2005: Masters - Golden Bell with a homespun touch

Stuart, Fla.

Jerry Tucker is a certifiable golf nut.

It’s not unusual for enterprising folks with a little extra acreage to carve rudimentary golf holes on their property. But few people look through their sliding-glass doors and envision the 12th hole at Augusta National just beyond their pool.

Tucker did.

After a routine 68 on the Treasure Coast Senior Tour – a 14-event mini-tour Tucker co-founded with neighbor Roger Kennedy – the fast-talking Midwesterner ambled out to give a grand tour of his property. Appropriately dressed in a pale yellow, Masters-logoed shirt, Tucker opened a blue folder jammed with clippings and photos of the famed Golden Bell.

“I got a couple of more pictures and said ‘OK, they’ve got a dogwood behind the left center of the green,’ ” says Tucker of his latest adjustments. “Dogwoods don’t grow in South Florida so I got a white hibiscus. We simulate things.”

A self-described left-brained, obsessive-compulsive “Mastersphile,” Tucker is meticulous about every detail of his 155-yard masterpiece. He paces the green every two weeks to make sure it’s still 9 yards through the middle, careful not to let a single blade of TifEagle encroach his measurements.

So when Mother Nature unleashed her fury across Florida last fall, a helpless Tucker watched in anguish as his perfectly scaled front bunker washed away under the hand of Hurricane Frances. The damage proved too much for Tucker and his brother-in-law David Scott to handle. After much deliberation Tucker decided to replace the bunker with a wooden seawall, making the approach shot all the more intimidating, if not authentic.

“I don’t have their (Augusta’s) budget,” said Tucker, who notes the hole, which opened Memorial Day 2001, now has a TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course edge.

Of course, the seawall isn’t the only Tucker variation. His wife, Susan, an amateur horticulturist, put her foot down when Tucker wanted to uproot the coy pond that sits right of the green to build the 13th tee box. It’s also obvious that Tucker had little to say about the orange tree that sits a few paces left of the green. Oh, and the 5-acre body of water that guards his No. 12 could swallow Rae’s Creek.

What the hole lacks in authenticity, however, Tucker makes up for with enthusiasm. The community’s local rule is that friends and neighbors can hit only three shots per day to keep the experience unique and the tee box alive.

Tucker, 55, was head pro at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis for 11 years before heading south in 1997. His duties at the club, which included playing host to the 1992 PGA Championship, had consumed his life and Tucker needed a change of pace. The couple purchased 8 acres of land in Stuart, Fla., and at 48, Tucker took up yoga, beat range balls and learned to play the guitar.

A PGA Life Member, Tucker will play in his fifth consecutive Senior PGA Championship this summer. In 1989, Tucker developed a highly regarded 100-shot, short-game test that he continues to administer when instructing his South Florida students.

His original vision for the property involved a community of 12 club professionals, allowing Tucker to surround himself with those who shared his passion. Eagle’s Landing, or “Tuckerville” as it’s commonly called, ended up being a hodgepodge of golfers. Five golf pros own lots on Tucker’s road, along with some family members, his former superintendent at Bellerive and Hall of Fame bowler Nelson Burton Jr.

When Kennedy, a former Senior PGA Tour player who bought into the Tucker compound two years ago, first heard of the Augusta project, he was neither surprised nor concerned. The tee box, after all, would have to rest in Kennedy’s back yard in order to stretch the Golden Bell to the appropriate yardage.

It’s not hard to see what made Tucker a successful club professional – his attention to detail, matched only by his hospitable charm. Aside from, “It looks a lot farther than 155 yards,” the most frequent question Tucker fields from first-time visitors is, “Why aren’t there more azaleas?” A two-time patron of the Masters and a careful study, Tucker knew azaleas weren’t as prominent on No. 12. In fact, the hole’s namesake, Golden Bell, is planted behind the Georgia green but doesn’t bloom in April.

Tucker figures it cost somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 to construct his replica. In addition to the 12th, Tucker built a 5,000-square-foot putting green near the Eagle’s Landing entrance. Practice bunkers and another chipping green connect to the “Road Hole,” a tee box that follows the main drag and extends 200 yards. Across the street, an ingenious chipping course called The Eaglet features three greens that, when criss-crossed from various distances, equate to an 18-hole design. The mixture of lob shots and sand saves over a gushing stream makes for lively entertainment in Tuckerville.

“It’s a real unique place,” said Kennedy. “We really have a lot of fun here.”

Tucker and Scott use four push mowers to keep everything trim and tidy. The 12th green averages 9 on the Stimpmeter, but Tucker was looking to push it to 11 or 12 during Masters week.

The Eagle’s Landing Championship, held in January to accommodate winter residents, features Augusta’s Friday-Sunday pin placements. Tucker lays artificial turf on a dock to serve as a drop area and residents fire three shots apiece at each yellow flagstick.

Over the past 68 years, the 12th hole has ranked second in difficulty at Augusta. Tucker’s not the least bit surprised. Last January, Kennedy dashed his chances of winning the community championship when he tallied a 12. From a back bunker, the generally conservative player hit four consecutive shots that landed near the hole and trickled into the water.

“Matter of fact, we’re going to sand it down so if you land on the fringe and it has backspin, you’re going to be in the water,” said Tucker of No. 12’s bite. “You’ve got to scalp it down to get it right.”

When the 69th Masters concludes April 10, an energized Tucker no doubt will have come away with a handful of ways to tweak his imitation.

Jerry Tucker may have grown up in southern Illinois on crab grass and dirt, but he’ll live out his days surrounded by the majesty and mystique of Augusta National. At least in his eyes.

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