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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Villages 101: Did Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez ever call The Villages home?

Many Villagers know there’s a golf course in The Villages named for Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez.

But many might now know that the winner of 48 LPGA events actually had a home in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown at one time. The house was in the Village of Briar Meadow on her golf course.

Nancy Lopez inked a deal as a Villages spokesperson in 2003 and many residents have wondered over the years if a house in the Village of Briar Meadow was part of the package.

She and then-husband Ray Knight, a retired Major League Baseball player and ESPN announcer, had the home built in 2003 at about the same time Lopez agreed to become a spokesman for The Villages. It also was the same year she retired before deciding in 2007 to head back to the LPGA Tour.

While many lauded the partnership between Lopez and The Villages, there have been plenty of questions raised among Villagers about her house. Villages lore had it that the house was part of package as a Villages spokesman. Some claimed it was never really hers but she was free to use it whenever she wanted. And others raised the point that she couldn’t really live in the home that much because her children were too young to be residents of the community on a full-time basis.

Nancy Lopez and retired Major League Baseball player Ray Knight were married from 1982-2009 and have three daughters – Ashley, Erin and Torri. The couple was often seen together in The Villages in early 2000s.

Others, however, were just happy to call her and Knight neighbors. Residents certainly got a kick out of running into her at the course or while eating out at area restaurants. And she enjoyed being around Lopez Legacy, which includes three nine-hole courses she helped design – Torri Pines, Ashley Meadows and Erinn Glenn – that are named for her daughters.

Not surprisingly, Knight was also a popular figure whenever he would spend time in The Villages. Best known as the MVP of the 1986 World Series for the New York Mets, he scored the winning run in Game 6 on the infamous play that saw Boston Red Sox first baseball Bill Buckner make an error and let the ball go between his legs when Mookie Wilson hit one right to him.

Golf Hall of Famer and sometime Villager Nancy Lopez poses with her daughters Ashley, Erin and Torri. The three nine-hole courses at Lopez Legacy in Florida Friendliest Hometown are named for them.

Knight, a two-time All-Star, started his career with the Cincinnati Reds and also is known as the player who replaced the legendary Pete Rose at third base. He also played for the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers and twice served as manager of the Reds.

Occasionally when he and Lopez were town, Knight would put on hitting clinics for some of the softball players in The Villages. With the New York contingent that calls The Villages home, Knight was an obvious hero. But many who enjoyed playing competitive softball gained some valuable knowledge during his clinics.

While it’s really unclear how much time Lopez has spent in her Villages house or who really owned it, she was certainly somewhat of a regular in the community in the early 2000s. To this day she’s still involved with the charity Adventures in Movement and the non-profit’s annual golf tournament – it was first played in The Villages in 2003 – carries her name, draws some big-time participants and is played in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown on an annual basis.

Nancy Lopez has hosted the charity tournament for Adventures in Motion in The Villages since 2003. That year, and again in 2005, she asked friends Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant, to perform benefit concerts for the charity. She’s also had some top-notch golfers appear at the event, including Peter Jacobsen, Chris DiMarco, Morgan Pressel, Amanda Blumenherst and Natalie Gulbis, to name a few.

In 2003 and again in 2005, Lopez even got her good friends Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant, to perform benefit concerts as part of the AIM fundraising effort. It’s unclear if they stayed in Lopez’s home while in The Villages – rumor has it that they did – but both events drew thousands of participants, with the first one being a free concert at Spanish Springs Town Square and the second one costing $24 for Villagers and $29 for non-residents.

Many Villagers might not also know it but Lopez’s oldest daughter, Ashley Knight Hughey, got married at the old Church on the Square in Spanish Springs Town Square. Prior to the church being absorbed as part the cavernous Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, it hosted many weddings, and the one for Lopez’s daughter was probably one of its biggest.

That soiree also took place the same year Knight and Lopez got divorced, so it’s not surprising that Villages lore has it there were some tense moments involved in the event. Rumor had it that Lopez and Knight didn’t appear in any photos together and didn’t talk during the event, though that could be nothing more than hearsay.

But in the end, a smiling Ashley and her husband rode off in an antique car. And there was plenty of cheering from those in attendance and Villagers who just happened to be on town square enjoying the nightly entertainment.

Hall of Fame golfer and sometime Villager Nancy Lopez married her longtime golfing buddy, Ed Russell, on June 24, 2017 in Palm City.

In June 2015, Lopez was in the news after announcing that she was selling her primary home in Auburn, Ala., and moving to Stuart to be closer to her boyfriend. At that time, she said she still had her Villages home, as well as a third house in Keystone, Colo. She said that she had moved into the house in Alabama after her divorce from Knight and since all three of her daughters had graduated from Auburn University, it was time to sell the home and get on with the next chapter of her life – she married longtime golfing buddy Ed Russell on June 24, 2017 in Palm City.

Those who have never met Lopez or who are hoping to get a glimpse of her in The Villages can most likely do so in October, as that’s when her next AIM tournament will be held. The field for the event is usually set long before the tournament gets under way, but there’s always a good chance of seeing Lopez participating in the event or spending time welcoming the participants in the Lopez Legacy clubhouse.

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