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July 28, 2014

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LPGA star draws crowd to event at Aliante Golf Club

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Heather Cory

With spectators watching closely, Natalie Gulbis sends the ball flying towards the 10th hole during the Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge at the Rio Secco Golf Club on Tuesday.

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Natalie Gulbis signs autographs for adoring fans during her third consecutive appearance at the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge at the Rio Secco Golf Club on Tuesday.

The long line of people with cameras in hand and their heads on a swivel indicated it wasn't an ordinary Saturday morning at Aliante Golf Club.

But the course's guest for the day, LPGA star and Henderson resident Natalie Gulbis, isn't your average golfer.

Gulbis brought her sweet swing for a rare public appearance in her adopted hometown Dec. 13.

Gulbis spent an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with fans before making her way to Aliante's sixth hole for a closest-to-the-pin contest with more than 100 participants. Proceeds from the event benefited the Fisher House, a nonprofit organization supporting wounded military veterans.

Though her schedule is packed with events such as these throughout the year, Gulbis said meeting fans is best enjoyed in Southern Nevada. She also participated last month in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson.

"It's nice to get to spend a few minutes with people from my new hometown. I'm not home in Las Vegas that much. So when I am, it's fun to meet those that are fans of the (LPGA) tour and fans of golf."

A native of Sacramento, Gulbis relocated to Henderson seven years ago to be close to her instructor, Butch Harmon. Gulbis typically works with Harmon, a former coach of Tiger Woods, at the Butch Harmon School of Golf at the Rio Secco.

She is also a regular at Reflection Bay Golf Club and has a home on Lake Las Vegas. Gulbis said she chose the location because it was ideal to focus on golf.

"It's just so pretty out there," Gulbis said. "It's very peaceful. There are really nice golf courses and it's a good place for me location-wise. It's a very sort of beautiful, private community. You get out there and you forget you're in Las Vegas, yet you're so close to everything Las Vegas has to offer too."

Gulbis is arguably the most recognizable player in women's golf. She is a two-time member of the United States Solheim Cup team and won the 2007 Evian Masters tournament. Known as much for her looks as her golf game, Gulbis has also appeared in FHM Magazine, had her own calendar and her own reality television show on the Golf Channel.

Gulbis realizes the Las Vegas Valley may be an ideal spot for a celebrity to be seen, but she added it has been an ideal location to develop her golf game, too. She is in town all offseason and during any off weeks during the season.

"Las Vegas is a lot different than Sacramento," she said. "The weather (here) is so much better than the offseasons I used to spend in 30-35 degrees with rain. In December, we're still wearing short sleeves and shorts here for the most part, so it's nice. I wish I was home more. But I learn more about this city every time I'm home."

Based on the turnout for her appearance at Aliante, it appears Southern Nevada has received Gulbis as well as she has received it. Fans young and old were happy to meet Gulbis in person and exchange pleasantries.

"I told her my son plays golf for a university," Summerlin resident Richard Hite said. "He's more her age than I am so I told her it would be nice to get a couple things signed for him for Christmas. She's been very helpful out here. Everyone knows Natalie is from Vegas. She's been a positive for this whole community."

Steve Courtemarsh, who lives in the neighborhood around Aliante Golf Club, has been following Gulbis for some time.

"She lives here in Vegas, so why wouldn't you watch her?" Courtemarsh said. "She has a beautiful swing. She is a really good advocate for the game. I took up golf several years ago, and it's nice to have someone in your hometown to cheer for."

Courtemarsh invited his brother, Mike Courtemarsh, in town from Los Angeles, to participate in the event. The two were amongst the first to hit with her in the closest-to-the-pin contest.

"I'm a big fan of the LPGA, and Natalie is one of the up-and-coming stars," Mike Courtemarsh said. "She's always been a good looking athlete and a beautiful gal. She is even greater in person than I thought she was. I will be pulling for her this year."

Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].

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