Golfer's life packed with flying, family

Academy golfing legend Vic Kregel fondly recalls the Air Force Memorial Bob Hope trophy he captured during a charity golf tournament. The Eisenhower Men's Golf Association named the championship after Mr. Kregel, who began golfing at age 10 in Pennsylvania. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Academy golfing legend Vic Kregel fondly recalls the Air Force Memorial Bob Hope trophy he captured during a charity golf tournament. The Eisenhower Men's Golf Association named the championship after Mr. Kregel, who began golfing at age 10 in Pennsylvania. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, his father Carl Gould, and 103 members of the Eisenhower Men's Golf Association were among those who teed off for the Vic Kregel Championship on the Eisenhower Golf Course here Aug. 20. 

A luncheon followed the 18-hole match in the club house. Named as winner of the championship was John Sova. 

The guest of honor, who himself won three straight of those championships, couldn't attend due to an unexpected health concern. But by no means was he overlooked as golfers and friends of Victor Kregel paid tribute to the golfer who, from childhood into his 80s, made the game his own and literally got the ball rolling in initiating the championship rounds at the Eisenhower Course. 

"We wanted to honor him, and we renamed the championship after him," said Joe Schaefer, the group's historian. "This is a first-class honor for Vic." 

The renaming occurred five years ago, after Mr. Kregel "hung up" his clubs for good. 

"He was a warrior and an athlete," said Bob Hayes, incoming EMGA president. 

Mr. Kregel, now 87, began golfing at age 10 as a caddy in western Pennsylvania. The retired lieutenant colonel entered the Air Force in 1942 and began flying air-sea rescue planes. 

After the war, he opted out of a professional golf career in favor of the Air Force. His luggage always included golf clubs as well as his flight bag as he entered, and usually won, dozens of tournaments. 

After the Air Force, Mr. Kregel joined the aerospace company Temgo Vought in Dallas, a job for which he was interviewed on, where else, the golf course. He stayed there for 20 years. 

All told, during the 76 years following his caddying as a youth, he has won more than 40 golf championships in Germany, England and numerous U.S. locations. He has won the Colorado Golf Association's Match Play Championship twice and its stroke play championship eight times. 

Mr. Kregel also coached the University of Maryland's freshman team at his alma mater and varsity teams at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Academy. Three of his former students at UCCS are now on professional golfing tours. 

Remarkably, the courses he frequented from 1992 to 2005 matched or were less than his age. 

Mr. Schaefer recalled that at 69 Mr. Kregel shot his age at the EMGA tournament and did so for the next 13 years. On one outing on the Academy links, he also remembered when Mr. Kregel was nearly 80. 

"It's been a great life, and I don't care if I die on the first fairway," the senior golfer joked. 

Along the way of his Air Force and golfing life, he met and married his wife, Marie. The pair has two sons, both Air Force members, and a daughter who lives in Fort Collins. The couple now resides in assisted-living accommodations. 

Although unable to tee off for this year's EMGA championship, in his home Mr. Kregel generously shared his thoughts, memories and highlights of golf, the Air Force and his family, to whom he is devoted. 

He recalled winning the European Amateur Championship in 1959. It is one trophy he still displays and just one of the dozens and dozens he has won over the years. A great many of his trophies he donated to youth golfing activities and to the Eisenhower Golf Course. 

A scrapbook contains photos of his most memorable golfing triumphs, including play at Pebble Beach, Calif., for the Bing Crosby Clambake, the Bob Hope Charity Golf Course, the Nottingham Challenge in England and, of course, the Academy. He also pointed out photos of another love -- after family, Air Force and golf -- fishing, which he still enjoys with others at the assisted living center. 

Despite a life packed with flying, golf and family, Mr. Kregel found time to give back to others. He served as national president of the Air Force Association, headed up charity events for the needy and gave generously of his time to civic groups, in addition to his volunteer time at the Eisenhower Golf Course. 

"Golf has been very good to me," he said, adding that when he went to sign his discharge papers from the Air Force, a sergeant cautioned him to "never let go." 

Mr. Kregel took that advice. 

"I always look for ways to help out," he said. He even now gives advice to golfers on the small putting green outside his home. "The ball has absolutely no brains," he said. "It goes where you hit it." 

At the end of the visit, he reminisced about life and golf on the Academy. 

"I never fell out of love with it," he said.