Changing of the guard at BHCC

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Dave Clarke is relatively new to the golf scene at the Belmont Hills Country Club.

After Sunday’s performance in the annual Club Championship, his name won’t soon be forgotten.

Clarke, who has won the last four club championships at Williams Country Club in Weirton and the 2011 title at Steubenville CC, put together three solid rounds, including a 1-over 73 in the final round to overtake day-one leader and four-time defending champion James Carson by five shots for the title.

“James is a great player and he’s not practicing as much as he used to because, believe me, if he was practicing and playing as often as he used to, he’d be even tougher to beat,” Clarke said moments after signing his scorecard. “It was a tough tournament and I feel really fortunate to win.”

Clarke finished with a 54-hole total of 219, earning himself the captaincy on the BHCC squad when it takes on Wheeling Country Club’s team next month.

The final group, which also included Dave Stack, went to the back 9 with Carson, who shot an opening-round 69 to grab the lead, maintaining the same 2-shot lead he held after the second round Sunday morning.

However, Carson ran into trouble, hitting his ball into the woods and eventually made a double-bogey seven, while Clarke rolled in a birdie for a three-shot swing and his first lead of the tournament.

It proved to be a lead Clarke wouldn’t relinquish.

“I just kept it going from there, made a couple more birdies and brought it home,” Clarke said.

Clarke extended the lead to two shots when Carson doubled the other par 5 on the backside after hitting another wayward tee shot.

“I hit the ball really well (Saturday),” Carson said. “I actually felt like I should have shot a 65 or 66 in the first round. We came out (Sunday) and the course was set up extremely hard, and I just ran out of gas. I win and lose with the driver and it kind of left me in a couple of bad spots on the back 9 and I just lost it from there and Dave played well.”

The players reached the 149-yard par three 14th with Clarke maintaining a shot lead. He watched Carson drop his tee shot within nine feet and did him one better, taking the ball just over the flag to five feet. He rolled in from birdie, while Carson settled for par.

“When I made that birdie on 14, I started to think I was going to win,” Clarke said. “I was only up one shot at that time and to get another birdie was big.”

Any thoughts of a Carson rally were erased on the down-hill par 4 16th when Clarke drove the green and two-putted for his second birdie of the back side. Carson’s struggles continued and he settled for a birdie.

“The greens were really fast, so the big key was just avoiding any (really) big numbers,” Clarke said.

Carson converted his only birdie of the back side on the 17th, but he still stared up at a three-shot deficit heading to the 18th.

“I was pretty happy and knew I just had to hit a good tee shot and not get into trouble, and I should be okay,” Clarke said. “I just figured don’t do anything stupid.”

Rico Simonetti — the former River High athletic standout — finished third in the field with a score of 229. Dave Reasbeck, who was the last player not named Carson to win the championship before Clarke, finished fourth with a 230. Larry Blake was fifth with a 233 and Stack was sixth with a 234.

In the flights, which were only two-round tournaments, Marlin Harper won the First Flight with a score of 159. Dan Balgo won the Second Flight with a score of 174 and Bill Sokolowski won the Third Flight with a 183.