Callawassie Island Club: Renovations bring Tom Fazio golf course back up to snuff

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

Golf rules at Callawassie Island Club, offering three Tom Fazio-designed golf courses, Magnolia, Palmetto and Dogwood, all of which recently underwent renovations.

Callawassie Island Club - Palmetto - hole 1
The first green on Callawassie Island Club's Palmetto golf course can be measured in acres. It's large, fast and will send putts on a roller coaster ride.
Callawassie Island Club - Palmetto - hole 1Callawassie Island Club - Magnolia - hole 6Callawassie Island Club - Magnolia - hole 8

OKATIE, S.C. - Just getting to Callawassie Island, you know this place is different. One travels down a typical coastal road, trees pushing in from both sides. then you reach the gated entrance, get the once-over and if you have business on the island, are admitted.

Onward over a lengthy causeway with marsh just a few feet below. On both sides, you can see, in what seems like a mile in every direction, marsh and uninhabited hummocks and tiny islands. The island's tagline is most appropriate: splendid seclusion.

Once on the 880-acre island, the attention to detail is obvious. Streets meander past well-spaced, elegant homes and huge live oaks and magnolia trees. At the Callawassie Island Club, staff awaits to greet you and unload your bags.

Callawassie Island Club golf: The benefit of 27 holes

Golf is a central theme on the island, an activity most residents pursue. Fortunately, they have three nines from which to choose: Palmetto course, Magnolia course and Dogwood course.

Instead of the same-old, same-old, players can mix them up, offering six combinations with three different slopes and ratings. Magnolia is the longest of the three at 3,583 yards from the tips, Palmetto is the shortest at 3,436 yards.

There are subtle differences between the nines, all designed by Tom Fazio. Whereas Magnolia and Dogwood venture further into the marsh, Palmetto uses lagoons, trees and sand as deterrents.

Restoration brings Callawassie Island Club back to former glory

It's been 25 years since Tom Fazio designed the first 18 holes at the Callawassie Island Club. He added another nine, Dogwood, about five years later.

Time took a toll on the course, as it will at any. The greens shrank little by little, and their sharp undulations settled into gentle slopes. Sand in the bunkers compacted, and their honed edges creeped inward.

Callawassie Island Club isn't one to let quality slip, so two years ago, the club began a $4 million renovation project. Starting with Magnolia, they ripped out the greens, installed a new drainage system, added a few more bunkers and let the Bermuda rough grow. The next year, it was Palmetto's turn, and this year it was Dogwood.

The course is back to its old Fazio self but even better. The greens are large, undulating and seeded with miniverde, a turf that's the latest rage in the South. It lasts year-round, eliminating the need for reseeding midyear, and it is wicked fast.

"They added elephant humps on a few of the greens," said member Dick Coureges.

The 1 1/2 inch-long rough also adds a new dimension. It's long, thick and it grabs your ball and hides it, pulling it into the grass. Good players will admit a short iron is the only means of escape. Stubborn players will insist on a long club and try to go the distance. They won't. Either way, rolling off the fairway is a bad thing and likely will keep you from getting to the green in regulation.

The bunkers are back, too, both in number, size and texture. "It's one of Fazio's earlier design, so the flashing on the bunkers is higher," said Jeff Spencer, head professional. "Even now with redesigns, courses have gotten away from that." The sand within is fluffy and consistent.

More importantly, the improved, targeted irrigation system has cut water usage in half, Spencer said. That means grounds crews can concentrate on watering just the fairways or just on the rough. "We can control the growth," Spencer said.

The rough will remain an inch and a half, but its density might ramp up for an upcoming tournament or thin out for quicker rounds. When it's thick, "it's for real," Spencer said.

Callawassie Island Club's Magnolia nine

Several doglegs, such as No. 2, will tempt you to launch a shot to the green over a sea of bunkers. Other holes put the trouble at the green, such as No. 6, a par 3 with bunkers extending to the far left. Only because they are there will you invariably pull a shot far to the left. Ridges of turf between the bunkers add another dimension of trouble.

No. 8 is a long par 5 - ranging in length from 607 at the tips to 475 front - that leads to a marsh view. But the approach is thin, between water left and sand right.

No. 9 requires experience. The first shot is blind over ridges and marsh, so one can't see the landing area. That's where experience is necessary. It's a hole that requires precision, not distance, to navigate sand, marsh and trees.

Callawassie Island Club's Palmetto nine

The Palmetto nine starts out with a tiny spot to target your drive amid a field of mounds right and sand far left. Then, it's onto a massive green with trees for a backstop. If you land a ways from the flag, a triple putt is quite likely, given the green's speed and undulations.

As with Magnolia, the nine is beset with undulations on the fairways, making an even lie and rare treat. Sand is a factor on virtually every hole from start to finish.

The toughest hole is No. 7, a par-5 dogleg right around water with a string of bunkers on the left. It feels squeezed in no matter where you put your drive.

The last hole requires a water carry to an upward sloping fairway to a ridge midway to the green. The second half of the hole slopes left into a water hazard, so keep it right.

Golf at Callawassie Island Club: The verdict

The variety within and between the nines makes this an ideal private course. You will not grow tired of the course, nor master it.

"It's fairly playable for everybody," Spencer said. "We have five different tees. It depends on how much you want to bite off. It's got enough character so it's not the same day in and day out, and the large greens give us some options with pins."

There are more marsh holes on Magnolia and Dogwood, but Palmetto has more lagoon situations. "Obviously, we've got a lot of water," Spencer said.

With the renovations, Spencer expects the course's slope rating to rise.

David Denton, a 10 handicap, likes the course's exactness. "You can't swing away and hope for the best," he said. "I like the new greens. They handle water fantastically."

At first, the greens were too hard, rejecting arced shots. "Now that they're been aerated a few times, they're receiving the balls," Denton said.

If you haven't played Callawassie since the renovation, give it a try. It's a first-class course kept in excellent condition that offers a lot of variety from hole to hole, nine to nine.

Nope, you won't get bored.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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