Nansemond River’s double trouble

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nansemond River Golf Club’s 13th hole can be a different hole from one day to the next, literally.

That’s true for many golf holes around the world. Perhaps the wind, or how dry the green is, or how long the rough is makes a familiar hole become impossible.

For No. 13 at Nansemond River, there’s an obvious reason. It has two greens.

Of course, a golfer only needs to worry about one green at a time, but depending on which green is being used, No. 13 is either a par five long enough to border on a par six or a par five which is reachable in two while also inviting plenty of double-bogeys and triple-bogeys.

At its longest, No. 13 is 620 yards from the black tees to the “long” green. The hole doglegs around the Nansemond River and accompanying marsh. The river and marsh down the right side threaten on every shot, especially to the “short” green.

The long green remains straight, bearing away from the marsh. Hazards still encroach near the long green to its right and beyond it.

Since the Nansemond River is so prominent to the hole’s right, many golfers focus entirely on avoiding a miss to the right, especially on an approach shot to the short green. As a result, said club pro Mark Lambert, many balls fall prey to the left of the short green. A single, strategically-placed tree knocks down a lot of balls that miss a bit to the left and, although golfers might not see it until it’s too late, the marsh curls around the green’s left.

If the pin is on the long green, Lambert considers the hole an automatic three-shot hole to reach the green. If the pin is on the short green, golfers might be tempted to get there in two.

How much can you bite off? The more a golfer tries to cut the corner on the drive, the more likely it is never to reach the fairway and leave the drive in the river.

“There’s plenty of room to the left, and I usually suggest guys play it in three shots, anyway,” said Lambert.

“I guarantee in the long run, there are more birdies made that way (playing it in three shots) than by guys trying to reach it in two,” said Lambert.

When the course opened a decade ago, the two greens were meant to be seasonal. Course architect Tom Steele thought the longer green would be used in the summer and the shorter green would be more for the winter.

Now, the pattern, said Lambert, who’s been the pro at Nansemond River since the day it opened, is usually the other way around.

Since there’s no cart path to the shorter green, it is used in the drier weather, usually in the warmer months.

“Tom saw there were two great sites on the hole and he said he would’ve hated to leave some of it empty,” said Lambert.

Many courses built around or since the time Nansemond River was built were primarily sites for homes, with a golf course built wherever there happened to be space around the homes. Nansemond River Golf Club, 10 years later, has many homes surrounding it, but the course was first and foremost, which is why No. 13 and so many other holes on the course have such scenic property.

In the end, though, “scenic” might depend on if there’s a four or an eight on a golfer’s card.