Congaree passes test with Palmetto Championship. So when is club’s next big event?

·4 min read

The massive infrastructure — scoreboards, miles of cable, computers, Shot-Link equipment and so much more — required to stage a PGA Tour tournament soon will be stowed on tractor-trailers for their journey along a few miles of back roads to Interstate 95 and on to their next destination.

Maybe it’ll all be used next at the Travelers in Connecticut, or the Rocket Mortgage in Michigan.

Left behind at Congaree Golf Club will be memories of a job well done by those who somehow put together a PGA Tour tournament, the Palmetto Championship at Congaree, in three months rather than the usual one-year-or-more time frame.

There are winners everywhere, starting with golfer Garrick Higgo, a South African who was the last man standing in a drama-filled finish replete with triumph and heartbreak.

The private Congaree club belongs on the winners list not only for its golf course but for its charitable initiative. The tournament provided an opportunity to show off its Tom Fazio gem and to spread the gospel of the foundation that provides resources for education and vocational opportunities to shape the lives of underserved and ambitious youth who share a passion for golf.

Add the state of South Carolina, which capitalized on an unexpected chance to send its message of tourism in general and golf in particular through an event televised around the world.

The natural question: What’s next in terms of big-time golf for Congaree? Another PGA Tour event? A major championship? One of the big-time “Cup” events? Something from the United States Golf Association?

The Palmetto Championship was a one-time event, cobbled together at the 11th hour after the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak. That tournament returns in 2022.

The Palmetto “is a first step,” PGA Tour executive vice-president Ty Votaw said. “Whether we have another opportunity, we’ll have to see. We’re fortunate to have a full schedule. But if something comes up and Congaree has a willingness. ...”

Something?

“Whether it’s an annual thing or it’s once every four, five, six, seven years, whatever it is, we’re open to it because, again, their commitment to excellence makes it an easy call.”

Harris English hits out of the bunker on the 18th green during the final round of the Palmetto Championship golf tournament in Ridgeland, S.C., Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Harris English hits out of the bunker on the 18th green during the final round of the Palmetto Championship golf tournament in Ridgeland, S.C., Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

The case for Congaree

Congaree’s big-time ambitions are no secret. Officials’ first dealings with the PGA Tour involved the 2025 Presidents Cup, which was moved to 2026 by the pandemic. Insiders say Congaree made an impressive presentation, but the PGA Tour ultimately chose Medinah No. 3 near Chicago.

The next available Presidents Cup date in the United States would be in 2030. Ryder Cup sites in this country have been selected through 2033.

“We’ve been in dialogue with Congaree ever since we were first aware,” Votaw said. “We’ve had a number of conversations, but this one (the Palmetto) is the first one that worked.”

If the PGA Tour and other sanctioning bodies wanted to see if a relative new club in rural South Carolina could pull off a big event, the Palmetto provides the proof.

“We’re certainly open to more dialogue down the road,” Votaw said. “We’ll just have to see what opportunities there might be.”

Certainly, the club has plenty of space for hospitality areas, vast merchandising tents and parking required for big events. Savannah, Bluffton and Hilton Head have enough hotel space to accommodate large crowds if scheduled well in advance. Vacationers had booked most of that space this year before the tournament was announced.

A detriment might be getting a large number of fans that big events draw to those large parking areas. There are a pair of two-lane roads feeding toward the club, which is better than Kiawah’s Ocean Course and its one access road.

Perhaps high-profile but less-attended events — say, the U.S. Men’s or Women’s Amateur or Walker Cup sanctioned by the USGA — would be a short-range option.

The Palmetto Championship at Congaree provided the opportunity to show a tournament could succeed in this northern Jasper County locale. The only missing ingredient was star power, understandable since most of the highly ranked pros took the week off in preparation for the U.S. Open.

But those who came, including world’s No. 1 and South Carolina native Dustin Johnson, provided an outstanding show.

Higgo prevailed by one stroke over six others. The winner played steady golf, the others more erratic. A couple moved up late, and two — Chesson Hadley and Bo Van Pelt — bogeyed the last hole to miss a playoff. Even Johnson, who charged within one stroke of the late, could have tied Higgo at 11 under — if he had not uncorked a wild drive that led to triple-bogey on No. 16.

The golf course does that. The golf course demands excellence. Mistakes are punished.

They’ve got to come back. The golf course is too darn good for the golf world to stay away for too long.

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