Try as he might, Tony Clecak just can’t stay retired.
He tried it a quarter century ago, and it didn’t work.
He tried again seven years ago, and it didn’t work.
So at age 84, he still works. Not one job, but two.
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When golf is your passion, and opportunity won’t stop knocking after 70 years in the business, why retire?
“It’s been kind of an enjoyable streak, I’d say,” said Clecak, whose full-time occupation is senior director of instruction at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin.
His part-time job is assistant coach of the Whiteland Community High School boys golf team.
Between gigs, he plays two or three rounds a week, which he fits in around his rigid workout schedule. Four times a week he strength trains, runs, bikes and does all the things that keeps pushing retirement beyond the immediate horizon.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m in good physical condition, so I might as well do it as long as I can.”
One of Indiana’s most renowned instructors, Clecak has worked in the golf business for 70 years — first as a club cleaner, briefly as a PGA Tour pro and largely as a teaching pro at country clubs from coast to coast.
A Columbus resident, Clecak got his start in 1947 as a club cleaner at Claremont Country Club in Oakland, California. A short time later, he was hired as an assistant pro at Grosse Ile Country Club in Detroit, Michigan.
Clecak might have eventually become the head pro at Grosse Point had he not answered a patriotic calling at he outset of the Korean War. He joined the United States Air Force and served four years, including the duration of the war.
Shortly after being discharged, a recurring pattern continued when he was offered a job to manage and serve as head pro of Mira Vista Country Club in Oakland, California.
Little more than a year later, he was persuaded to fill the same roles at Silverado County Club in Napa, California.
In time, Clecak would accept teaching jobs at country clubs in Massachusetts and Connecticut before making Indiana his home in 1974.
He became a Hoosier after being hired as the pro at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus, where he has resided ever since. He worked at Harrison Lake for 25 years before “retiring for the first time.”
Clecak retired for the second time after serving stints as an assistant golf coach at Jennings County and Shelbyville High Schools. But as was the case with his first retirement, the second one didn’t last long.
Ted Bishop, general manager and director of Golf at The Legends, coaxed Clecak out or retirement seven years ago to teach at The Legends. Several weeks ago, another Legends colleague, Dan Gibson, recruited Clecak to work with the Whiteland boys team.
Gibson is the a nationally renowned club fitter and Dye Course manager at The Legends. He also is beginning his first year as head coach of the Whiteland boys team. When he needed as assistant, he couldn’t think of a better choice than Clecak, who will handle most of the teaching chores.
“His knowledge and training skills push me to be my best and never forget that the players’ improvement is our goal,” said Gibson, who is working at an instructional school this week in Florida. “I have had the privilege to listen to and observe the best PGA instructors in the world. All the pointers, suggestions and tricks that those instructors use, Tony applies every day at The Legends.
“It has been an honor and privilege working with him. Tony has become a dear friend, and I trust his judgment completely.”
Clecak, who works with golfers of all ages and skill levels, especially enjoys working with high school players. They tend to be good listeners, and it’s easier to break their bad habits.
“You have to work with the clay that you’re given. With the high school kids, they’re pretty malleable,” Clecak said. “You can get them in good positions. That doesn’t take too long.
“Last year, the Whiteland golf team won only one match. We should come out looking pretty well, because we’ll win more than one match, I can tell you that.”
Perhaps the best news for Whiteland, and The Legends, is that Clecak has no plans to retire a third time. He’s in as good or better shape than many of the people he teaches; he can still beat most of them on the course; and he’s still as passionate about golf as we was 70 years ago.
“The thing about the game is, the longer you’re in it, the more intrigued you are by it,” Clecak said. “It’s the people that you meet, the places you see, the things you do. I think it’s very unique that way. There aren’t many professions where you can do as many versatile things as you can as a golf professional.
“I work with adults. I work with kids. I work with disabled people. I travel and play tournaments and do that kind of stuff. It’s been a wonderful thing for me. I’ve enjoyed ever bit of it.”
Name: Tony Clecak
Occupations: Senior Director of Instruction at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club; assistant coach of the Whiteland Community High School boys golf team
Honors and awards: 1982 Bill Strausbaugh Club Relations Award; 1985 Indiana Professional of the Year; 1993 Indiana Teacher of the Year; 1997 Indiana Junior Golf Leader; 2000 Golf Digest Top 100 Teachers; 2001 to 2006 Top Ten Teacher in Indiana; 1975 to 1979 and 1982, member of the Indiana PGA Challenge Cup team; 1991 to 1993, member of the Indiana PGA Challenge Cup Team, Senior Division
Personal: Wife, Carol; couple has two adult children, Christopher Clecak and Stacie Perry