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Florida's Golf Cart City: The Villages

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This was originally posted by The Telegraph.

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The Villages is a city-sized retirement community known as “Disney World for old people”.

It was no surprise to learn that Tim Fletcher drives his golf cart to the golf course.

It was a little more unusual to hear that he also uses it to go to the doctor’s. And to the supermarket. And the bookstore. And just about anywhere else an active 69-year-old pensioner’s day might take him.

Mr Fletcher and his wife Faye are residents of The Villages, a city-sized retirement community in central Florida sometimes referred to as “Disney World for old people”.

More than 100,000 people, all aged 55 or above, live in villas spread across three postcodes of pristinely-maintained suburban streets and faux old-fashioned town squares that feel like film sets. The development, which bills itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown”, is owned by a billionaire Republican family and is expanding rapidly.

The lives of its residents are connected by more than 100 miles of trails and streets which they travel by golf cart, often mingling freely with cars on the road. The roadways are so extensive there is even a GPS system for golf cart drivers.

In rain and shine and even the occasional Florida cold, pensioners here can be seen zipping about behind the wheels of the little vehicles.

“When you get to be this old you kind of look for things to do,” said Mr Fletcher as he pulled up in his Yamaha cart for some afternoon errands.

“This helps you burn the amount of time you have during the day.”

Like many couples, the Fletchers arrived in The Villages with two cars but they soon traded them both in for a single Cadillac and a pair of golf carts - one electric and one petrol.

The Yamaha petrol cars favoured by most residents cost around $10,000 (£6,629) and will do up to 50 miles per gallon. By law, they are only allowed to reach a top speed of 20mph but some elderly speed demons have them tricked out to go faster.

One group of older men has even formed a drill team that carries out stunts as if they were golf’s version of the Red Arrows. Meanwhile, everyone seems to know a horror story of grandparents sent flying from their vehicles after hitting a curb.

There are roughly 40,000 carts in The Villages and this month the community will open America’s first golf cart-only petrol station. Around a dozen dealerships compete for business in the area and buyers haggle with the same intensity as if they were buying a real car.

“I certainly never thought I would be doing this as a profession,” said Christopher Laufersky, the 31-year-old sales manager for The Villages Golf Cars, the largest of the dealers. In 2014, their stores sold 3,423 carts.

Many residents have proudly customised their carts painting names on the bonnets in the way that fighter pilots emblazon their code names on the side of a cockpit.

Others have carts painted with patriotic eagles or American flags or the symbol of a beloved sports team..

And then there are those like Charles and Roz Fox, who have become semi-legendary in The Villages for their carts which are designed to look like tiny vintage fire engines.

The red carts, which cost $21,000, are made of fibreglass and come complete with wooden ladders and a silver bell that the Foxes ring to the delight of awestruck children watching on the pavement.

“My wife used to be a toy designer and this is kind of a big toy,” said Mr Fox. His cart has the crest of the fire department of his hometown of Bernardsville, New Jersey on the side. On the bonnet is written Engine No.1973 - a reference to the year the Foxes married.

Other customised carts made by the Streetrod Productions company include a miniature 1929 Model A, the first car produced by Henry Ford, and a 1935 Chevy with flames bursting from behind the headlights.

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