Don't fear Hell's Point, golfers: It's hell in name only

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Could there be a scarier name for a golf course than Hell's Point? Actually, yes, there could be - but not by much.

Hell's Point Golf Club here in this military beach town was named the fourth scariest golf course name in the U.S. by a prominent golf magazine.

So there is more than the usual trepidation when you head out for the course, your bag loaded down with extra golf balls, your mind letting the name Hell's Point conjure all sorts of golfing nightmares: 300-yard carries over craggy canyons, oceans of water, deep, foreboding bunkers guarding tiny greens sloped like the Himalayas, unseen hazards everywhere.

The trepidation turns to downright anxiety when you drive down into the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, on the outskirts of town. It's a heavily-wooded, swampy area on the outskirts of town, on the "other" side of Virginia Beach's Green Line, an imaginary border designed to fend off developers from the wilder parts of the area.

As it turns out, Hell's Point was named for the creek that meanders through the lowland course. The course itself is somewhere between a puppy dog and a German Shepherd.

All that worry for nothing. It doesn't live up to its grisly name in terms of difficulties, but instead, offers up other pleasures. For one thing, it's a very scenic layout, for those who like swampy scenes. Of course, you have swampy insects that come along for the ride, like horseflies, to name one example.

"It's a straightforward course, there's no hidden shots," said Head Professional Brian Lord. "It's challenging, but not by its length (6,766 yards from the back tees). We're at sea level, so you don't get a lot of roll."

Also, rains can make the grounds mushy. Add to that the natural swamp hazards and you're glad you brought the extra balls.

"We do pretty good sales with the 18-pack Pinnacles," Lord said.

Architect Rees Jones got all he could, considering the terrain he had to work with.

"He said this was one of his best designs given the worst piece of property," Lord said. "He basically carved this out of the swamp. If you tried to build this course today, you couldn't, because of the environmental laws."

Hell's Point opened in 1982, before many of Virginia Beach's newer courses.

"If you go back seven or eight years ago, this was the only quality track around," Lord said. "We were the only game in town."

The verdict

Hell's Point is still a good play, one of the better ones in the area, as evidenced by Virginia Beach golfers naming it the "best of the beach" for 13 years running, at one stretch. The whole course, particularly the greens, is kept in excellent condition.

It has a nice, well-worn feel to it and the dark creeks running through it add character. The fairways and tee boxes are lush and many of the greens are framed by leafy trees. It does have some homes around the perimeter, but you never lose sight of the fact you’re in a rural swamp.

"I love it," said Steve Thurlouw, a high-handicapper from Illinois. "It's a good course for average people like me. I love the greens. It's a very well-kept course."

And there are some challenging holes, like No. 13, a mid-length par 4 that has water dipping into the left fairway and continuing to the edge of the green. You can play it safe with a fairway wood off the tee or hit driver over the fairway mound, risking getting lost in the woods.

No. 9 is a straight and narrow par 5, with a two-fingered bunker short and right of the round green, and No. 5 is an enticing dogleg left with a water.

Places to stay

There's a wide range of accommodations in Virginia Beach, from mom-and-pop motels to exclusive beach resorts. A good bet is the Cavalier Hotel, at the northern end of the "strip," the area of high rises, stores and bars that line Atlantic Avenue for about four miles. It's on the beaten path, but far away enough from it to get away from the noise and chaos.

The original hotel, built in 1927, sits on a hill overlooking the strip and ocean. The newer building is beachfront, with terrific views of the ocean to the north, where no high-rises loom.

The hotel has a "sunshine guarantee," in which guests who suffer through a "no sun day" in June, July or August get a free night in conjunction with a future trip - if it's within a year.

The Cavalier has five restaurants, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a 1,500-square-foot fitness club and the only private beach in Virginia. It also has tennis courts, including clay surface, basketball, croquet, volleyball, shuffleboard, a game room with pool tables and bike rentals.

Places to eat

There are, obviously, some very good seafood restaurants in Virginia Beach, like Waterman's, Mahi Mah's Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Salon, the Rockfish Bar and Grill and others like The Black Angus, Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant and Rockafellers.

If you want to stay at the Cavalier, it has five eateries, including Orion's, with its 11th floor spectacular, panoramic view to go with fresh seafood and hickory grilling. The Hunt Club Grill is at the hillside building and has wood-paneled walls and a fireplace, only for winter dining.

Fast fact

The top three scariest golf course names, as told by SI.com, are: Purgatory Golf Club, The Devil's Claw at Whirlwind and the Blue Monster at Doral.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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