Groundsman keeps course above par


Dennis Leischner Jr. spent eight years in the Army before he found his calling: tending grass.

And what a patch of turf is the Bulle Rock golf course in Havre de Grace, where the LPGA Championship begins this week, and where Leischner, 40, holds more seniority than any of the resort's 100 employees. He helped build the course in the late 1990s and keeps vigilant watch over its 235 pristine acres.

Days ago Leischner put up scoreboards, pushed a mower near the 18th hole, plucked a stray dandelion near the 6th.

No imperfection is too small to merit notice this week. LPGA tournament play starts Thursday. Outfitting the course with bleachers and scoreboards is only part of the preparation, as Havre de Grace readies for the crush of tens of thousands of golf fans, many of whom will not find hotel accommodations closer than Baltimore.

A sun-creased man who wears a mechanic's uniform and a dirt-stained baseball cap, Leischner - who goes by Denny - officially is the course's irrigation specialist, although the scope of his job has grown well beyond watering the grounds. By Thursday, Leischner will have checked out every green, bunker and sprinkler.

"It's what the golfers don't notice that makes it special," Leischner said as he plucked a weed. His job is to make sure golfers don't notice any blemishes.

He rides around the course in a noisy red cart. In the back of the cart, he keeps the tools of his trade: shovels, hoes, buckets, a "tracer" that detects underground pipes. As he winds through the fairways, he periodically turns off the engine and coasts to avoid distracting a golfer in mid-swing.

"The hardest part of the job is just being courteous to the golfers," he said. "We take care of it. They mess it up. They pay to do that. We don't really mind it because that's what we get paid to do."

Opened in 1998, Bulle Rock was rated the top public course in Maryland this year by Golf Digest magazine. Leischner is particularly proud that the course is considered one of the best-maintained in the country.

Course managers say the key to a top-rated course is finding detail-oriented employees like Leischner.

"You can't replace someone like him - someone out there who knows every pipe, every control valve," said Bill Lewis, Bulle Rock's superintendent of golf. The course, designed by Pete Dye, is known for the tall hardwoods, ponds and rock formations that give it a natural look. From the clubhouse, visitors can see a sliver of the Chesapeake Bay.

Perhaps no man has spent more hours on the course than Leischner, although it's not hard to count the number of times he's picked up a golf club.

"I never played golf," said Leischner, who lives in East Prospect, Pa., near York. "I get forced to play golf at least once a year. [Lewis] just likes me to get out and reap the benefit of what I do every year."

Leischner, who attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army from 1982 to 1990, had two grandfathers who served in World War II. He said that his maternal grandfather, who fought in Italy with the Army, used to say that every American should spend at least one year serving his country. Leischner says he has repeated that message to his children - he has eight, with a ninth on the way.

Last year, his 21-year-old son, Dennis, told him he was enlisting in the Army. A private, the younger Leischner is assigned as a mortarman with the headquarters troop of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Squadron, stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash.

"We're praying that he doesn't have to go" to Iraq, said Leischner, a religious man who takes his family to church three times a week. "I know that wherever God takes him, He's going to be with him."

In the meantime, Leischner puts in 12-hour days at Bulle Rock. He said he's thankful for his job. After the course was completed in 1998, the original owner offered him a permanent job on the course.

"I just looked at it and said, 'There's nothing more beautiful than what we created.' So we just stayed here."

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