Golf still big part of life for Eddie Rack at 100

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It would be unimaginable now for a 6-year-old to caddie, but that's how Eddie Rack got involved in golf.

He was the son of a coal miner, so there wasn't much money to go around while he was growing up. He had to work, even at 6.

His job as a caddie started a lifelong journey in golf for Rack, who turned 100 June 12. He has beaten legendary golfer Arnold Palmer in an amateur tournament and owned two golf courses in an era when courses were failing all across the country.

From 6 to 100 -- Rack has been involved in golf longer than most people have been alive.

"He wasn't a big guy, either," said one of his granddaughters, Lynne Kuehner. "He was a little kid and the caddie master kept telling him that he was too little, but he carried the bags anyway. He didn't have a choice, he had to earn money for his family."

After finishing high school, Rack competed in amateur tournaments around the country. It was at one of those tournaments that he beat Palmer, who wound up becoming one of the best golfers in PGA history.

In the early 1950s, a local real-estate developer named Ed Sullivan asked Rack to help him design 18 holes for a new course in Elizabeth. In 1955, 7 Springs Golf Course officially opened with Rack running the course.

Later that year, Sullivan married and had plans to move to Florida. He sold the course to Rack for $240,000, starting an ownership that remains in the family 58 years later.

Instantly, the course became a family business. Rack's wife, Genevieve, picked up her husband's passion for the game as soon as they took ownership and their three children weren't far behind.

Today, the course is run by one of the daughters, Janice, and a wide collection of grandchildren and people who have married into the family. The grandchildren grew up on the course, making forts and cabins in the woods that separate the public course's fairways.

All of them left at one point or another to try their own thing -- whether that be hotels or the Navy -- but all the grandchildren eventually came back to help run the course.

Eddie doesn't have a role in day-to-day operations anymore, but his presence is still felt at 7 Springs. He talks with Janice regularly, asking her questions about the weather and weekend turnouts.

Bring up Eddie's name to some of the regulars around 7 Springs and you'll get a smile -- everyone has a story about good old Eddie Rack.

"He was always known by everybody as being the most generous person," Lynne said. "When he won, everybody won. No matter what he was doing, he'd give you the last dime out of his pocket, if he knew that would help you out, that's what he would do."

The course did so well that the family bought another one in Florida, called Colony West. Even through the housing crisis in 2008 that led to the folding of many golf courses, the Racks have stuck with it. Some summers are easier than others. Some, like this one, are tough because of heavy amounts of rain.

Still, 7 Springs and Colony West survive. The Racks are not interested in selling -- never thought about it, as a matter of fact.

"We've never once had a discussion about thinking we should sell and find something else," said another granddaughter, Tracy. "When we bought Colony West, it was because, 'Gee, maybe we should think about buying another golf course because there's more family members than there are jobs to be done in 7 Springs.' "

Since April, Eddie's home has been an assisted living facility in Florida. He lived on his own until he was 99 and was driving a car until he was 98, which is all the more amazing considering doctors gave him six months to live in 1976 after a bout with liver cancer. That was almost 40 years ago.

The last time Rack visited Pittsburgh was in 2009 for his wife's funeral. She was 93 when she died.

Back at 7 Springs, as one of the golfers finished his round, one of several great-grandchildren at the course picked up the scorecard and turned it into the front desk. The boy is 5, about the age his great-grandfather started working as a caddie.

It is highly unlikely that a 6-year old would be a caddie today, It's a different era with different rules and laws. But there's something about Eddie Rack and his family that make age seem irrelevant.

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Everett Cook: and Twitter @everettcook


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