DENVER — At Fox Hollow Golf Course, John Sabados surveys the 27-hole sanctuary, checking off items on his to-do list.
“Every night we punch the greens,” he says while driving the red-golf cart designated to the course’s Marshalls.
He puts his cart in park next to a tee box and begins searching for divots. Using a special tool, he demonstrates how to effectively “punch the greens”.
“You can hardly tell a mark was there,” he says with satisfaction. As he heads back to the cart, you can hear him breathing heavily as he plops down in front of the wheel.
“It’s tough getting old,” the 95-year-old says with a laugh as he releases the brake.
Since 1994, John has worked at Fox Hollow, a job he picked up in post-retirement to pass the time and stay around the game he loves. He used to work a couple days a week but now he only works on Sunday’s.
When he’s not working the greens, he’s playing the greens. He often brings his oldest son, Randy, to the course with him. Randy was the one to introduce his father to the game.
“I said, Dad, what are you going to do when you retire? And he said whatever mom wants me to do,” Randy recalled with a smile. “But then I thought, how about I talk to mom and I said how about we get him into golf? I was an avid golfer then and she said, yeah, anything to get him out of my hair. And so I got him into golf and the rest is history.”
John is now a long-standing member of the Wellshire Men’s Club and frequently plays in their weekend tournaments. He is also part of a group, called “The Nooners”, that plays every Tuesday and Thursday.
“He’s competitive, he never gives up, he hates to lose,” added Randy. “He’s just got that golf spirit.”
John will turn 96 this January, and outside of a couple of health issues, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
“Most of the time I’m in good shape,” John explains. “I have a bad back so I have to watch it.”
Randy points to lucky genetics as the main reason why John has lived such a long and healthy life. The second oldest of seven, John is one of four siblings still living and their mother lived to be 97.
“Dad never smoked, he rarely drinks alcohol, and I think he just stays active,” Randy adds. “I think his whole lifestyle has led to longevity.”
Born in the coal-mining town of Dacono, Colorado, in 1923, John grew up playing multiple sports. From basketball to baseball, to boxing and bowling, John enjoyed it all. His senior year at Frederick High School, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
John remembers being at a movie theater when he heard the news and several of his buddies enlisted right away. It wasn’t until he was 20 that his draft number was finally called.
“I was working in the coal mines and coal miners were exempt. They didn’t have to go,” John recalled. “And I said that’s not for me and I went up and joined at that time.”
He became a radio man in the Navy, moving around to several bases in the U.S., setting up their communications systems.
In May of 1945, he was shipped to Okinawa. Only a few weeks prior, the Battle of Okinawa had begun. It ended up being the final and bloodiest battle in the Pacific. According to History.com, 12,520 American soldiers were killed while 110,000 Japanese soldiers died in the three-month battle. However, the greatest number of casualties comes from Okinawa citizens, with an estimated 40,000 to 150,000 killed in action.
John had a few close calls while serving, but it’s something he rarely speaks about.
“He didn’t tell specifics, but he saw people get killed,” Randy said. “He felt very lucky that he made it through the war.”
When the war ended, John ended up staying in Okinawa for the next six months. He played on a competitive softball team with guys in the Army and Marine Corps. They even won a league championship.
Life moved fast following his return to the U.S. He started working at Rocky Mountain Arsenal and he married Dorothy, 10 years his junior, in 1950. Randy was born five years later, and a second son, Jeff, followed two years later.
The family was extremely active in Boy Scouts and other sports.
Dorothy was a heavy smoker and passed away from lung cancer in 1993. Since John was always the bread winner and she was the home maker, he struggled to take care of himself after her death. Randy and his wife, Julie, asked John to come live with them. He has lived with them for nearly 18 years, but spent a few years living with his younger son before he passed away in April of 2017.
At Randy and Julie’s home, John has his own bedroom and living room, his many trophies and medals on display. He spends his free time reading and still drives his own car to the golf course.
Even though he started playing golf at 58, he was a natural right from the start.
“When I was 75 I shot a 76,” John says proudly.
He also has six hole-in-ones. One of his golfing buddies sent us a news tip after his sixth, which is how we discovered him in the first place.
Besides the honors and accomplishments, the game of golf has given John even purpose since Dorothy’s passing.
“She was his world,” Randy said. “And golf has kept him alive and thriving.”
Over the years, John has lost some of his touch.
“Lost a lot of distance. Can’t hit it as far now,” John adds. “But it’s still a lot of fun.”
And hopefully it will continue to be fun for many, many years to come.