Splendor of Augusta National Golf Club makes impression on locals

Bob Leslie has been to the site of The Masters nearly every year since 1988 while Bruce Ballow, Keith Kinder, Brady Klotz are among those experiencing it for the first time in 2014.

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 9:59 p.m.

Looking for Bob Leslie in early April?

There's a good chance he's in Augusta, Ga.

Leslie, a Wakarusa resident, has been Augusta National Golf Club on the week of The Masters every year but two since 1988.

He has many friends among the course workers and regular patrons and especially those who sell The Masters memorabilia.

"It's just like a reunion," said Leslie, who was at Augusta this year during the practice round on Tuesday, April 8. "It's gotten to be part of my life."

Leslie, who belongs to Bent Oak Golf Club in Elkhart, picks up his souvenirs and sees as many players as he can in his allotted time.

Tickets at The Masters are hard to come by, but Leslie has developed source over the years so he is able to get his Augusta fix.

He was struck this year by how much No. 17 has changed since the club had to take down the famed Eisenhower tree that was damaged in a winter ice storm.

"It mean a lot to the allure of Augusta," said Leslie of the tree tied to former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. "It opens up the hole so much more."

While Leslie has been to the golf mecca, other area men made their first visit in 2014.

"August National is the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said Bruce Ballow, who went to the Tuesday practice round along with fellow Christiana Creek Country Club members Jack Leatherman, Todd Chesnutt and Mike Clark. "It didn't even look like real grass. Everything there is green.

"The undulation is unbelievable. It is literally straight up and downhill."

Ballow noticed how friendly all the club members were to patrons (the don't call them fans or spectators at Augusta).

"Everywhere you go, it's 'Hello, how are you? Where are you from? Is this your first Masters?"

Ballow, who attended 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago, rates his latest experience much higher.

"(The Ryder Cup) was a great experience, but this was 10 times better," said Ballow. "Every golf fan should experience it at least once."

After years of trying to score tickets, Elkhartan Keith Kinder finally will get to see the beauty and the spectacle of Augusta National during the week of The Masters.

Kinder, a former Jimtown High School athlete and current teacher and football coach at Mishawaka High School, had been in a ticket lottery for four years and a friend for 15. When that friend got a chance to buy passes to the practice round on Monday, April 7, the long drive to Georgia was on.

It rained, shortening Monday's play to just over four hours. But that didn't dampen Kinder's enthusiasm.

"I would do it again," Kinder said of the 28 hours of driving time. "It's worth it.

"It's the coolest sports thing I've ever done."

Kinder, who has attended NFL and NBA playoff games, NCAA tournament basketball contests, Notre Dame football and The Memorial (the Jack Nicklaus tournament in Dublin, Ohio), was wowed by the course and the access to players.

While the only people allowed inside the ropes were players, caddies and officials, fans could get close enough during practice to talk with players.

Nappanee's Brady Klotz, making his first visit to Augusta on Tuesday, April 8, asked Phil Mickelson if he was going to "flop" a shot. "Lefty" said there was no need and proceeded to knock it near the pin.

"It takes you by surprise," said Klotz of the rolling terrain at Augusta. "You see how precise players have to be with each shot. You see how things could go back quickly when a guy gets nervous on the back nine."

Klotz, who was able to secure a ticket through a family friend, spent a full day taking it all in.

"We got to the gates at about 7 a.m. and stayed there all day until they kicked us out (at 6:30 p.m.)," said Klotz. "It was really fun to watch."

Klotz enjoyed being able to get close to golf celebrities like Arnold Palmer, Butch Harmon and Jay Haas.

Kinder and Klotz were entertained at the par-3 No. 16 hole, where players are encouraged by the gallery to skip shots across the water and onto the green.

Klotz saw Sergio Garcia do it in one try. Those who didn't try were booed.

"A lot of guys couldn't do it," said Klotz. "Steve Stricker nailed a turtle. After that, they yelled 'turtle' at every group."

Knowing that tradition, Klotz and his friends have tried to skip balls across the water at McCormick Creek Golf Course in Nappanee.

"It's pretty fun," Klotz said.

A former golf standout at NorthWood High School and Bethel College, Klotz recently completed a five-month stint on the Florida Professional Golf Tour near Orlando. He made 30 percent of the cuts. His best tournament finish was fourth place.

"Every single tournament, I had one good round and one bad round," said Klotz, who will be working for Nike Golf, Tippecanoe Lake Country Club and assisted with the NorthWood team while preparing to play more pro events this summer.

His 2014 golf year will also carry the memory of a fun day at the mecca.

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