Duane Diede still remembers the first time he stared down the No. 1 fairway at Everett Golf & Country Club.
It was 1972 and Diede was playing in the Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament for the first time. The 19-year-old Cascade High School graduate was attending Edmonds Community College, and most of his golfing had been played at Everett Municipal Golf Course, which is now Legion Memorial.
“I stepped onto the first tee and was like, ‘My word, look at all those trees!’” Diede recalled, noting that Everett Municipal was not known for its foliage. “I shot a smooth 90.”
It may not have been Diede’s best round at the County Am, but it was the start of a remarkable run unlike anything seen in the tournament’s 92-year history.
When Diede tees off at Walter Hall Golf Course on Saturday morning for the first round of the 91st Snohomish County Amateur, it will be his 50th straight appearance in the County Am.
“It’s kind of like a milestone,” Diede said. “Every Memorial Day weekend my wife knows where I’m at.”
The 69-year-old Diede, who still resides in Everett, has been a fixture in the top flight of the County Am for five decades — the only year he didn’t play was 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though he’s never won the tournament, he’s played in the final group on multiple occasions, he’s finished in the top three, and he won the senior championship in 2018. Diede has several golfing accomplishments outside the County Am as well, having played in the U.S. Senior Open in 2004 and 2006.
But Diede’s longevity at the County Am is unique, something none of the winners of the previous 90 editions of the tournament have come close to achieving.
“Fifty years in a row of playing in a single tournament is remarkable, it really is,” County Am tournament director Jason Himple said. “It really shows great dedication.”
And during that time Diede’s dedication to the tournament has never wavered: “There’s never anything that’s made me pause. If my daughter had gotten married that weekend I would have had to miss the tournament, but she got married in October.”
Diede’s younger brother Dennis has his own history at the County Am, having won it in 1991. But he’s never come close to matching Diede’s streak.
“That’s the part about Duane, he’s just been so diligent and committed,” his brother said. “He just loves the game. It’s pretty cool that he’s stayed at it and hasn’t missed any. And he still has a legitimate chance that he could catch fire, he still strikes the ball and plays at a pretty good level.
“There are a lot of us that would be fine with a hit-and-giggle round, but he still plays and practices hard in order to play tournament golf. More power to him.”
Over 50 years Diede has experienced the changes to the County Am, from the tournament switching from two weekends to one, to the tournament’s diminishment and resurgence based on Everett Golf & County Club’s inclusion in the rotation. Some of his thoughts and memories over the years:
— “Years ago, maybe 20 or so, if you shot even par you were right there. Now guys are taking it under par, they can golf their ball. These kids are so darn good these days,”
— “I remember when Walter Hall first opened and the trees were 6 feet tall because they’d just been planted. Now you have to hit the ball through those trees.”
— “I remember one year where I think the second day was at Mill Creek (Country Club). I shot even par thinking I would be right there. Well, that was the year Don Montague shot 63 there. I thought, ‘This is my year,’ and I wasn’t even close.”
What keeps him coming back year after year?
“It’s the localness of it,” Diede said. “You play the local courses, you get a little ink and read about the other guys, and it’s playing against people you see all the time.
“I wouldn’t say I feel any ownership of the tournament,” Diede added. “It’s just that nobody else has played that tournament as many times as I have. I’m kind of proud of that, not ever missing one.”
So what are Diede’s goals for his 50th — but certainly not his last — County Am?
“My goal is to play well and try to tee off late that last day,” Diede said. “Realistically I have no expectation other than that, just to play well.
“It’s just such a good tournament, and I’m going to keep trying as long as I can keep swinging.”
Strong field on tap
This year’s tournament has a full field of 120 players, and it’s as strong as it’s been in recent memory with six former champions and 30 players sporting plus handicaps.
Among the favorites is defending champion Jacob Rohde, who’s finished either first or second every year since 2016, and 2019 champion Alvin Kwak, who tied for second last year. Daniel Kim enters the tournament with the low handicap at plus-5.5.
The first round takes place Saturday at Walter Hall, the second round is Sunday at Legion Memorial, and the final round is Monday at Everett Golf & Country Club. The leaders tee off Sunday at 12:30 p.m.