Developed by two men who already owned high-end private golf clubs – Friedkin Group chairman Dan Friedkin with Diamond Creek Golf Club and Houston Texas owner the late Bob McNair with The Golf Club at Briar’s Creek – the philanthropic golf facility at Congaree Golf Club is probably unlike any you’ve come across before.
For a start, there are only two members (Friedkin and McNair) and their mission is involve influential individuals who will become “ambassadors,” making a donation to the Congaree Foundation – a non-profit educational initiative – and supporting the educational, vocational and golf instruction opportunities afforded to underprivileged and deserving young people.
Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2017, the fairways at Congaree lie within a 3,200-acre property, occupying what was once an 18th-century rice plantation. Thousands of pine trees were removed during construction then the playing corridors were sand capped to promote firm and fast playing conditions. A number of open expanses were also stripped back to fashion big, sandy waste areas.
Large, open-fronted greens allow the ground game to flourish, with closely mown runoff areas collecting wayward approach shots. Rather than tee markers, there are yardage discs on one side of the teeboxes which indicate the distance to the hole, enabling players to choose whatever yardage they like. There are also no cart paths as Congaree is a walking course.
The course can be stretched to a mammoth 7,685 yards, playing to a par of 71, with an interesting mix of pretty par threes, risk-reward par fours and testing par fives. The long par four 8th is the signature hole on the card – golfers navigate round two vast sandy waste areas en route to the green – and the finishing stretch of four straight par fours culminates in a tough approach shot over water and sand to the narrow home green.
In 2021, in an unusual turn of events, the PGA Tour visited Congaree for the Palmetto Championship, a once-only event that replaced the pandemic-impacted Canadian Open. South African Garrick Higgo won the tournament at only his second PGA Tour start.
On the site of the filming of the “King Farm” scenes of “Something to Talk About” is the former rice plantation named Davant Plantation which has been transformed by Dan Friedkin and Bob McNair (now deceased) into a world class golf facility. Everything is pristine and first class here. There are not enough superlatives to describe the facilities, the service, the beauty and the outstanding golf course.
The golf course is likely Tom Fazio’s best design. It is certainly in the conversation with Wade Hampton, Shadow Creek, The Estancia Club, and Victoria National.
There is a feeling of absolute solitude as you arrive through a long entrance of oak trees passing by a lake to be greeting by a valet. That feeling extends throughout the time spent on the range, the short game area and on the golf course. Many large oak trees were transplanted to their current home, ponds and lakes were created without disturbing existing wetlands, and the biggest rise in the ground was created on the second hole at approximately 35 feet. As indicated in the overview, thousands of pine trees were removed to build the course, in many cases replaced with ponds and large and long sand bunkers.
The course conditions are as good as anyplace I have ever been, including Augusta National.
The course is yet to be officially rated for index and slope, but the championship tees are now listed at 7725. The back tees are 7070 and the middle tees are 6410, which we chose to play. There is another set of forward tees at 5450 so there is room to choose any distance one would like given the length of the tee boxes. I was told that the golf course can go beyond 8000 yards should it be required.
My caddie pointed out his favorite viewing spot on the golf course as being behind the fifteenth green and I would agree with him. However, wherever one is on this golf course it is beautiful. The landscaping is just about perfect.
Having recently played the River course at the Kiawah Island Club, I recognized that Tom Fazio’s more recent designs have more undulations and run-off areas than some of his earlier designs. That is certainly the case at Congaree where the green are definitely the major challenge.
Based on the pin positions that we had there did not seem to be open fronted greens on many holes on the front nine. On holes one through nine, the pin positions seemed to be well protected by a bunker fronting the green. On the back nine, there were many more open greens. As indicated in the overview of the golf course, there are numerous runoff areas surrounding the greens. Several of the runoff areas can leave your ball 15-20 yards away from the green with the biggest runoff being about 50 yards. The runoffs can take your ball into bunkers, waste areas, or even water. It is easy to putt off the green if you are going downhill or hit a putt that does not catch the right slope or goes through the break.
I felt the golf course was equally balanced between the front nine and back nine in terms of challenge. The front nine has more length of 200-300 yards due to three of the par five’s being on the front nine. There are driveable par four’s on both nine’s.
The first hole is a 435/410/375 par 4 that is a dogleg left with a waste area down most of the right side and trees and a waste area down the left side. It is fronted by a single bunker. A shot hit left of the green can make its way all the way into the tall grass/sand as the fairway tilts down on the left side. The green is slightly crowned. The green is surprisingly quick. It is a hole that will definitely get your attention.
The second hole is a par 5 uphill of 595/525/515 with trees on either side. A tree and waste area protect the approach of the second shot on the left side. Trees on the right side provide defense to the third shot to a tilted green with two bunkers fronting the green and waste area on three sides. On any other golf course this could be the best hole.
The third is a driveable par 4 at 340/315/270 requiring a 260/235, 210 yard carry over water if you go down the left side. The right side of the fairway is easier to carry by about 20 yards but has a waste area and two trees as obstacles. The green is open to the front but has several mounds and tilts. While the drive is not overly challenging, the green makes the hole become a “satisfied” par.
The fourth hole is the longest par 5 at 646/570/555 with waste areas left and right, followed by trees on the left and a pond on the right. The green is protected by a single bunker perfectly placed in the center of this very sloped green left to right that can take a ball hit slightly left or putted too hard into the water. It is perhaps the quickest green on the golf course. While I liked the second hole a lot, I thought this par five was even better despite my three putt from 12 feet above the pin. I should have “blown” on my putt to start it rolling!
Next is a short par 3 of 170/145/135 over water with run-offs on all sides and mounds on the green to navigate. These run-offs can take a putt about 15 yards over the back from the green, into the bunker on the left side and even into the water. It is a very difficult green with green speeds as high as the fourth.
The sixth hole is a long par 4 of 520/495/455 required one to get to the corner of this dogleg left. Trees and a waste area guard the entire left side. The waste area goes right to the left side of the green. This is a very difficult golf hole with another fast green.
Seven is a par 3 of 195/175/155 with water coming in on the right side and trees and waste area on the left side. The green has a hump in the back left and a big falloff to either side of it. A pin position on the hump requires a putt to be nearly perfectly judged as to pace or the ball will come back to you or perhaps over into a runoff area behind the green ending up about 15 yards away.
Eight is a par 5 of 540/490/450 which was once a par 4 before being converted to a par five. Trees line the left side of the fairway. A second shot, if laid up must stop short of going into the waste area and raised bunker on the right side. There is another large bunker right of the green which has a mound on the left side. A ball hit to the right of the green or putted in that direction with too much speed can runoff and be as much as 50 yards away from a left side pin. Being above the hole will likely lead to a three putt given the tilt of the green from back to front.
I feel nine is the hardest hole on the front nine as a par 4 playing 501/480/405. It is a sharp dogleg left to a green fronted by a deep bunker and water down the right beginning just in front of the green to the back of the green. Leaving a ball in that greenside bunker can lead to a dauting shot. I loved the golf hole.
The back nine begins with a par 3 of 200/175/150 over marshes to the one green that I thought was relatively simple. If there is a weak hole, this is it but it does have to clear the marsh with about 15 yards of grass before the green.
Eleven is a par 4 of 490/455/435 that is a sharp dogleg right having to clear a marsh that requires a tee shot of 210 yards from the member tees. The second shot is slightly uphill and the green is wide open but tilted severely left to right with a big mound on the center left. It is a difficult hole.
Twelve is the final par 5 at 580/540/470 that is a dogleg left with trees down the left side and waste area down the right. The green is fronted superbly by bunkers and is slightly raised. It is a beautiful golf hole, not quite in the same class as two and four, but very good.
Thirteen is a par 4 of 465/430/410 and plays as a slight dogleg right. There is a pond down the left side and this is the most difficult hole to drive due to that pond and trees/waste area on the right side. The green has a bunker on the right side and is also tilted left to right and back to front. This is a difficult golf hole.
Fourteen is a long par 3 of 260/230/190 that is straightforward but once again has a difficult green. It is open in the front of the green.
Fifteen is the second driveable par 4 on the golf course at 360/330/300 with a large waste area on the left and marsh and a waste area on the right. The second shot is uphill for those not trying to drive the green. The green is protected by a deep bunker on the front. There is a spine in this green running through the middle and the green is tilted back to front. Visually this is the most appealing golf hole on the course from the tee and walking off the green.
Sixteen is a par 4 of 435/410/365 that is protected by trees on the right and trees and waste area on the left. The green sits diagonally left to right with a bunker fronting the green. The green is tilted right to left with runoff areas if you go long.
Seventeen is a par 4 of 435/410/365 and is a dogleg right with trees on the right protecting the drive and approach shot while a deep bunker cuts into the front left of the green which is tilted back to front.
Eighteen is a sharp dogleg left with a large waste area down the right side. From the middle tees, the long hitter can drive the green even though it requires a carry over water/marsh as well as a large bunker fronting the green. Our long hitter went through the trees and over the green on his tee shot. Another option is to hit an 8 iron short and then hit a 7 iron to the green. Or one can hit driver or three metal followed by a wedge. I loved how many options were available on this golf hole.
This is a very good golf course. It offers a lot of options but requires a very good management of one’s games. Arriving at the green is no guarantee of a desired score. The course has changes in the type of hole presented, the length of the hole, and the construction of the green. The bunkers are varied in that some are flat, some are raised, some are small, and some seem to go forever. The runoffs around the greens add a wonderful element to the challenge. Due to the sculpting of the mounds and humps on the greens, the green speeds based on pin location and direction are something one must have a deft touch to ensure a good score. While the golf course is basically flat, it does not feel flat on many holes as the terrain has been beautifully shaped.
It would not surprise me if Congaree becomes the number one golf course in South Carolina. In addition, due to the wonderful mix of left and right doglegs, it made me think even more about Yeamans Hall, Country Club of Charleston and all of the straight golf holes on those golf courses. Congaree is much more interesting.
It really does not matter what one scores at Congaree. You will love being there.
In an isolated area of South Carolina, two billionaires opened their hearts and wallets to convert an old plantation into a sanctuary for a few lucky young students who can visit the club each year for additional educational coaching before attending university. The clubs purpose is to serve the children that are selected in a number of academic subjects – in addition to having a world class secluded golf experience.
The club doesn’t have members in the traditional sense, but rather has “ambassadors” who have been chosen to identify the children and promote the clubs protected values. Graduates from the program develop personally, academically and mentally in preparation for their next step in life. It’s humbling to hear of the stories, and the generosity of the ownership who are focused on bettering the lives of many young hopefuls, who otherwise would never achieve their dreams.
The golf course is a beautiful walk through tall pines and will test the best players to hold a club in their hands. Large expansive waste area grab your attention in many directions and are a far cry from the typical white defined bunkers that we see on every other Fazio course. Tom expanded his mind with this course, and the end product is very enjoyable.
The main plantation house oozes character, as do the lovingly restored stables and courtyard which peacefully serve as a preserved reflection of a time that exists only as a faded memory. The ambiance at Congaree feels like the 1800s has been carefully conserved and you’ve been invited behind the curtain to witness a land where time has no meaning.
The club’s logo celebrates the Native American Indians who lived in teepees along the nearby Congaree River.