GOLF: The secret of Congaree Golf Club is about to get out

Another PGA Tour event is coming to the Lowcountry, yet many people in the 843 area code have never even heard of the venue that will host it.

Congaree Golf Club, a young course that many consider Tom Fazio’s best work ever in the Palmetto State, is located about an hour’s drive west from Hilton Head Island in the quiet town of Ridgeland. Earlier in March, the 2021 RBC Canadian Open was officially cancelled due to Covid-19 complications, which opened the door for South Carolina to showcase another one of its gems to the world. 

The Palmetto Championship at Congaree will be the title of this one-year deal, as the RBC Canadian Open will return to St. George’s Golf Club in Toronto in 2022. Congaree and the state of South Carolina will be the title sponsors for the event, so expect to see a fair number of “come visit South Carolina” commercials during the broadcasts on the Golf Channel and CBS.

The course and golf club itself are incredibly unique. The club was founded by two heavy hitting businessmen, Dan Friedkin and the late Robert “Bob” McNair. Many South Carolinians are familiar with McNair, an alumnus of the University of South Carolina and owner of the Houston Texans. 

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Congaree was created to be more than just a scenic golf course with a great Sunday brunch menu. The members — or “ambassadors” — at Congaree make donations to the Congaree Foundation, which has philanthropic influences locally, nationally, and internationally.

Congaree Foundation developed the Global Golf Initiative, which works with a select number of under-priviledged youth from all over the world. Each year, a host of young golfers, both boys and girls, spend a week at Congaree Golf Club to receive physical training, club fitting, lessons, and courses on college preparation and entrance.

Helping these ambitious teenagers achieve their dreams of attending college and even playing competitively at the next level will surely be a highlight of the broadcasts and is aspirational for other clubs to follow. That being said, Congaree’s work with the local Jasper County community is equally impressive and life-changing. 

The club has worked with the Jasper County schools and their CATE program to establish a new turf management program to help students attain the skills to go to work in golf or other horticultural jobs directly out of high school. Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School has a driving range on their campus thanks to the Congaree Foundation, which hopes to introduce the game of golf to students who may have never thought to have picked up a 7-iron for fun. Golf is becoming an integral part of the economy and future of a rural South Carolina county that welcomes new opportunities and support. 

Let’s take a look at this stand-out course itself. Golfers of the Lowcountry know architect Tom Fazio quite well with Belfair, Berkeley Hall, Callawassie, Moss Creek, and Dataw Island all on his prolific resume. In fact, the world-class architect actually cut his teeth in course design with his uncle George Fazio in 1973 at the Fazio Course in Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island. 

While all of those courses are unique and beautiful in their own respective ways, Congaree Golf Club is a flashback to a more vintage style of design and golf. The golf course was carved out of the sandy coastal plain that was once a 3,000-acre rice plantation. The architecture has touches of the famous Australian sandbelt courses, with the course playing fast and firm and refreshingly little rough creating sweat-inducing lies around the green complexes. 

Perhaps that is why a certain handsome, tailor-fit green jacket-owning pro golfer from Australia has been spotted on the Congaree Golf Club grounds over the past year. (That would be Adam Scott.) 

Expect to see a different type of golf in June at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree. I suspect we will get to see the ball interacting with the ground a lot more than your normal high-ball target golf approach you see at the average PGA Tour stop.

Congaree Golf Club and its ambassadors have high expectations and ambitions for the club. In 2019, the ultra-private club made a strong push to host the 2025 Presidents Cup. Their influential efforts and wallets had Congaree in the mix, but the tour ultimately selected the 2020 PGA Championship site, Harding Park in San Francisco. 

Could this one-year deal be a trial run for the course to host an even bigger event in the future? I imagine the Palmetto Championship at Congaree will be the start of many more major events at this hidden Lowcountry gem. 

By Brian Rietveld

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