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Playing 18 at 93: Meet Our Pete Dye Record-Setter

June 29, 2022
Al Kern
At nearly every golf course he plays, Al Kern announces himself at the pro shop with a proclamation.

“I don’t know what the record is at this course, but it’s gonna fall,” he tells everyone.

“And, you know, then I shoot 110,” Al says with a laugh.

The sense of humor, an unwavering optimism — they’re why Al is still in the swing of things.

When Al completed 18 holes on our vaunted Pete Dye Course a few weeks back, he didn’t break the stroke record — but he did establish a standard that’ll be tough to beat. At 93 years young, he became the oldest golfer to play a round at Pete Dye. Oh, and this was one day after Al played Jasper’s Sultan’s Run Golf Club as part of an Indiana road trip he’s been eyeing for a while.

Al Kern Putting

This was the first golfing trip of 2022 for Al and daughter Jill, who's always alongside driving the cart.

 Al, from Toledo, Ohio, makes these golf journeys (usually about five to seven per year) with daughter Jill as his co-pilot. The tradition sprouted more than 25 years ago after Al lost his wife. It’s quality time spent together, and a beautiful arrangement for both. Jill’s always been a traveler and loves luxury hotels and resorts. Al used to be a scratch golfer who might have pursued golf professionally, focusing instead on raising a family.

Golf has been part of his life since age 17, when he tried the sport for the first time while he was in the service in Japan.

“The Army had taken over the golf course, and it cost 15 cents for the golf and a soup and sandwich after 9 holes,” Al recalls. Just as memorable that day: the very first drive he ever struck.

“Hit it long and straight. I was hooked.”

Al Kern Driving on tee box

He’s played the likes of Pebble Beach (which rates as his favorite course), and accumulated a collection of 25 pro golf bags (including one signed by Jack Nicklaus). Then there was his 70th birthday and the private lesson from Sam Snead at the Greenbrier Resort.

Didn’t come cheap, as you’d expect. But as Al figured, what’s $500 for a lesson if you double down for a once-in-a-lifetime moment?

“While I was taking the lesson, I said ‘I’ll give you another $500 if you play a couple holes with me.’ Then I can tell my golfing buddies I played with Sam.’ Sam said, ‘I’ve never done that before, but I’ll go ask the starter.’ And he came back and he said, ‘All right, we can play No. 1 and No. 18. So I can honestly say when I played against Snead, when we got to 18, we were dead even. Because we both parred No. 1,” jokes Al, whose bragging rights expired when he bogeyed No. 18 to Snead’s par.

It didn’t end there — they ended up having lunch together that day, with Al getting to hear Sam Snead tell stories for a couple hours that day. Fortune tends to shine on Al like that.

Al Kern at Pete Dye mansion

He developed a tremor in his hand about 25 years ago, but when he turns his hand a certain way — like the way he grips a golf club — it’s steady as a rock. He eats sugar like crazy, salts his food like mad, and smoked most of his life before giving it up …. and here he is at 93, still road tripping like a college kid.

On this evening prior to the round at Pete Dye, Al and his daughter are sitting beneath the West Baden Springs Hotel dome, admiring the beauty and the history overhead. “This atrium … unbelievable,” Al marvels with a look skyward. Then he gets to thinking about his upcoming round at Pete Dye the next day. As always, it’s all about new experiences and not some number on a scorecard.

“If I hit a bad shot, oh well. I’m out here swinging. A lot of people in a hospital bed would be glad to change places, swing and miss a ball or not hit it very well. My attitude is, if I’m healthy enough to climb in and out of the cart, it’s a bonus for me.”

Cheers to that perspective — and many more road trips for our Pete Dye record-setter.

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