Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez returned to The Villages on Saturday and quickly found herself mingling with gushing fans and signing plenty of autographs.
The Queen of Golf paid a visit to the country club that bears her name and got her first glimpse of the newly remodeled Legacy Restaurant. She also was accepting donations for charity of choice, Adventures in Movement, a nonprofit organization based in Dayton, Ohio, that uses movement to help people with disabilities.
A portion of the profits from the restaurant’s receipts from Saturday also were being donated to charity where she serves as chairman of the National Ambassadors.
Lopez’s visit also served to drum up interest in her upcoming charity golf tournament. It will be the 39th version of the event that benefits AIM and the 16th one held in The Villages. That tourney, which takes place Oct. 5-7 at the Lopez Legacy course, will feature visits by television broadcaster Kelly Tilghman and professional golfers Craig Stadler and Chris DiMarco, who also was at the first AIM event held at the course in 2003. That tournament also featured a free concert put on by Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant, at Spanish Springs Town square.
On Saturday, Lopez clearly enjoyed herself as Villagers lined up to have photos taken with her and autographs signed on the photos of her from her heyday on the LPGA Tour. One Villager even called her the best ambassador for golf since the late Arnold Palmer, who was very close to Lopez – so much so that they played exhibition rounds together at the opening of both Villages courses – Lopez Legacy in 2002 and Palmer Legends in 2004.
“It’s great that we can come back here because we have a lot of friends here in The Villages,” Lopez said of her decision to keep the charity tournament in The Villages even though she now lives in South Florida and no longer owns a home here.
“It’s like family now for us when we come back to do my tournament. It’s just nice to see familiar faces again and people just help us so much and raise money for AIM. It’s a special place and we’ll hopefully be able to come back for years to come.”
Lopez added that it’s hard to explain how much AIM really means to her.
“It’s been a great love affair for me to be able to help this charity,” she said of her almost 40 years of involvement. “I do other charity work, too, but AIM is my heart.”
Lopez said it’s particularly rewarding to know she’s able to play a part in helping children.
“I was blessed with three healthy daughters, and just thinking about one of them not being healthy is very sad and very difficult,” she said. “So, we help the parents as much as we help the children.”
Lopez added that she also can’t say enough about Villagers who are always willing to get involved and help various charities when they come calling.
“Every time I’ve ever done anything here at The Villages, the people are so supportive of everything that goes on,” she said. “They love it. You can tell that they do. It’s definitely a special place.”
These days, the retired Lopez said she’s thoroughly enjoying life in South Florida with her husband of a little more than two years, Ed Russell. They were golfing buddies for quite some time before they tied the knot in Palm City on June 24, 2017. And now they’re regulars on the links together, which begs the question: Does Russell ever win a game when playing against one of the greatest golfers of all time?
“No!” Lopez exclaimed with a hearty laugh. “I can’t say he’s never won. But he’s a good golfer and he loves to play. And we get to travel and play golf courses that I’ve not ever played before, which is really fun. So, we have a good time with it.”