Grand opening of Loblolly

Otto Boyett, of the Village of La Belle, chips onto the green at the grand opening of Loblolly executive golf course in the Village of McClure.

So much that defines excellence characterized The Villages resident lifestyle opportunities during 2018. Five new recreational amenities, for instance, opened for use to all Villagers. It’s just the beginning, too. Two of them, Longleaf and Loblolly executive golf courses at the Village of McClure, increased the total number of golf holes in The Villages to 666 on more than 4,500 acres. Another, Dudley Canine Park & Archery Range at McClure, added the second archery range and a fifth dog park that quickly became a destination for Villagers near and far because of the canine agility gyms. Each of these new facilities quickly became integral parts of an extensive inventory of recreational properties that enhance the lifestyle, said John Rohan, director of the District Recreation & Parks Department.

“All of this represents and shows residents the continued commitment by the Developer to expand and provide lifestyle opportunities as part of the overall vision of having the best and greatest community in which to live and to enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle,” he said. “The elements of the geographic areas and lay of the land — along with the creativity of the planners, designers, engineers and host of creators — use these elements to complement the amenities in the surrounding areas. It is magical in a sense; taking land and turning it into sustainable, programmable amenities for our residents to enjoy today and into the future.”

Recreation Stewards

Perhaps no single community in the world possesses the wealth of recreational opportunities than in The Villages.

“There isn’t any,” in the opinion of Richard Baier, manager of the Village Community Development Districts, the community’s special district form of government authorized under state law.

It consists of 92 recreation areas, including 11 regional recreation centers, from the Marion County section of The Villages to the current development in the Southern Oaks region of Wildwood and Sumter County.

Since the founding of the community’s first amenity, Paradise Recreation Center in 1973, the District-managed recreational program has flourished.

The inventory contains 1,320 recreational amenities such as 137 billiard tables, 189 bocce courts, 185 shuffleboard courts, 182 pickleball courts, 70 tennis courts, 11 softball fields, 89 neighborhood, sports and family pools and so much more.

Management of this vast inventory also relies on a collaborative effort among all of the community’s stakeholders to ensure constant maintenance of these facilities, Baier noted.

This fiscal year the Amenity Authority Committee, resident-elected members who make funding decisions on amenities and infrastructure north of County Road 466, appropriated around $1.4 million for projects like fence replacement at the Paradise Recreation Center dog park, widening of the Hilltop golf course multimodal path and greens and tee renovation at Saddlebrook golf course. 

The Project Wide Advisory Committee, elected CDD supervisors who make recommendations on amenities infrastructure funding decisions south of CR 466, appropriated around $1 million this fiscal year for replacement of roofs at Laurel Manor and Lake Miona recreation centers and several other projects. 

“The level of collaboration among the residents, the elected board and committee members and District staff is very high,” Baier said. “That’s refreshing, because we are all stewards of this infrastructure, and we work together very well. We also have that many more stakeholders tied into that ownership, and that is very unusual but very helpful to the District government.”

Strategic Purchase

Such collaboration among all stakeholders resulted in the unanimous effort earlier this year among residents, District staff and the AAC to appropriate $2 million in resident amenity fees for the purchase of surplus property from First Baptist Church of The Villages for a new unnamed recreation area adjacent to the Village of Calumet Grove, said John Wilcox, the AAC’s vice chairman. 

The committee and District staff forged not only a strategy to purchase the property, but also to craft a survey to solicit resident requests for the type of amenities and programs they would like at this new recreation area, said Wilcox, a Village of Polo Ridge resident who also serves as an elected member of the CDD 3 board of supervisors. The survey goes live Jan. 7 on the District website, districtgov.org

“Collaboration makes the District Recreation program work,” he said. “It’s not just one side that is putting these programs together. Residents come up with ideas, District Recreation evaluates and test the ideas. That’s how new programs are originated and formed. And it definitely enhances the lifestyle because residents participate in the selection of the activities that they’re interested in.”

The proof of this collaborative success can be seen at any one of the 92 recreation facilities in the community, Wilcox said.

“It’s being shown by their use of the facilities,” he said. “Just take a look at the District’s weekly Recreation News and all the programs being offered, as well as reading about the various clubs and their activities. Our residents are very, very active. I also think that’s why we as Villagers have a longer lifespan. It’s because our people are out, active and having a good time.”

One Big Change

More than just new facilities this year defined recreation successes. 

The vitality extends to the 2,974 resident lifestyle clubs that make living in The Villages such a unique place to live, said Pam Henry, District Recreation manager of lifestyles, parks and public relations. 

“Club activity is one of the reasons people chose The Villages, and there is no shortage of new, different requests,” she said. 

Every year, a small number of clubs disband for various reasons, such as the loss of a club coordinator or simply declining interest, Henry said. 

However, new interests emerge to create clubs such as Drone, African Violet and Acknowledging Acts of Kindness, she said.

“We disband around 15 to 25 clubs each year, but make up for that through the new ones that are added,” she said. “So, it’s good to see there will be no decline of clubs and activates in the foreseeable future.”

Such resident interest explains District Recreation’s ongoing effort to enhance existing programs like The Enrichment Academy, the community’s continuing adult education program; Senior Games, the community’s competitive athletic program; outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing and nature trips on Lake Sumter; and even Camp Villages, a fun program for residents and their grandchildren. 

The Enrichment Academy, for instance, finished its first year in October and continues to grow, Rohan said.

“We’re reformatting the course catalog, recruiting the best instructors, marketing online registration and surveying the residents on what they would like to see offered,” he said. “It also is hard to believe Senior Games is closing in on 20 years of being offered. It speaks volumes to our residents embracing the Senior Games by the consistent participation numbers. Our numbers mirror or are larger than the actual state games participation numbers.”

One big change happened this year with Camp Villages, Rohan said. 

This popular program for grandparents and their grandchildren will be offered on a periodic basis year-round, he said. 

“It is a staple that embraces the value of having quality lifestyle activities for both residents and their grandchildren to enjoy,” Rohan said. “At the end of the day, it is about creating positive experiences that will provide memories for a lifetime.”

Walking Trails

The new year promises only more of the amenities that elevated The Villages into a world-class lifestyle.

“Everyone should share in the excitement to live and love a community that develops and plans recreational amenities on the front end of the development vision,” Rohan said. “There is no other community that understands, embraces, supports and creates new recreation amenities in the best interest of serving the residents first. The facilities bring residents together to live, to enjoy, to be part of something that is special; all in an effort to enhance and enrich their lives. So, our department and team members are gearing up for a continued great future for residents.” 

If all goes as scheduled in the Southern Oaks region, Swallowtail Recreation Area at the Village of Monarch Grove and Waterlily Recreation Area at the Village De Luna will open in January or February.

Sometime this spring, the Developer anticipates the opening of Cattail Recreation Area and Marsh View pitch-and-putt golf course at the Village of Marsh Bend along with River Bend Recreation Area and Rupert Canine Park in the Village of Linden.

Next fall, the Developer anticipates the opening of Everglades Recreation Complex and the Hogeye Nature Trail at Marsh Bend. 

The complex will include Everglades Recreation Center, which will feature meeting rooms and a theater; a sports pool; multipurpose soccer field; a remote-control car range and remote-control boat dock; softball fields; and basketball, pickleball, platform tennis, bocce, shuffleboard and corn toss courts. It also features 16 miles of walking trails around the Hogeye water basin and recreational complex. 

Construction is well underway at each of these recreation facilities, including concrete block wall work at the Everglades Recreation Center building and formation of the Everglades softball fields. 

At some point in the future, these amenities will fall under the policy review of the Project Wide Advisory Committee.

What Peter Moeller likes as PWAC chairman is how those new projects will complement the already extensive list of facility and programs.

“It’s always exciting to see what the Developer is creating to bring new amenities to The Villages,” said Moeller, of the Village of Caroline, who also serves as the CDD 6 vice chairman. “An example of this are the extensive walking trails at the Everglades Recreation Complex, the planned Marsh View pitch-and-putt course. Those are new things they are adding to the lifestyle. We’ve had amenities like them before, but we’re putting in new features like dog exercise facilities that will be available to all residents in The Villages no matter where they live.”

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.