“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” – Arnold Palmer
Recently, I had the pleasure of playing golf with two remarkable men who just happen to be two remarkable athletes – Rex Carder and Pete Kaites. You see, both men are 93 years young, with Pete being the oldest by a few months. Combined, they have been playing golf, continually, for 129 years. They have been blessed with wonderful health and have found a passion that keeps them young.
When I interviewed them for this story, I discovered they were so different. However, there was one common denominator – they both loved golf. And, as I found out, golf was more than a game for Rex and Pete.
In the early years, both were members of the same golf club, Sonny Croft Country Club, located just south of Clarksburg, WV. Pete joined in 1952 and Rex in 1955. Rex is still a member of Sonny Croft.
I personally found their backgrounds very fascinating. Rex Carder was born on May 3, 1923 in Salem, WV. He graduated from Salem High School and Salem College. His father was Chief of Police in Salem. In 1941 Rex joined the Navy, entering the Submarine service and was stationed aboard the USS Thornback. For three years, Rex was a sound operator on the Thornback, seeing action around Saipan, Guam, and the Mariana Islands.
I have seen up close how small these WWII submarines are compared to today’s large nuclear subs. I asked Rex, “Was it difficult being underwater for so long in these small subs?” Rex, looked at me, “Mike, remember, this was all we had. Nothing to compare them with. Still, they were diesel power so we could only stay down for 18 hours. After that, we had to surface to recharge the batteries. You knew the 18 hours was about up when the air became ‘heavy’ and hard to breath. When you struck a match and it went out, it was time to surface.” Rex did not say much about his missions, but I researched the Thornback. She saw plenty of action against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
In 1945, Rex left the Navy and found a career with Colgate-Palmolive, representing the company in 18 counties in West Virginia, two in Maryland, and two in Pennsylvania. After 34 years of service he retired in 1983.
Pete Kaites, also a local boy, was born in Clarksburg, WV on December 21, 1922. Pete graduated from Washington Irving High School in Clarksburg and received a degree in Business and Economics from West Virginia University.
Pete told me he first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor as he and some friends were leaving the Ritz Theatre in Clarksburg. Shortly after, he joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a bombardier and nose gunner in a B-24 bomber. He and his crew survived one crash and were on their way to New Guinea when they were recalled. The United States had just dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After the war, Pete took a job with Philip Morris, but it only lasted one year. In 1948, he bought Clarksburg Candy Company, located in the Glen Elk section of Clarksburg. However, in Pete’s words, “Not much money in the candy business. I bought the candy bars for 80 cents and sold them for 90 cents. But, I was single. It was a living, and I stayed with it for 12 years.” After selling his candy business, Pete worked two years for Maunz Individual Shop for Men in Clarksburg before opening his own men’s store – Kaites Ltd. He owned and operated Kaites Ltd. until 1995, yet he continued to work for the new owner until 2000, when he retired.
Both men served their country honorably during World War II. One underwater, the other in the sky. Both had successful business careers. And even during those early chaotic business years, both found the time and developed a love for golf. Rex has spent his whole career as a member of Sunny Croft Country Club. Pete, on the other hand, began at Sunny Croft, later became a member at Bridgeport Country Club, and in 1993 became a member of Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, WV.
I have known both men for several years and I have always thought how great it would be to get these two men together, play some golf, and just listen to their stories. And finally, after much manipulation, the plan came together. To make it even more enjoyable, I invited my good friend Sonny Donaldson to join us. For me, this was an historic 18 holes – playing golf with two men who had so much in common, yet were so different. And remember, both men are 93 years young and still have a solid golf game.
Before we teed off, I asked them, “When you were on top of your game, what was your best handicap and what was your lowest round you can remember?” Remarkably, both answers were similar. For Rex, “My lowest handicap was a 15 and I remember shooting a 73 at Sunny Croft. I think it was around 1961.” For Pete, “I was never very good. My best was a 17 (handicap) and I once shot a 73.”
After the third hole, their similarities were obvious. Neither hit the ball very far, but they always kept it in the fairway. Sonny and I, well, let’s just say we were not always straight or in the fairway. With today’s golfers, there is much talk about injuries. Surprisingly, neither of them can remember any injuries – minor or major.
To most golfers, our Holy Grail is a hole-in-one. Something we all dream about, but few achieve. Some of the best golfers I have played with and against (Club Champions, State Champions, etc.) have never recorded a hole-in-one. Rex and Pete have three. Rex has two, one at Sunny Croft and one at Cherry Hill Country Club in Richwood, WV. Pete ‘holed’ his in 1985 at Bridgeport Country Club. On a side note, believe it or not, I ‘holed one’ in 2011 at Clarksburg Country Club. It was witnessed by the Reverend Del Parris (thankfully). I asked Sonny if he was so lucky or skilled, “Never got one. Not even close!”
Pete and Rex are not only very good golfers (for 93), they also have other interests. Rex is a master flower gardener and raises a wonderful vegetable garden. I asked, “Does Liz (his wife) direct you with the flowers?” He quickly placed his right forefinger in the middle of his chest and said, “I’m the gardener – flowers and vegetables!” On nice Spring days, Rex and Liz can be seen attending several tee-boxes at Sunny Croft – weeding and planting flowers. Personally, I still think Liz ‘directs.’
Pete is and has always been a major sports fan. “I love all sports – football, basketball, golf – all sports, although I was too small to play team sports,” said Kaites. “I wanted to play high school football at Washington Irving, but the coach (Clay B. Hite) looked at me and said, ‘You’re too short! You can be our manager.’ So, a manager I became.”
As we continued our round, I asked, “What does golf mean to you?” For Rex, golf is a fun way to exercise. “It gives me something to do. I hope to continue playing as long as my knees hold out or until I expire,” said Carder. For Pete, “I want to play as long as I can. I’m having little trouble with my balance so I have to be careful.” Pete continued, “Golf is one of the reasons I wanted to own my own business. As the owner, I could take Saturdays off and play golf. Work interfered with my Saturday game. Plus, golf is a great social activity. Especially at Pete Dye, I meet people from all over the country.”
As we came to the twelfth tee, Sonny and I just shook our heads in amazement. Amazed at not only their accuracy, but their competitive spirit. Something age does not erase, at least not from Rex and Pete. Yes, there were some ‘mild’ expletives uttered. A few times, each pounded a clubhead into the ground. And, more than once, they walked off the green talking to themselves. But, that is golf. Just when you think you have it figured out, it humbles you, even at 93.
As we came to the last hole, Sonny and I thanked Pete and Rex for giving us this rare opportunity. An opportunity to play with two remarkable athletes. Two men – one passion. For these two, golf is more than a game.
Something Pete said as we were walking toward the eighteenth green left a lasting impression. “Mike, what a great sport this is,” said Kaites. “Think about it. What other sport could I have played for 68 years?”
Later that evening, I was reading an article about golfing legend Arnold Palmer. In 2015, a year before Palmer passed away, he was walking his yellow Labrador retriever, Mulligan, he said to a friend, “I’ll be old one of these days.” And, I thought of Rex and Pete.
To these men, who I am proud to call my friends, I say, “I salute you! When I grow up I want to be like you. May you always hit ’em straight, be able to bend over and pick ’em up, and continue to savor forever the beauty of the game.”
Rex Carder & Pete Kaites – Young at 93.
Until our next round, God has been good to both of you.
Author’s Note: And now, please go to my website http://michaelslambiotte.com, click on the picture to the right and enjoy a musical slide show dedicated to Rex and Pete, with background music provided by Glenn Miller, “In the Mood.”