Tyrrell Hatton, the Englishman who is ranked the 11th best player in the world, sent his tee shot on Congaree Golf Club’s sixth hole soaring long and high, just like most pros do and like most weekend players see only in their dreams.
The ball landed, took a kangaroo hop into the well-named “waste area,” emphasizing the precision that this golf course demands.
The private course designed by Tom Fazio that opened in 2017 is getting its first real exposure to the outside world in the Palmetto Championship at Congaree that ends Sunday, and the layout is reaching a rare plateau — the rave reviews are greater than already high expectations.
Carved out of a sand-based rice plantation, Congaree is completely different from the usual PGA Tour course. “Unique,” “fantastic” and “fun” are among the words the pros often use to describe the course in northern part of Jasper County.
“It’s a beautiful layout, and it plays quite different to anything we kind of see on Tour, which makes for a lot of fun,” Erik Van Rooyen said.
Golfers who love a challenge would be right at home on the layout that can stretch to almost 7,800 yards. Play from the tees that match ability, and it’s both a test and a treat for everyone. Good shots are rewarded — most of the time. Bad shots follow the philosophy of Oakmont Golf Club founder Henry Fownes, who believed a “poor shot should be irrevocably lost.”
Designed to play firm and fast, Congaree lost a bit of its teeth after early week rains and minimal wind until Friday afternoon — and still played cumulative one and one-half shots over par to some of golf’s finest players. Run-off areas are challenging enough; throw in the usual wind and the task at hand increases.
“The wind is swirling and it’s tough out there,” Harris English said after his second-round 69 that put him at 6-under 136 at the tournament’s midway point. “This golf course is getting firmer and faster. I’m sure it’s right where they want it.”
Those are the conditions golfers who played here prior to this week expected. Lucas Glover talked about needing every club in his bag over 54 holes in pre-tournament visits and emphasized that those who did not control their ball flight would really be challenged.
“There’s a lot of times the ball just rolls off the green after a pretty good shot,” Dustin Johnson said, an observation that reinforced Glover’s point. The key, the world’s top-ranked player said, is to miss on the correct side of the hole and still give yourself a chance with the putter.
Good strategy, Doc Redman said. “Putting (from off the green) is a great opportunity,” he noted.
Providing multiple ways to play the course is part of Fazio’s genius. He offered distant challenges and run-off possibilities, but he also incorporated a pair of drivable par-4s, and one of the par-3s required no more than a wedge in Friday’s round.
Even then ...
On the drivable par-4 third, English said his tee shot “was between 3-wood and driver. I feel like with the 3-wood, the ball’s going to run through the fairway. I may as well hit driver and go for the green.”
The driver worked for him. He made birdie at the third in the first round and an eagle-2 Friday.
But the hole so benign also extracted eight double-bogeys and one dreaded “other” from the field.
Brooks Koepka saw similarities with Augusta National with the run-offs around the greens and called Congaree a more difficult driving course despite its generous fairways.
“The bunkers, more tree lines,” he said of Congaree tee shots. “If you kind of cheat the corner here, you seem to be behind a tree. A lot more bunkers. ... But if you hit a lot of greens, you can make a lot of putts. These greens are really good.”
The golfers in general appreciate the different challenges.
Said Jhonattan Vegas: Congaree “really reminds me a lot about the great sand dune golf courses around the world, and it’s up there with some of those courses. It’s fun. Talking to my caddie, we kind of got excited about play this course and hitting out of the sand and kind of playing the roll, which is hard to do. We don’t get to do that all that often.”
Expect the unexpected, and don’t get flustered by good shots that yield bad results, said Hatton, who heads into the weekend at 3-under-par 139. He cited results from his Friday round.
“The last five or six holes (after the wind increased), it was awkward,” he said. “You can hit a nice shot and you get a gust of wind, and obviously that takes the ball where it’s not meant to go.”
“Really mind-blowing” he said in remembering a 110-yard wedge shot.
“Mind-blowing” in a different context might be the best way to describe the Congaree course. The beauty of the layout couple with both the fun and challenging possibilities create a hard-to-beat combination.
Through Friday’s second round
Chesson Hadley ..... 65-66—131 (-11)
Dustin Johnson .... .65-68—133 (-9)
Tain Lee ..... 67-68—135 (-7)
Six players ..... 136 (-6)
Where is the Congaree Golf Club?
Congaree Golf Club has a Ridgeland address, but the club is located in a rural setting in the northern part of Jasper County on Davant Road. That’s west of Beaufort and Hilton Head and north of Savannah.
The club is located a few miles off of Interstate 95 and can be reached off either exit 33 or exit 28. Parking lots are nearby and directions are provided with the purchase of tickets and parking.
TV, radio coverage: What time, what channel
The Golf Channel will have coverage on Saturday and Sunday from 1-3 p.m. CBS will provide Saturday and Sunday coverage 3-6 p.m. Sirius XM Radio and PGATour.com/live audio will have live coverage 1-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
PGA Tour Live will have featured groups 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, featured hole coverage with be available 3-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday Sunday PGA event weather forecast
There’s a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday, mainly after 4 p.m. The high will be near 90.
Rain chances increase to 50% Sunday with a high near 85.