Golf clubs stand near a fence displaying the U.S. seal during the White House Sports and Fitness Day event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

This Golf Club Doesn’t Have Members—Just Ambassadors

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- There are no “members” at Congaree golf club, the 3,000-acre property about 30 minutes north of Savannah, Ga. There are only “ambassadors” ­chosen by old-school ­methodology—referrals. Their affiliation is less ­dependent on financial dues and more on the time they offer one of the club’s many mentoring programs.

Congaree’s mission is to help talented, financially ­disadvantaged golfers get a college education. Founded by billionaires Dan Friedkin and the late Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, the club runs weeklong golf academies in which youngsters from around the world are also given intensive training that involves SAT preparation, life-skills lessons, and ­sessions with an athletic counselor who matches students with colleges.

Friedkin, as owner, is technically the club’s only member. But its ambassadors include Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and British Open champion, and LPGA star Morgan Pressel and Tom Watson, the 39-time PGA Tour winner. Business leaders such as Dermot Desmond, Jim Crane, and Jim Pallotta are also involved.

The club has undertaken projects in surrounding Jasper County, where almost 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Its contributions have helped update the facilities at the local Boys & Girls Club, and last year, with aid from equipment manufacturer Ping, Congaree donated golf clubs to the local Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School. A partnership with the Low Country Food Bank provided free fruit and ­vegetables to 319 households.

Most golf clubs, even the famous ones we long to join, don’t have a story to tell. Sure, there are anecdotes about the members or tall tales about golfing exploits that occurred on the course, but few have much of a tale beyond the founding members finding a piece of ground and hiring an architect to turn it into the course of their dreams.

But when McNair, a University of South Carolina graduate whose ties to the Palmetto state run deep, found out what Friedkin’s plans were, he said, “there’s no way you’re doing this in South Carolina without me.” The two forged a partnership and built a world-class golf facility that would attract the types of successful men and women they wanted to have become Congaree ambassadors. “It is truly unique what Dan has created in South Carolina,” says Bruce Davidson, director of golf for Friedkin Group. “It’s inspiring to see the lives that are being impacted.”

Oh, and the golf is excellent. With its ­immaculate grounds and sugar-­colored sand, Congaree was named the best new ­private course in America in 2018 by Golf Digest

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Gaddy at jgaddy@bloomberg.net, Chris Rovzar

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