot of the others, like the vendors for the food here at the Heritage. This year, we’re really expanding that to a larger group of folks who come in. So, you’re not only here for great golf and great cocktails, you’re going to get a broader range of food and desserts from different vendors. It’s not just about golf anymore. It’s about the experience of the Heritage.

BK: As a fellow Scot, what are some other tenants of Scottish heritage you’d like to see take off in this country? Can we make Rabbie Burns day happen here?
WI: That would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? People wouldn’t know what they would do with that, but meat pies maybe. Meat pies haven’t come along very well in the States. Meat pie just isn’t a thing where when people hear it they say, ‘Oh, can’t wait for a meat pie.’ But in Scotland, we’re like, ‘Meat pie! Yes!’ I think Johnny Depp gave it a bad name with that barber movie he did. Bad press for meat pies. But Scottish food in general hasn’t had the best press. It’s not the kind of food we eat to get into a two-piece during the summertime, I’ll tell you that. It’s a hearty food, it’s delicious. Lots of potatoes. We’re potato connoisseurs.

BK: The real question: Haggis. Aye or nae?
WI: This is an internal struggle, mostly with my stomach. Once I found out how it’s prepared… I should not have looked up the ingredients. I got served haggis a lot and then looked up what it was. I was horrified. I couldn’t look haggis in the eyes and say, ‘I’m going to eat you.’

BK: Well the eyes are the only part they don’t use, I think. So, getting back to Scottish sports, how’s your caber toss?
WI: Horrible. Twice and I’m done. It’s not something you learn in everyday life. It will never take off here. I’m sorry.

BK: Now, I’m curious. History shows Sir William Innes has been involved with the game of golf since the 1700s. What is your secret for staying young?
WI: I sleep in a Zip-Love bag. Yellow and green makes blue. That’s my youth. And then also, all different kinds of beer. It’s like a little formaldehyde in your system. You stay youthful.

BK: Good to know. What’s your all-time favorite Heritage moment?
WI: My favorite, and it may not be some other people’s favorite, was a couple years back when the Heritage was on Easter Sunday. I got to run around with the kids, but the bunny is really what it was. The bunny … this wasn’t just any bunny that year. It was … I don’t know, the creepy bunny. I think kids might have been scared that year. I was scared. But I got to ride around with the bunny, talk to the bunny, and then the bunny took its head off and I was horrified. It was a crazy looking bunny. You can look at that bunny and know that bunny has been through some stuff. That bunny didn’t just hide eggs, let’s just say that.

BK: I’m starting to see the origins of your anti-mascot-head stance.
WI: I was traumatized a little bit.

BK: You keep it a little simpler, but it has to get a bit warm in that outfit. I know tradition is tradition, but have you ever thought about swapping that out for something that wicks?
WI: Oh, no. Think of it like the military. You think they’d be able to say, ‘I think I’m going to wear some shorts or some overalls?’ This is my uniform. This is how people know who I am. I’m identifiable and it’s actually pretty darn comfortable, especially here on Hilton Head Island. It’s pretty gnat proof—fewer areas for them to bite. And then when it’s hot outside, there’s only so much a man can sweat. And I’ve proven that point, I’ll tell you that.

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article