First opened for play in 2018, Congaree is a high-end private facility in the South Carolina lowcountry designed by Tom Fazio’s team. The club was founded by Dan Friedkin and the late Bob McNair, former owner of the NFL Houston Texan team, and set across a lovely plantation property in one of the more underprivileged parts of the country. Unlike ordinary clubs with members, Congaree is setup to welcome ‘Ambassadors’, who contribute to a charitable Foundation run by the club and are expected to act as mentors to kids enrolled in various educational and golf related programs. The refurbishment of cottages into teaching buildings and guest lodges is to five-star standard, and the general ambience and philanthropic ventures more than commendable.
In many ways the design is less impressive than the club itself, not because it’s poor or not superbly maintained, which it is, but because there are few truly outstanding individual holes here. There is also a somewhat unconvincing reliance upon sandy wastelands, which are very large in scale and occasionally dotted with tussock grasses, but built with sharp, formal edges at odds with their ‘apparent’ rugged nature. The front nine wasteland holes, in particular, are a little odd.
More convincing are the holes through the established forests, which tend to work better from an aesthetic and strategic perspective than those around the water or vast sand hazards. Through the middle of the front nine, for example, are a number of water holes like the 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th, each built with greens wedged between water on the right and bunkers on the left. The bunkers are said to be inspired somewhat by the Melbourne Sandbelt, though they are unlike anything we’ve seen in the region save for perhaps the new work at Peninsula Kingswood.
The most positive aspect of design is the routing, which is eminently walkable and flows nicely from green to tee. There is also a decent variety to the golf, from open sandy sections to faux dunes and onto forested areas with an attractive array of native vegetation. Turf standards are also extremely high.
Among feature holes, are the strong par four 9th, which heads over a waste area from the tee and bends around sizeable bunkers, the marsh-carry par three 10th and the three closing par fours, the 17th providing a huge advantage to the longer hitters, and the 18th bending around a pond with the charming cottage clubhouse offset through the dogleg.
Because of its exclusivity, ambience and superior turf standards Congaree is likely to prove popular with ranking panels and a desirable place for many in the high-end golf market. Though a notch down from the more sophisticated designs in the lowcountry region, the club is certainly one of the more interesting concepts we’ve seen and hopefully able to both help develop new golfers and educate underprivileged kids in the area.
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