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 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 been 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 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.