The future of the Hacienda Hills Country Club has dominated the news lately, but many Villagers probably aren’t aware of a unique fact connected to the golf course at the controversial facility.
The year was 1991 and The Villages wasn’t much more than a blip on the map in Central Florida. The community’s founder, Harold Schwartz, and his son, H. Gary Morse, were busy laying the groundwork that would lead to growth and prosperity for their retirement community. But in the grand scheme of things – the golf cart bridge crossing U.S. Hwy. 27/441 was still almost two years away from becoming a reality – The Villages wasn’t a mover and shaker in Central Florida like it would become in a few short years.
While Morse was known for being the visionary and marketing guru who preferred to remain behind the scenes, Schwartz was the out-front showman who thoroughly enjoyed the spotlight. That was never more evident than in 1991 when the Hacienda Hills Golf & Country Club opened to a huge fanfare with legendary golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez in attendance.
Many big names have visited the community since that day in 1991 – President Bush, Gov. Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Iacocca, Nancy Lopez, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and every serious GOP presidential hopeful come to mind – but Rodriguez very likely was the first big name to make his mark on the soon-to-be mega-retirement community.
Having Rodriguez as a guest in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown made perfect sense, because like Schwartz, he was known as a showboater. Schwartz, who discovered Wolfman Jack when he owned radio stations along the Mexican border, loved to be out front, making the rounds in his neighborhood. And if it was time for a parade, nobody had to ask Schwartz to take a seat in the lead car more than once.
Not surprisingly, Rodriguez was cut from the same cloth. At time the Puerto Rican golfer would gain attention by placing his hat over holes when he scored a birdie or eagle. Later, he developed his signature move, the “toreador dance,” where he would act like the ball was a bull, his putter was a sword and he would eliminate the bull when he sank a difficult putt.
It’s a move that’s been shown on television thousands upon thousands of times. It’s one that helped propel the personable Rodriguez into the spotlight time and time again. And it’s the move Rodriguez is still known for today, even though he’s long been retired from professional golf.
So knowing Schwartz’s love of the limelight and Morse’s never-ending drive to grab marketing opportunities, it should come as no surprise that history was made when the now 83-year-old Rodriguez said that two of his all-time favorite golf holes were on the Hacienda Hills course – in The Villages.
Rodriguez might have played Hacienda Hills 28 years ago, but Morse clearly made sure that his favorable statement about the course would live on forever. And that’s certainly true today, because an internet search about the Hacienda Hills course will quickly reveal Rodriguez’s thoughts from that day so many years ago.
For golfers who want to know more, they’re the first holes on the Lakes and Oaks courses and they sit side-by-side. When Rodriguez played the course in 1991, Villages lore has it that he couldn’t stop talking about the par-5 holes that share a lake and offer dog-legs heading in opposite directions – similar in some ways but quite challenging in every way imaginable.
For those wondering about the specifics of Rodriguez’s favorites, hole 1 on the Lakes course doglegs to the left and covers 453 yards at its longest point. Meanwhile, the first hole on the Oaks course is 485 yards from the back tees and doglegs to the right around the same lake.
Over the years, Rodriguez has played thousands of golf courses and there’s really no telling how many “favorite” holes he has. But Villagers who play the Hacienda Hills course can take pride in knowing that when they tee off, they’re playing on the same tees and greens that a legendary golfer with 37 professional wins and eight PGA titles to his name ranked among the best in the world.