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Retirements happen in several different ways and 2020 introduced us to a new one.

January 2020 started off exciting as we were rebuilding the second phase of greens and greenside bunkers at Barona Creek Golf Club. Last year marked the beginning of the project, with that work also starting in January. We closed nine holes each year and went to work. January 2019 began a stretch of some of the wettest months we had experienced in my 20 years, delaying completion from an estimate of late March to nearly mid-May.

Like all of us do, we met the challenge. We opened our new Pure Distinction bentgrass greens in June 2019 to rave reviews. The bunkers looked fresh and new, and played beautifully. This year was going to be a treat because the weather was in our favor. My goal was to complete the project and stay, perhaps, until late 2021 before officially retiring.

By March, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.

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California began shutting down and requiring the stay-at-home approach to combatting the virus. We were forced to furlough most of the crew while a few of us stuck around to grow in the greens. When Las Vegas closed its gaming industry, I knew we would follow shortly. With no gaming at Barona, no income would be coming in and deeper furloughs were coming.

I was furloughed in mid-April and told my assistant to expect to take over because I knew I wouldn’t be coming back. I was right and it made perfect sense from a business decision. Having been there for 21 years with a very comfortable salary and experiencing knee replacements and three back surgeries, they couldn’t afford to bring me back.

I had become a pretty costly employee. The same thing happened widely throughout the Barona property. Numerous 20-plus-year managers and directors also had to go. Although disappointed I couldn’t go out on my own schedule, I wasn’t devastated. In fact, I was actually a little relieved. I was approved to undergo what I hope would be one final back surgery and was just waiting for the call about the surgeries being rescheduled. I underwent surgery May 12 and no longer had to worry about how long recovery would take, especially knowing I would otherwise have twisted the surgeon’s arm and gone back to work too soon. Something about that total commitment to our golf course tends to make most of us put work before taking care of ourselves. I was no different.

So, what does one do when you need time to recover and there is nothing to do but stay home and avoid the virus? Honestly, not a lot the first few months. Financially, I didn’t have to worry, because I began saving for retirement early in my 50-plus-year career. Being home gave me the opportunity to go through physical therapy and focus on healing. Because this was a spinal cord surgery and not just a disk, I realized recovery would be a long, slow steady process to get back to where I want.

Now that I have a spine full of metal and several fused disks, it is simply going to take time. Easy priority! My goals are lofty, because I am not good at buying into this aging thing. Getting back on the golf course, on my mountain bike and returning to the many activities I enjoy will become a reality with a lot of hard work.

We were able to enjoy a nice road trip tied to my youngest son’s 40th birthday. We drove through California, east of the Sierras, and would have enjoyed the scenery if the state hadn’t been on fire. We spent a couple days in Boise to visit a high school classmate and golf buddy and traveled to Eastern Washington to visit a cousin I have rarely seen over the past 40 years. Manson, Washington, has nice wineries! Eventually we made it to Puyallup, Washington, and enjoyed spending time with my son, daughter-in-law and our incredible granddaughter.

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The next fun trip will be spending Christmas with both sons and all four grandkids. That will be the first time in many years. With grandkids ranging from 17 to 8, it is something I have dreamed of for a very long time. Hopefully the location selected will result in a white Christmas.

Because I really enjoyed my years in the golf industry, I honestly can’t picture being fully retired. When the virus stops impacting so much of our lives, I plan to work with a couple project managers and architects and help oversee golf course remodeling projects. I always considered construction projects more exciting than daily maintenance, so it is a perfect fit. I am also considering helping out in sales with a hand-selected product or two that would be beneficial in water management, one of the most critical areas of golf business in Southern California. I also look forward to future in-person Golf Industry Shows to visit with so many friends I have made over the years. I can’t imagine just disappearing from the industry. That just doesn’t work for me.

Retirement opens up the opportunity to work as much or as little as I choose and still participate in the industry I love. I just want to see all our lives return to normal. I am finally feeling like playing golf is back in the picture and there are plans eventually for some exciting travel both in the United States and places around the world we have always wanted to see. I see the next several years providing exciting opportunities.

The only advice I would share is to prepare for the day when you retire. If it turns out to be a little before you intended, be sure you are financially prepared. Your health is key.

Stay healthy, stay fit and keep balance in your life because you want to have many years after retirement day to catch up on your dreams.

Plan retirement as if you were planning to make a career move. It requires planning goals the same way you strategize your long-range golf course plans. The virus has complicated things for all of us, but it will go away.

A final reminder is don’t delay saving and planning. Retirement is a little like watching your kids grow up. They start kindergarten and you suddenly turn around and find them graduating from college and starting their own lives and careers.

Fifty years, especially the past 21 at Barona, seemed to have gone by so fast it feels almost shocking. Prepare today, enjoy your success daily and retire with a plan so you can enjoy many years of sleeping in a little and having a stress-free life. Plan to enjoy. I sure intend to!

Sandy C. Clark, CGCS, retired in 2020 after more than 50 years in the golf industry, including the past 21 as the superintendent at Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, California. This is his second Turfheads Take Over contribution.