What the golf world will see this week at the Palmetto Championship is a ruggedly splendid golf course etched into a South Carolina sand cap. But lost in that untamed beauty and the eventual competition will be what brings the game’s best players to this slice of the Lowcountry.
Every week on the PGA Tour features all manner of charitable priorities. It’s a central tenet of the Tour, but this week’s efforts are different. Not better or worse than any other week, just unique in the landscape.
It’s no accident that Congaree Golf Club landed in Jasper County. As idyllic as that sand-capped piece of property was for a links-like layout, the driving force behind the club was to make a difference in young lives that didn’t have the luxury of a country club membership and deep pockets.
It’s why Jasper County, the poorest county in South Carolina, was perfect.
Billionaire founder Dan Friedkin, along with the late Robert McNair, created the Global Golf Initiative to give talented high school players with limited means from around the globe a passport to college. The intense four-week program gives the would-be college players a crash course in golf instruction, education, fitness, recruiting and college prep.
Technically, there are just two members at Congaree, Friedkin and McNair. Everyone else is considered an ambassador, leaders in all manner of industries who don’t pay an initiation fee but instead are expected to donate their time and expertise.
For Lucas Glover, a three-time Tour winner and major champion, his mission materialized in April while he was practicing at Congaree before the RBC Heritage.
Before driving from Congaree to Hilton Head, Glover had dinner with Congaree’s managing director, John McNeely, and club ambassador Mac Barnhardt, who suggested Glover visit Sergeant Jasper Country Club, which is known locally as “The Sarge.”
The Congaree Foundation had recently purchased the “The Sarge,” which has been a staple in the community since the 1960s but was on the verge of going out of business.
“I’m South Carolina guy and the Congaree Foundation hit home with what they do with kids. And Jasper County doesn’t have a ton of golf courses, especially courses that the public can play, so it was just something to put my head into,” Glover said.
Congaree had donated extra turf grass to help nurse “The Sarge” back to life, but the irrigation system was well past its prime, and crews were struggling to water the course by hand with hoses.
“We saw one of the sprinklers was bubbling over and leaking and were like, something needs to be done. The infrastructure is there. They have a cool little clubhouse and a little back deck area, but the course is just in disrepair,” Glover said. “That’s basically the only place in that area of Jasper County where the public can play. Some of the high school teams that needed a place to play that’s where they were playing. I wanted to do something to help.”
Glover hatched the plan to donate money to help “Recharge the Sarge” by giving for every eagle and birdie he made at the RBC Heritage. Other players quickly joined the effort, including Stewart Cink, who won the Heritage, and Glover was able to donate about $17,000 to the club.
Within two weeks of the Heritage, crews at “The Sarge” had already started rebuilding the irrigation system.
“We saw it at work immediately, which was really cool,” Glover said.
For Glover, who was born in Greenville, S.C., and attended Clemson, his work on the “Recharge the Sarge” project was about more than simply saving a golf course.
“Look at what The First Tee did years ago and next thing you know you have Scott Langley on Tour, he was the first player to go through The First Tee program to do that,” said Glover when asked how his work with “The Sarge” and the Congaree Foundation could impact golf development in Jasper County. “You can envision a player growing up at ‘The Sarge’ and eventually improving and being good enough to qualify for the Global Initiative at Congaree.
“Whether there’s golf involved or not they get kids in school which is ultimately what it’s all about.”
Congaree will play as advertised this week, a firm and fast test with stunning sight lines. As will the Tour players who chose to make a cameo at this week’s one-off stop.
But the more important story will be the legacy that this tournament and this club is creating.