At Santee Cooper Resort in Santee, South Carolina, creative leadership and a pair of chain saw artists have breathed new life into dying oak tree
(December 2021) — A tiny lakeside town with a population of fewer than 1,000, Santee, South Carolina has morphed through the years into a treasured year-round destination for value-driven golfers.
Located on the south shore of Lake Marion, the state’s largest freshwater lake, where a number of fishing world records have been set through the years, Santee is dissected by Interstate 95 — almost exactly halfway between New York and Miami — and just off Interstate 26, midway between the Palmetto State’s popular cities Charleston and Columbia.
Within a mile of town, there are three outstanding courses that don’t cost a small fortune to play — a trinity that has become sacred ground for golfers from all over North America. Santee Cooper Country Club, designed by George Cobb and opened in 1967, is the oldest of the trio. Lake Marion Golf Club, which opened in 1978, is Santee Cooper’s sister course and together make up the Santee Cooper Resort. Finally, the Porter Gibson-routed Santee National Golf Club opened in 1989 and underwent a renovation in 2005.
Now, Santee has a new calling card.
A massive, formerly live oak — the signature tree off the fifth green of Santee Cooper CC, which had died a slow death — was recently given new life by a pair of North Carolina artists with chain saws, who turned the dying tree into a sculpture.
Several hundred years old, with a circumference of 19 feet and providing a quarter-acre canopy during its prime, the southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) had adorned the club logos, flags and stationery when Santee Cooper CC debuted in 1967.
However, several years ago an invasive fungus caused the once-stately tree to begin suffering a slow death. Rather than removing it entirely, Santee Cooper Resort started pruning the tree over time, slowly removing the deadwood while leaving behind the trunk and portions of three branches.
Soon, longtime greens superintendent Gene Scarborough came up with the idea of turning the tree into an art design. After Scarborough’s concept was approved by the resort’s general manager, Santee Cooper’s PGA professional, Steve Smart, sketched out his vision for the tree.
To bring the concept to life, a combination of community fundraising and contributions from the resort company raised the funds necessary to pay the two chain saw artists — Kyle Thomas of Red Rabbit Wood Carving in Raleigh and Corey Lancaster of Boon Hill Gallery in Princeton — for their five days of carving. After completion, the artists applied an Australian timber oil to the carving to protect it.
The art features images representative of the town’s most popular pastimes — outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing associated with the adjacent Lake Marion, and, of course, golf. Along with a golfer and golf cart, there are fish — a bass and a brim — an Osprey, a Blue Heron and a Bald Eagle, an alligator, a turtle, a fox squirrel and even a skink. “Of course, we have the lake, which is a big draw,” said Smart. “The next thing behind it is golf.”
Next, the resort plans to enhance the tree’s surrounding landscaping, while adding a bench, lighting and irrigation around Santee Cooper CC’s new signature centerpiece.
Said Scarborough: “We were able to take something that was dying — that was dead — and, instead of just having a stump and then having to grind that stump up, we were able to make something very unique.”
Day One –
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