Playing Through | Callawassie Island

Playing Through

Dogwood Joins Magnolia in Completed Courses as Renovation Efforts Move into Phase 3

When the dream teed off in 2022 for the “Three Courses in Three Years” total renovation project, everyone knew there would be pros and cons. The cons (stop of play, for instance, because no one likes to miss a day or part of a year on their favorite course) were enthusiastically embraced because of the pros (the benefits, not the golf Pros who also have a vested interest in quality of play). From the beginning, there has been a committed and unified buy-in from the community’s leadership and owners knowing what this will ultimately do for life on the island and golf in the Lowcountry.

Now, as Director of Agronomy, Billy Bagwell, and his advanced team of experts and associates approaches the midway point on the renewing of the island’s Tom Fazio designed course, the vision is no longer just imagination. The picture is coming into focus and most of it is already back in play.

Magnolia saw its grand re-opening in the same year, initiated by the fall FOCI Tournament where players gave it a good test drive. New bunkers, grass, greens, and miles of concrete cart paths embraced a highly more playable course thanks to improved drainage systems with 17 miles of drainage into 36-inch pipes.

The team didn’t let the grass grow under their feet before turning their full attention to Dogwood, starting with the sub-grade, getting drainpipes trenched and a layer of gravel down earlier in 2023.

By the end of summer, the team was doing double duty, pushing the Dogwood course efforts toward their goal while checking in with performance on a new and improved Magnolia to test the success of as the pacesetter for the other two. The verdict? Bagwell writes on his Callawassie Island Agronomy blog, “Magnolia, doesn’t miss a beat.”

The blog Bagwell created to track renovation updates and give members and others a direct line to the latest and most accurate read of each step, has tracked everything from task lists and grass growth to the path of a hurricane.Which in South Carolina, is just par for the course.

Bagwell even worked setbacks into the system planning for your average, annual hurricane, whether that meant delay or damage, and this year thankfully there was little of either, but just what he referred to as, “nice rainfall and a big mess” Bagwell reports, “Idalia stayed to our west and though it brought enough wind to make a debris mess on the course, we avoided the major tree and flooding damage that could have occurred. In total, the island received three inches of rain, which turned out to be a great test for our new drainage system on Dogwood. We made a point to walk the course during the rain to check basins and outfalls to see how well water was moving and you could hear the water flowing on the course.”

Bagwell also explains, keeping expectations aligned with performance, “A key point to remember as we get closer to opening, the drainage gets better with age. The disturbed soil and reshaping has water guessing where to travel. We also are relying more on surface runoff early in the stage of the new course as the soil creates new pore space from root growth for water to travel through. We are seeing full evidence of this process right now when you compare Magnolia and Dogwood. Both courses are draining exceptionally well, but there is a difference on how quickly water moves from the surface to the drain lines and off when you go from Magnolia to Dogwood. We fully expect Dogwood to catch up to Magnolia over the next 8-12 months and we remain excited about how the course handles rain events.

This drainage was tested back in August, which Bagwell says is “the month where you accomplish the majority or your lateral growth with the long hot and humid days coupled with frequent rainfall.” As the summer closed, the system processed five inches of rain in just over a week, and “passed with flying colors.” According to the good news shared on Bagwell’s blog, “we still pinch ourselves on how well the course can handle rainfall events, yet still remain playable, while the Palmetto course reminds us of how far we have come.”

The team has been in countdown mode toward their major milestone November with the finishing and opening of Dogwood, and well past the midpoint of their overall projection for total completion. The greens on Dogwood were reported as “almost putt-able” back in August, utilizing “flex mowers” with “cutting units that float, allowing the cutting head to move with the contours of the green and minimize scalping.”

At the time of those updates, Bagwell and the team were far ahead of their game, sitting pretty, with months ahead of Dogwood’s projected opening. Now the needle moves into the final phase of this ambitious undertaking and the golf world is watching (not as closely as members watching the regeneration of their own backyard), just waiting for the day that all three renowned courses are ready to play through.