Sleepy Hole’s frightening finish

Published 8:07 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The way Sleepy Hole Golf Course’s head pro J. T. Belcher describes his finishing hole is similar to an approaching hurricane or as though it’s a living, breathing creature.

“Guys will have a good round going, but they know that hole is coming up. That hole takes a lot of good rounds,” he said.

Sleepy Hole’s 18th hole is a perfect finishing hole because it demands the best shots of the round. Golfers coming to Sleepy Hole, Belcher said, look forward to No. 18 in a unique way. Scenically, without having to write something on a scorecard at the end of it, the Nansemond River, marshland and even the old, well-worn Obici House make for a superb way to call it a day.

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“Many times, if someone is out just to play nine holes, they ask to play the back nine because of that hole,” he said.

No. 18, a par 4, is 470 yards from the tips. Even for smarter golfers who don’t subject themselves to the black tees, the hole requires an excellent drive just to set up a decent chance at hitting, and staying on, the green.

Too far left off the tee, one single tall tree blocks much of the green and the carry over the marsh becomes longer. Too far right off the tee, a line of trees blocks anything but a risky left-to-right approach shot. The “left” part of the left-to-right has to go over marsh or even the Nansemond River and if there’s too much “right” in the left-to-right, bunkers and the Obici House, which is out of bounds, are near the green.

A shorter drive, even if it’s on line, leaves a long iron or more to reach the green. From 200 or more yards, with a downhill shot to the green, many accurate approach shots have been on line, hit the green nicely, but still bounded long into the Nansemond River.

“It’s a tough hole, but it’s a fair hole. If you hit two good shots, you’ll be rewarded, but you have to hit two good shots and that’s the bottom line,” Belcher said. “I see a lot of people, and it’s smart, play for a five. They lay up and hit a wedge onto the green.”

Even when the LPGA Tour called Sleepy Hole Golf Course home for the Crestar Classic in the 80’s, with the final Crestar Classic being in 1988, the best golfers in the world played No. 18 as a 470-yard par five.

A week ago, the Sleepy Hole Amateur Championship brought in some of the best golfers in the region. Sixes and sevens were still common on No. 18, even with “10 of the top 50 players in the state” playing said Belcher.

The current condition of the Obici House means no one feels too bad about hitting it, plus, it’s a better option than losing a ball into the Nansemond. The evidence of that can be seen at low tide, when the River recedes from the bulkhead. There are thousands of golf balls stuck in the mud to the left and behind the green. That’s 37 years worth of golf balls.

There have been, supposedly, and this is according to golfers so take it for what it’s worth, a few shots off the Obici House’s roof, which have turned out dry and in good shape.

Belcher says he’s had a number of golfers finish their round, then want to head out again if only for another crack at the long, hazard-wielding par four.

“It definitely keeps people coming back,” said Belcher. “I’ve had a lot of golfers come in (to the clubhouse) and want to play nine more holes to get another chance to play 18.”