Hilton Head’s can-do generation: How RBC Heritage got to be so rich and famous

Nelle Smith can’t follow the golfers in person this year, but she’ll be watching the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on television — at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Nelle was part of the first tournament, and at 90 and two weeks on the yon side of back surgery, she’ll still be a part of the 54th one, even if it is only to tell a busy nurse, “The course looks so pretty,” or “the island looks so good.” That’s a glimpse at the spunk that got us here.

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Today’s global audience watching that stunning scenery that Hilton Head Islanders almost take for granted cannot possibly imagine that it rides on the sore back of Nelle and her can-do generation.

Nelle moved to Hilton Head in 1963 with children ages 6, 4 and 2 when her husband, John Gettys Smith, took a job to promote the Sea Pines dream of founder Charles Fraser.

John was assistant general chairman under Fraser for the first five PGA Tour events on the island, known then as the Heritage Golf Classic played around Thanksgiving.

The iconic finishing hole is about where her children used to gather oysters and the family harvested Christmas trees.

Nell’s Harbour Shop was the first shop in Harbour Town, a gift shop she operated from 1971 to 1996, even though she told John when he leased the prime location that she wanted it in writing that she would have nothing at all to do with the shop.

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She soldiered on then, with spunk and charm, just as she did through months of shooting pain from her back to her toes, and through surgery and now rehabilitation.

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“I am so proud of the way she has handled the surgery and the last four or five months,” said her daughter, Ora Smith, who she lives with in Beaufort. “She is on a good path and has come a long way since her surgery on March 31st.”

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