ST. GEORGE — Back when he used to pull a regular 40-hour week working for the power company, Marty Grossman liked to fantasize what it would be like to wake up every morning with nothing to do but play golf.
So when he retired he decided to find out.
He sold his house in Salt Lake, replaced it with a one-level stucco home adjoining a golf course in a 55-plus community in St. George called SunRiver, rolled a golf cart into the garage, slapped a “SunRiver, For the Fun of it” placard in the license plate holder, and got directions to the first tee.
Thirteen years later, deeply tanned and about as relaxed as you can get and still be awake, Marty, 69, stands on the clubhouse veranda at SunRiver and gazes out on a golf course he estimates he’s played 2,400 times “at least.”
“This,” he says, “is the best job I ever had.”
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It’s obvious as Marty moves around the SunRiver clubhouse that it’s not his first day here. Everybody knows him. He knows everybody. The golf pro, Neil Economy, who’s getting ready for SunRiver’s grand reopening this weekend, informs Marty he’s left him a new jacket he’s been asking about on the counter. “Just take it home,” he says. “We’ll settle up later.”
“Home” for Marty is a dogleg right and then a dogleg left to the stucco residence he bought in 2000 when he was one of the first 200 people to move into the “golf cart community” on the southern tip of St. George next to the Arizona border. There are 1,700 residences now with more than 3,000 people, so Marty caught the wave early, just as he did in his previous life when he decided as a young man in the 1960s to study computer science.
He wound up spending 27 years working as a computer design analyst for first Utah Power & Light and then PacifiCorp. That career ended when he was offered a chance at early retirement at 52. After that, he sold computers and invested in several fast food restaurants – but it was all prelude to buying the golf cart when he was 56.
Nobody ever called Marty a workaholic.
He and golf became acquainted in 1958 when he was 14 years old and got a job at the now defunct Oak Hills driving range. The relationship never waned. Marty played on the golf team at East High and during those 27 years with the power company, rare was the Wednesday afternoon he didn’t get away for a round with his friends at Mountain Dell.
At SunRiver it’s been more of the same, and more of the same. He’s survived whatever the aging process has thrown at him – rotator cuff surgeries on both shoulders, a knee operation, recent back surgery. He even survived a short-lived marriage to a much younger woman he met on the SunRiver pickle ball courts. The relationship lasted less than a year but not before his bride drove away in the new Lexus Marty bought her.
“The guys are still giving me a hard time about that,” shrugs Marty.
It’s his favorite subject. Not the marriage. The guys. When Marty talks about his 13-year exile to golf heaven, he says next to nothing about the actual golf. He doesn’t talk about his scores. He doesn’t curse, or praise, the game. He says he’s had his handicap as low as 11 and now it’s 16, but that’s only in answer to a question.
Left to his own commentary, he invariably talks about those he plays with – a large and diverse cast of characters that includes his neighbor, Taka Tanaka, who called him on the phone a few years ago and said, “Hey, want to play today with my grandson?” Marty said sure and a few minutes later shook hands on the first fee with a skinny teenager wearing bright, baggy clothes – who then proceeded to launch a perfect drive that went at least 250 yards. Taka’s grandson, as it turned out, was Rickie Fowler, now a star on the PGA Tour (and holder of the SunRiver course record, a 62 he shot when he was 16).
“The camaraderie is more important than the golf,” Marty says. “You get a few pars, you get a few birdies, but you get a lot of friends.”
Not everyone can pull off the life, he cautions. It takes a certain temperament to play all the time and make it work. He’s gotten pretty adept, he says, at picking out who will last at SunRiver and who will not.
“You need to be laid back if you move to a laid back place,” he says. “People have to realize they’re retired and our job is to play.”
“Thirteen years! It’s gone fast,” says Marty. “It’s been 100 percent better than I envisioned. I think there may be only one better place, and that could be heaven.”
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org