09/16/07 — Baker having time of life at Sleepy Creek

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Baker having time of life at Sleepy Creek

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 16, 2007 2:16 AM

DUDLEY -- Gene Baker admits he's a restless person.

A former teacher, government employee and elementary school principal, Baker has always occupied every minute of his day. When he and his wife moved to the quiet Sleepy Creek community in southern Wayne County, Baker expected that restlessness to fade.

It didn't.

Once he retired, Baker renovated homes and sold them. He also took time to work on his golf game which led to another venture Baker never dreamed of undertaking -- owning a golf course.

"I'm part of a group of guys who play about three or four days a week," said Baker. "I joined up with them and when they heard the course might be up for sale, they were very encouraging about me taking it over."

His playing partners told him business had declined at the course and every hole needed major repair from tee to green. Baker didn't turn a deaf ear to his friends' plea and spoke with the golf committee.

The committee immediately terminated the previous owner and phoned Baker at 10:30 on Aug. 22. They said Baker could open the next morning at 8 o'clock sharp.

A stunned Baker quipped, "but I have no money."

The committee gave Baker an advance and said he could pay them back.

"So, here I am starting out with one employee and one part-time employee," chuckled Baker.

Baker reported for work and talked with Lee Coates, a senior at Spring Creek and grounds superintendent Gene Hitch. The trio agreed that trimming and restoring the course -- particularly the greens and fairways -- to its natural health would take time and effort.

Finding additional labor is Baker's next chore.

He's receiving assistance from Rob Woods, an instructor at Wayne Community College who teaches a turf management class. Woods has taken the class to Sleepy Creek and demonstrated how to service, adjust and get the greens ready for cutting.

"He's given me advice about fertilizing, chemical application and overseeding the green," said Baker. "He's a consultant for me and it's a good situation for him because he's got a live product for his students to observe."

Once the greens and fairways are completely repaired, Baker predicts golfers will enjoy the course. There is undergrowth cut on every hole, which will help restore the course's original beauty.

"That will be my biggest job," said Baker.

Word is spreading about Baker's attempt to fix the course. Golfers are calling to book reservations and the course is open to the public.

Residents of Sleepy Creek can play for free, but must pay a $5 cart fee. Seniors, high school and college students may play the course for $15 during the week and $18 on weekends and holidays. Golfers under 60 will be charged $18 to play during the week and $20 on weekends/holidays.

Memberships are available.

"People are coming back, so it makes it worth working and sweating over," said Baker. "We've been inviting former members of Sleepy Creek to come back and try us out. We're letting them know that we want to make a go of it."

Baker doesn't plan to hire a club pro. He said he is willing to take time to tutor a novice, however.

"I don't pass myself off as an expert golfer and sometimes I don't remember things when I'm swinging," grinned Baker. "But this is definitely a good course for beginners to come learn to play."