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April 25, 2013

CULLMAN COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Kurtz continues to defy age as induction nears

Age is nothing more than a number to Bob Kurtz.

In fact, this past winter, the recently retired pastor figured there was no better time to begin a professional golf career than at the ripe young age of 71, traveling to Florida and shipping off to Bermuda in his first full-time season on the Sunbelt Senior Tour.

While waiting for the start of the tour’s quickly approaching spring series, Kurtz can be found at the High Ridge Country Club in Palm Beach, Fla. He’s not there to lounge around like the rest of the state’s senior citizens, though. Rather, Kurtz has taken up residence in the Sunshine State because he was hired by his son, Marshall, to work as a playing professional at the High Ridge Country Club.

The game of golf is anything but work to Kurtz, however. To him, the sport is just one reason he truly believes that age is just a state of mind.

“The golf ball does not know how old you are,” said Kurtz, who will turn 72 in late May. “I probably think of myself as 45 because I have lots of energy, I love competition and I love staying active. When I think of anyone else at 72, I think of them as old.”

Whether anyone actually considers Kurtz old or not, it’s likely the Guinness World Records he currently holds will last for ages. The folks at the GWR aren’t the only ones who have noticed Kurtz’s accomplishments, however. So too has the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame, which will usher in Kurtz and 10 other inductees at a ceremony on Saturday at the Civic Center.

“It’s so special for me because I didn’t grow up here. I wasn’t a high school legend. Here I am getting honored for something as a current athlete for the things I’ve done in the last couple of years,” he said. “It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to feel like I am a part of the sports scene in this community. I feel very, very honored.”

Long before Kurtz honed in on his golf game, he was an all-around athlete who also excelled at basketball, track and cross country at the prep and collegiate level.

In addition to earning All-Conference, All-District and All-Tournament honors while attending high school in Nebraska, he led his basketball squad in scoring — his career high was 56 points — steals and assists and even sank a game-winning half-court shot in the state playoffs.

The success kept coming for Kurtz when he transferred to Yankton, S.D., for his senior year. There, he was a member of the varsity basketball team and ran track and field — he qualified for state in the half-mile run — all while juggling his classwork well enough to be inducted into the National Honor Society.

After graduating in 1959, Kurtz moved on to Yankton College, where he once again ran himself through the athletic gauntlet, participating on the varsity basketball, golf, track and cross country squads. Name a track event, and he probably did it, competing in the 100-, 220- and 440-meter dashes, as well as the 120-meter high hurdles, long jump, shot put, discus and relay races.

Many kids grow apart from their parents while attending college, but Kurtz actually had the opportunity to letter in golf with his father, who had gone back to school later in his life.

At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and blessed with above-average hand-eye coordination, Kurtz was molded for every sport he took part in. He was far from the only person on earth to possess those physical attributes, but his internal drive and personal expectations are what have continued to set him apart from most.

“Everyone of them is the same thing — it’s a competition,” Kurtz said. “If you don’t have competition, where do you get your adrenaline? Anything else would be unhealthy. Some guys play golf socially. Some guys can’t play without gambling. I play strictly for the competition against yourself, the emotional high and low that in the grand scheme of life matters so little.”

Kurtz has obviously given a lot to the game of golf, and in return, the sport has done its fair share of giving back. Throughout his playing days, which are far from over, he’s won 56 tournaments, including the Madrid Open and the Adirondack Senior Open in Lake Placid, N.Y. A whopping 17 of Kurtz’s titles have come within the friendly confines of Cullman County.

And then, there are the records.

Kurtz began his run in 2008 by setting the mark for consecutive holes played at 405, extending the number to beat to 500 just one year later.

In 2011, Kurtz pulled off his biggest stunt to date, defying the odds by breaking the record for most holes played in a week with an unbelievable 1,850. The following year, he took over the top spot for most rounds a golfer’s been able to shoot his age or lower in a single day, achieving the feat seven times to crush the previous record of four.

More important to Kurtz than any of the GWR attempts could ever be has been the cause tied to each one. Every time Kurtz announced his latest zany idea, he also opened up opportunities to pledge money to his charity, Ministry to Children. Kurtz said the organization has raised more than $250,000 for the aid of abused children.

“People in the community and friends around the country have been so gracious,” he said. “It’s been humbling and extremely gratifying.”

When most people hear Kurtz’s name, they either associate him with golf or his former post as pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church. What some in the Cullman area might not be aware of, however, is the illustrious career he enjoyed as a sports broadcaster.

While in the field, Kurtz gladly covered big-time events like the Super Bowl, U.S. Open and World Series, while also meeting a plethora of world-famous athletes like Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and Stan Musial.

Over the years, he served as a football announcer for the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and the Air Force Academy, garnering Sportscaster of the Year accolades seven times. To top it off, Kurtz even hosted his own PGA Tour show called “On Tour” in 1987.

“My sports, my family and my faith have been such important parts of my life,” he said. “I do feel like it’s unreal the things that have happened in my life.”

According to Kurtz, he hasn’t been alone in his journeys. He credited his wife, Pat, of 51 years, for being the most supportive spouse he could ask for.

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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