One reason Callawassie Island stands apart from the several coastal golf communities in South Carolina is due to the natural look of our courses. There is something more “discovered” about them and less contrived. Course designer, Tom Fazio, really took in the treasure he saw in front of him before he began the sketch process for what he would do with it. Well, that’s just one reason how trees helped our Island’s unique golf game.
An even more unusual, and ongoing reason, is that Callawassie Island is blessed to be in the hands of a professional agronomist, an ISA-Certified Arborist. Where another course might have a turf manager and greens keeper, the Callawassie Island Members’ Club has a professional Director of Agronomy, Billy Bagwell.
When Billy Bagwell joined the Callawassie Island team, he had already dedicated himself to be Nature’s ally. With a Bachelor of Science focused on horticulture, business and botany from Clemson University, a school that was founded to foster agriculture as much as to educate military officers, Billy literally brought his college degree in turf grass management to his work on the golf course of the Callawassie Island Club. So even as he arrived, Billy was extremely well qualified to be a golf course superintendent. Maybe even over qualified.
Yet, Billy brought another thing; he brought Clemson’s time-honored sense of service to the job too. Right away, he appreciated the value of Callawassie Island has a lot to do with being mindful of the environment, especially the trees.
“These majestic oak trees are part of our identity,” Billy said. “I wondered if we could help them live longer with nutrition and lifecycle maintenance.” Since the oaks play a leading role in making Callawassie Island one of the best golf communities in South Carolina, he concluded it would be wise for him to become a certified arborist.
Choosing the International Society of Arboriculture certification program, Billy embarked on a course of individual, guided study, preparing for a demanding certification exam. Wide-ranging in its requirements, the certification called for Billy to demonstrate mastery of soil management, installation, safety, pruning, tree risk management, tree biology, diagnosis and treatment, among other subjects. Just applying to pursue this certification called for at least three years of full-time experience as an arborist, in addition to Billy’s formal education.
Even after achieving certification as an ASI-Certified Arborist,, Billy must take professional continuing education courses every year. So, because of Billy’s commitment and sense of service, Callawassie Island is one of very few South Carolina gated golf communities with a professional director of agronomy.
One of the unsung benefits to Callawassie Island, of Billy’s initiative in gaining these educational qualifications, is that the grass benefits from what Billy knows about trees. . “Trees are going to win the battle over turf every time,” he points out. It’s not just that the shade of our big oaks blocks sunlight that the grass craves, “their roots can go out 50 – 70 – 100 feet. So, the grass roots are competing for water and nourishment with the root networks of our oak trees.” Proper placement, pruning, and fertilization all play a role in evening up the score.
To some extent, the placement of great oaks was a given and it is our responsibility to work with not against this placement. “The course was built around the finest trees,” Billy said. That’s just one initial example of the way Callawassie Island sees Nature as its’ partner, and not something to overcome. On the golf course it results in beauty, but throughout the whole community it creates a rare kind of harmony.
The Callawassie Island golf course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, thanks to an effort led by Billy Bagwell. The Audubon Society, named for the pioneering naturalist and artist who carefully catalogued the birds of North America, selected the Callawassie Island courses for this designation because of its environmental excellence in a number of specific areas.
Water conservation and water quality management, environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education were among the dimensions in which Callawassie Island excelled in the process of securing the coveted designation.
The Audubon Society distinction is just one sign that the Island’s commitment to the environment is real. Callawassie’s sustainable management of natural resources also resulted in the island being named South Carolina’s first Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
The confidence that Callawassie Island residents have in their courses is only exceeded by the confidence they have in their community, thanks to Club General Manager, Jeff Spencer, a PGA Ambassador. Together, Jeff and Billy work tirelessly to ensure the value of living on Callawassie Island, includes the pleasure of playing.
The warmth, balance and connection that characterize Callawassie Island as distinct from all other coastal, gated communities owe their continuing presence, in large part, to the confidence that residents feel. Thanks to the well-earned credibility of managers and staff led by Jeff and Billy.