Perfect by Design
Originally from Indiana, Gary Kern is a throwback to the days of his idols in architecture, Tillinghast, Mackenzie and Ross. Operating as a one-man operation out of his home, he is comfortable with his sales pitch. “I never beat the bushes for business. I always let the business just come in,” he says. It has been coming in since he stumbled into the design business back in Indiana in the late 60’s. By the early 1980’s, Kern moved his business to St. Louis. His first major commission was to turn a quirky nine hole public layout into a 18-hole private club. It was through this first St. Louis project that the golf community discovered Kern’s philosophy of ‘tough from the tips but friendly from the front.’ “I like to do golf coursed that pose a back tee problem for good players,” he explains. “I think they need that in order to be perceived by the public as a top golf course. They also need that to be a potential venue for a top tournament.” “At the same time, I try to design the regular tees and forward tees at such a location and relationship to the hazards and the angles of the shots so that these folks can make it around without an undo amount of difficulty. These people are the ones the game is dependent upon rather than the pros and the scratch players.” “To me the important thing is that golf should be fun. I want players to walk off my golf course and say, ‘I can’t wait to get back here to play again.’ That means it was enjoyable. Golf should always be a challenge but it should be an achievable challenge for the player and something that he is able to do. If you can do that mix it in with some good challenge and some aesthetic beauty, that’s what it’s all about.
Above all else, though, it is nature that remains at the heart of a Kern design. Enormous sums of money can be expended moving even larger quantities of soil to give new courses a “natural look.” Kern believes his talent may be the ability to achieve that same result with a different approach. “My strength is my imagination and ability o route a golf course integrating it into the land. I like for my courses to have a very beautiful look to them but be very playable. We’re all different. I just try to go to that natural look with a lot of aesthetic value.”