Now In Year 5, Congaree’s Vision As Philanthropic Golf Club Yields Life-Changing Opportunities

Congaree helped usher in a new membership model in the world of high-end private clubs, with a philanthropic purpose and a network of invited “ambassadors” committed to providing educational, vocational and golf opportunities to underprivileged and deserving youth.

As the club and its Tom Fazio-designed course in South Carolina’s low country have continued to garner accolades – including a successful stint as host of the PGA Tour’s 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree – billionaire owner Dan Friedkin is most excited about how the charitable vision has taken root. Some members of the inaugural Congaree Global Golf Initiative (CGGI) program in 2017 have now graduated college (playing competitive golf along the way) and turned their opportunity into something much bigger.

“We’ve had more than 100 kids from 16 countries participate in the Congaree Global Golf Initiative and the positive impact it’s had on their lives is profound,” said Friedkin, who has a net worth of more than $4 billion, according to the Forbes billionaires list, making him one of the world’s wealthiest individuals. “Almost every single one of our ‘Congaree Kids’ has earned a college scholarship, with many of them playing golf at the collegiate level. These are life-changing opportunities. The education, mentorship and training they receive at CGGI stays with them well beyond their time at Congaree.”

From the very beginning, Congaree was positioned as a philanthropic club.

Every summer since 2017, Congaree has welcomed 20 to 30 under-resourced, but aspiring collegiate golfers to visit the club, which is tucked away on a 3,200-acre property in rural Jasper County, about 30 minutes north of Savannah, Georgia. The group of U.S. and international high school students receive the highest level of athletic coaching and academic resource tools, helping guide them through the college admissions process.

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Maeve Cummins is among the success stories from the inaugural CGGI program.

Back in spring of 2017, one of the club’s ambassadors in Scotland called Congaree’s co-director of golf, Bruce Davidson, and told him about this teenage girl from Northern Ireland who excelled in the classroom and had the ability to play golf in college, but lacked the financial means to do so. Cummins recently completed her undergraduate degree at Carson Newman in Tennessee, but still remembers the initial letter that had arrived from America notifying her that she’d been selected as one of the first “Congaree kids.”

“When I read it, I was freaking out,” Cummins said. “I thought there’s no way somebody wants to take you to America and do all this stuff for you. My mom thought it was like the classic too-good-to-be-true thing. Then we realized this could be pretty good.

“The initial trip, everybody’s mind was just blown. Nobody had experienced something like that before,” she added. “We arrived and they had our (golf) uniforms lined up on the bed. I was like, ‘I think you gave me someone else’s room’ because I figured someone else’s stuff was in there. It was crazy to experience. But Congaree is so much more than that week. Putting me into Carson Newman, putting me in contact with coaches, I graduated a year early, and now I’m in a Master’s program. I never even thought about that.”

Kharynton Beggs, a member of the 2018 CGGI cohort, is finishing her third year studying at Oglethorpe University near Atlanta where she also plays on the Stormy Petrels’ golf team. Introduced to the game by her mom when she was 2, Beggs knew early in her high school years that she wanted to play collegiate golf, but faced her share of obstacles. Her father, whom she called her “biggest cheerleader,” died in an accident during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years. And shortly before Beggs was nominated to go to Congaree, she hurt her back during a tournament and said she felt like she was having a “quarterlife crisis at 16.”

Today, Beggs is a psychology major with a business minor and plans to get a doctorate degree in innovational psychology.

“Through perseverance, therapy and tons of friend support, I was able to get back into it. Congaree really helped me with that too,” said Beggs, who got the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford for a semester last year. “It really feels like Congaree expanded my network, but even further than that, it’s my golf family. Congaree does foster those relationships outside of just professional coaching. You know they care for you and they’re in their corner. They recognize that you’re a Congaree kid and I wear that with pride.”

At Congaree, the intent has always been to create a tight network of support.

“Most of our ambassadors have had that hand on their shoulder pointing them in the right direction,” said Davidson, a PGA professional from Scotland who has worked with numerous PGA Tour and Champions Tour players over the years. “So many of our kids are on a road to success. It’s nice to know maybe we altered that path in the right direction. The trajectory then continues to go upward because of what our ambassadors can do.

“It’s been a lot of work. And there’s a lot of people who get very little kudos for it, who have worked hard from the beginning to make this club it is. But biggest kudos go to Dan Friedkin, who allowed us the opportunity to create this club.”

Other private clubs have sought to imitate the Congaree approach in some respects. It’s flattering and, more importantly, it helps more underprivileged youth. But at Congaree, there’s much more to come.

“We’re five years into CGGI, and to me, we’ve only scratched the surface,” said Friedkin, chairman of The Friedkin Group, a privately held consortium of businesses in the automotive, luxury hospitality, golf and entertainment industries.

“We have the opportunity touch so many more lives and empower the next generation of leaders through a shared passion for the game of golf. We’re committed to bringing more promising students to the program and helping them in any way we can after they leave Congaree and prepare for their future.”

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