Sandy Clark Barona

The Journey of Sandy Clark

It was pretty automatic getting into the business.  My dad, Hector Clark, our first chapter president, put me to work at La Jolla Country Club as a high school kid during summer months and weekends on a part time basis.  Though I spent some of that time wishing I was down the street surfing at Windansea, I must have enjoyed it because after a six- month stint of active duty in the Coast Guard Reserve from July of 1964 to January of 1965, I enrolled in the Ornamental Horticulture Program at Mesa College.

 I spent 3 years mixing full time work, part time work, and education before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona.  While at Mesa, I took whatever part time golf course jobs were available including construction and maintenance of what was Rancho Penasquitos Country Club, eventually called Carmel Highland and Doubletree Resort, a summer at Chula Vista Muni, and between semester and quarters at San Luis Rey Golf Course.  I even picked range balls at Mission Bay Golf Course and remember working the famous day it snowed in 1967.

I started the Spring quarter of 1968 at Cal Poly and graduated in June of 1970.  During that time period, my wife and I were married and to help with finances,  beyond my reserve meeting money, I worked at South Hills Country Club in West Covina.

Upon graduation, I had several opportunities in the Orange County and Los Angeles area, but chose to come back to San Diego and joined Ken Moore at what is now The Country Club of Rancho Bernardo.  Both the Inn staff, and what was called the Private Club staff, worked out of todays RB Inn maintenance facility. During my six months there, I interviewed for and was selected as the Superintendent of Grounds position at UCSD where rapid growth was occurring.  I was able to bring more of a golf maintenance approach which greatly improved how work was assigned as well as a change to riding equipment, which greatly increased productivity.

During my seven years at UCSD, I realized I really had a desire to be more affiliated with golf. A name some of you may recognize, Tom Jones, was our Scotts Proturf Tech Rep.  I had become close friends with Tom through working with him both at Rancho Bernardo and UCSD.  He decided he wanted to have his own firm and started a landscape maintenance company.

He encouraged me to consider his job because I had good product knowledge.  This always happened to me, but I applied for the Scotts position at the same time I was strongly being considered for three other excellent opportunities.  I was offered two of them, but both would require moving, so when the Scotts position was offered to me, it was an easy decision.

I began working for Scotts in the summer of 1977 and was attending my first National Sales Conference when Elvis died!  My sales area included San Diego, Orange, Riverside and parts of San Bernardino Counties. I stayed with Scotts until 1987 and during that time, I met a lot of the real leaders of our industry.  Aside from my dad, who was obviously a key mentor in my career, the gentleman who hired me for Scotts, Bill Tavener,  was probably the other key mentor.  He taught a guy with no sales experience how to work with people, learn their needs and understand their personalities.

The key thing I most remember is the importance of working together.  Trust and filling a need – were then and still are today the two key elements in a comfortable, professional working relationship. In 1987, I took a chance with HydroScape Products when the owners decided they wanted to expand beyond landscape.  After two years, the urge to get back into golf maintenance became too strong and I had to make a move.

Another former client and great friend of mine was going to build EastLake Country Club in the Otay Lakes area.  Though a major cut in pay, Mike Swing asked if I was interested in being his assistant.  Perfect opportunity, get back in golf, gain construction experience and be involved with a new course.  When construction ended, Mike moved on and I had my first superintendent position.  EastLake was a challenge, attempting to grow a bluegrass/ryegrass mix for fairways on terrible soils with some questionable recycled water quality.  EastLake was a long drive from Rancho Penasquitos so when Ken Williams at Country Club of Rancho Bernardo was selected for the Stanford Golf Course position, I applied for and was selected to take his place.  All those years later and I was back where I started but instead of 1970 it was now 1995.

I spent a very enjoyable four plus years there – during which we rebuilt the clubhouse, the putting green, 12 green and the first tee.  In mid- 1999, a notice came out through the chapter for a construction and maintenance superintendent at Barona.  Construction sounded like a fun and challenging opportunity so I applied and began my Barona career in early September of 1999 and remained until retirement July 1, 2020.  It was an exciting and challenging 21 years.  We never had enough water, managed to become an Audubon Signature Sanctuary course, (the first tribal course in the nation and only the second certified in CA), survived a couple devastating fires, hosted the Nationwide Tour Championship and won some very nice honors. We were a top 100 course for our first few years, an Environmental Leaders in Golf award winner for Resort Courses,

and selected the winner of the USGA and Syngenta GreenStar Award.  Being tribal land, we were able to continually address our water needs by building 4 storage ponds to catch runoff and rain water.

This allowed us to store roughly 70 million gallons of water, greatly reducing the need for well water except during drought years.

One other thing I greatly enjoyed during my career was helping others by teaching at Mesa College, San Diego Golf Academy and Cuyamaca College.  Possibly the most rewarding part of my career was watching all the students come through the programs I taught.  I always felt I had the opportunity to provide much more than just turf management by introducing students to what it was really like in our industry and be prepared for real world challenges.  It was also rewarding when given the opportunity to speak at numerous educational programs including the GIS. The most rewarding of all the industry opportunities has to be submitting Blas Huezo the Equipment Technician of the Year.  All I had to do was write the proper amount of words in each category because Blas holds credentials next to none.  With a lot of help from a couple of our key chapter members, Blas received the most votes and received the recognition at the San Antonio GIS. So well deserved.

I have had a lot of help throughout my career from people that are close friends as well as industry professionals.  I have survived this industry through a few generations, going back to my dad’s generation and can’t possibly thank those many people enough.  They are too numerous to mention and I wouldn’t want to forget anyone so a big thanks to all.  I was the third generation in the family in the golf world and my oldest son, Doug Clark, continued with the fourth, working as a super at one of the Desert Mountain courses.  He has since moved on to a tremendous career in the landscape industry.

Obviously, things have been good to the Clark family.  For those coming into our industry, I would strongly suggest getting a construction background.  The things I remember most have been helping build Carmel Highlands, EastLake, upgrades at CCRB and the four projects we undertook at Barona.  Clearly challenging but also fun were the days when we expanded the course and added bunkering for the Nationwide, the many turf reduction projects we undertook and the past two years rebuilding all 20 greens plus the turf nursery.  Knowledge of construction and working with the architect were great.

I would also say that being great with technology is totally necessary but do not loose the ability to communicate the written word and specifically presenting yourself.  Learn to be comfortable giving proper presentations because it will be the key to your success.  I also recommend taking every class and completing every program to better yourself and learn new skills.  Growing grass is a minor part of your career.  No skill is minor.  Keep educating yourselves.  Those who think they know everything have already failed and just don’t realize it yet.  I am still trying to learn though technically retired.

What are my plans?  Because I am still 18 and plan to live another 80 years, I am looking at some part time project management and maybe selling a product I feel is truly beneficial to our jobs.  Right now, after way too many surgeries, my first goal is to completely heal.  After 7 back surgeries, it is time to get myself back to being healthy and fit so I can get back to surfing, skiing, hopefully golf, mountain bike riding and of course the San Diego famous sport of Over the Line.  I have other things I will add once I know I can fully handle it.  Life is just beginning with lots of travel and fun in store.  Just like continuing to learn, keep pushing.  Age is merely a number. Life is about living young!   

My final thought is to thank the team at Barona for making me look good all those years.  Dennis, Blas, I know you have a number of challenges because of this virus nightmare.  Keep being creative and be the superstars you are.

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