Villagers know that golf carts are the preferred method of transportation in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. But many probably have no idea that Florida’s Friendliest Hometown holds bona fide world record connected to golf carts.
It happened in September 2005 when The Villages Buffalo Booster Club from The Villages High School and local law-enforcement agencies came together to organize The Golf Cart Charity Challenge. The idea was to raise money for The Villages High School and a holiday-gift drive put on by area law enforcement officers.
But make no mistake about it – being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest golf cart parade ranked real high on the priority list as well – so much so that the buzz around town was at a frenzied pace, to say the least.
At the time, The Villages had a little more than 50,000 residents. As it is today, golf carts were the primary form of transportation for just about everyone in the community. So shattering the previous record of 1,138 carts in a parade seemed almost easy.
When the big day finally rolled around, golf carts of all shapes and sizes – some sporting interest decorations – came from all directions to participate in the event.
Many Villagers vowed to achieve victory that day as 3,000-plus golf carts showed up that morning. They staged in a very large open area along County Road 466 in what is now the Village of Bridgeport at Laurel Valley. And excitement hung in the air as members of The Villages Buffalo Booster Club scampered about, doing their best to make sure that everything was in order as the clock ticked down to kick off the world record attempt.
Once it was time to roll, deputies from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and members of The Villages Public Safety Department worked together to get the carts moving in an orderly fashion.
The fire department’s aerial ladder truck was set up for the purposes of photographing and videotaping the event. And former Fire Chief Mike Tucker and current Chief Edmund Cain, a captain at the time, were heavily involved in various aspects of the venture, including making sure the carts drove over an automatic counter.
Eventually the stream of golf carts stretched to more than five miles. Deep down, those participating believed the record was theirs. But as they honked their horns and waved at onlookers, it seemed like the procession of carts leaving the starting point would never end.
Actually, it took several hours for all of the golf carts to pull out and make their way across down the path next to the Palmer Legends Golf Course and then head across the bridge to Lake Sumter Landing, where a cheering crowd of onlookers was waiting.
Some who organized the event called the golf cart procession an endless wave. Others said they weren’t surprised so many people wanted to participate. Some, like Sumter County Clerk of Circuit Court Gloria Hayward, were asked to write letters to the Guinness Book folks confirming the number of carts that had participated. And others, like area residents with cameras and local journalists, were asked to provide photographic and video evidence of the parade’s success.
Following the big event, Ellen Hoffman, who served as president of the booster club, and a slew of volunteers handed out certificates to 3,321 golf cart owners who had participated. The certificate showed that they had taken part in an effort to set the Guinness World Record for the “Largest Golf Cart Parade.”
In March 2006 – Guinness clearly doesn’t rush announcements of new world records – members of The Villages Buffalo Booster Club and other residents who participated in the event officially found out what they already suspected – they were world record holders!
The official count of golf carts participating was 3,321 – the same amount of certificates Hoffman and company had handed out. The new record was more than triple the previous mark that had been set the Timber Pines retirement community in Spring Hill – residents in that community quickly made it quite clear that they wouldn’t attempt to take back the record. And best of all, a whopping $29,500 was raised for different charities.
Needless to say, there were some proud Villagers strutting around the community for quite some time. Many referred to themselves and The Villages as the undisputed champions. And they vowed to make sure the new record would never fall to another community.
The competition for the largest golf cart parade actually started in 2002, when 191 carts participated in an event in another Florida retirement community, Sun City Center, near Tampa. The following year, those residents broke their own record with 306 carts – a mark that eventually fell to the 1,138 assembled by the Timber Pines retirement community in March 2004.
But since that special day in September 2005, The Villages has owned the record, with the only real challenge coming from a local group connected to the nonprofit organization Hope for the Warriors, which came up short with 3,124 carts in November 2010.