Augusta National and
Grandfather Golf and Country Club Head Professional, Retired
By Bill Hensley
LINVILLE—Bob Kletcke can’t remember when he wasn’t involved with the game of golf.
The retired Augusta National and Grandfather Golf and Country Club head professional, spends his summers at Grandfather, was introduced to the game at an early age.
“From the time I was three, I was always with my father when he played in golf tournaments in the Chicago area,” Kletcke explained. Known in the Windy City as “the Golfing Fireman,” Eddie Kletcke won the Chicago amateur championship in 1941, the Cook County Amateur in 1946,1947 and 1948, and once qualified for the US Open.
“He was a good player and a good father,” Kletcke said of his father, a career fireman, “and he saw to it that I was exposed to the game.” The elder Kletcke died in 1994.
Taught by his father, Bob Kletcke became a noted played by the time he entered Morgan Park High School. He never lost a match in four years and attracted numerous college scouts from around the nation.
“A high school teammate and I decided to attend Western Illinois and play for a family friend who was the coach there,” Kletcke said, “but unfortunately the school decided to stop giving scholarships after we were enrolled. I came back home and decided to forego college and turn professional.”
His first job was as an assistant pro at the Park Ridge, Il., club where he worked for two years.
“I needed to improve my teaching skills so Johnny Revolta, one of the game’s best teachers at the time, got me a job at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa, where I would study under Bill Rose,” Kletcke offered. “That turned out to be a wise decision because I learned much from Rose.”
In 1963, the club hosted the America’s Cup matches between the US, Canada and Mexico. “That’s where I first met Billy Joe Patton and Charlie Coe, who were playing in the event,” Kletcke said, “and we became fast friends. Both of them mentioned that there was an assistant’s job open at Augusta National and that I should apply. They offered to write letters in my behalf.”
Within a few weeks Augusta pro Gene Stout, who served as the professional at Linville Golf Club during summers, hired the enthusiastic Chicago native. Three years later Kletcke became the head pro at the famed Georgia course, and in 1967 he also took over at a new course in the North Carolina mountains called Grandfather Golf and Country Club. He was at Augusta during the winter and at Grandfather in the summer.
“That was a dream situation for me,” Kletcke remarked, “and was the focal point of my career. Words can’t describe the thrill of serving two of the nation’s finest clubs. I couldn’t wait to come to work each day.”
Kletcke was at Augusta from 1963 to 2004, when he retired, and at Grandfather from 1968 to 1981 when he had to resign because the job became a year-round commitment.
At Augusta he was exposed to numerous great players from Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus, corporate CEOs, and celebrities. He became a favorite teacher of president Dwight Eisehower…a frequent visitor and avid golfer.
“Teaching General Ike was a priceless experience,” Kletcke stated. “I looked forward to our sessions which were quite intense. He had a recurring slice that hampered his game, and he worked hard to get better. He was always appreciative of any help.”
“On one occasion,” Kletcke continued, “he stopped by the golf shop in the pouring rain to thank me for a lesson. I was honored.”
Other prominent students included Vice Presidents Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, and Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz.
Kletcke had kind words for Cliff Roberts, the legendary Augusta member who ran the club with an iron hand. “He was tough and demanding—a perfectionist—but he was fair. He was always nice to me and that’s something I can’t forget.”
Unfortuntely, Kletcke didn’t see much of the great Bobby Jones, one of golf’s all-time greats. “His health was declining when I first got there, so he didn’t come to the club very often. But when I did talk with him he was awe-inspiring. He was a true Southern gentleman.”
In his 41 years at Augusta, Kletcke—who served under five club presidents--twice shot 63s from the member tees for his all-time low at the renowned course. His best score at the tough Grandfather course was 62.
He tried the PGA tour briefly in the summer of 1967. “I enjoyed traveling all over the country, meeting all the good players and gaining valuable experience,” Kletcke commented, “but I didn’t do too well. But I made a few cuts and that was good for my ego.”
Kletcke built a house at Grandfather and joined the club as a regular member in 1970 and stays in the mountains from May until October when he returns to his home in Augusta. He can be found most days on the Grandfather practice tee hitting balls and working on his game. An arthritic back limits his playing, “but I play when I feel up to it, and I still enjoy the competition.” His average score these days is in the 75-80 ranges, “but I had a 69 recently at Jefferson Landing.”
His age? “I’m at even par. Seventy-two.”
When he isn’t playing or practicing, Kletcke enjoys reading—especially golf magazines—and tinkering with a restored 1934 Ford two-door sedan which he exhibits at several car shows in the area.
Now divorced, he is the father of two children and has one grandchild. He is engaged to Susan Seigler of Augusta but no date has been set for the wedding.
The man who taught a president and played with the game’s best players on two great courses is now the picture of contentment on the porch of his Grandfather home, his illustrious and colorful career behind him.
“I love these beautiful mountains,” he sighed.
And so he does……….