Search

HOME TO THE STARS AN INFLUX OF GOLF GREATS AND CELEBRITY JOCKS HAS MADE ORLANDO THE BEST ADDRESS IN SPORTS

July 14, 1997
July 14, 1997

Table of Contents
July 14, 1997

Catching Up With...
Faces In The Crowd

HOME TO THE STARS AN INFLUX OF GOLF GREATS AND CELEBRITY JOCKS HAS MADE ORLANDO THE BEST ADDRESS IN SPORTS

Some people say Orlando looks as if it was thrown together by
Mickey Mouse. But Mickey and his Disney friends didn't create
Orlando, they just helped make it what it is today--a city that
thinks it's a theme park. Twenty-six years ago much of what is
now the metropolitan area was little more than a patchwork of
citrus orchards connected by lonely country roads. Today Orlando
(population 1.5 million) is the third-largest city in Florida,
after Miami and Tampa, and the international headquarters of
Tupperware, Disney World and Tiger Woods. Over the last 20
years, Orlando and Orange County have almost doubled in
population. From booming businesses to upscale retirees,
everyone seems to be moving to the Magic Kingdom, especially
jocks and particularly golfers.

This is an article from the July 14, 1997 issue Original Layout

For instance, at ultrachic Isleworth, 10 miles southeast of
downtown Orlando, Seattle Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr. has a
regular tee time during the off-season with his pal and
neighbor, Tiger Woods--they meet at the Isleworth Golf and
Country Club at around 12:30 p.m. There they'll sometimes bump
into Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, who keeps a place
down the street from the lakeside estate of Mark O'Meara.
Fifteen miles south of the city, former Notre Dame football
coach Lou Holtz lives around the corner from Nick Faldo at Lake
Nona. Meanwhile, on the southwest edge of town, folks at Bay
Hill have grown so accustomed to bumping into Arnold Palmer that
they don't even gasp anymore.

The 1997 PGA Tour guide lists 31 pros who live in the Orlando
area. Ten LPGA players and seven members of the Senior tour live
there, too. "These are people who can choose to live anywhere in
the world," says Ted Hoepner, the chairman of the Economic
Development Commission of Central Florida. "It says something
important about the quality of life in central Florida that they
choose to live here."

Others say that the pros are drawn to Orlando for more pragmatic
reasons, starting with the fact that Floridians pay no state
income tax, and including the allure of relatively inexpensive
real estate, a first-rate airport (in addition to an executive
airport where a private pilot like Palmer can store his new
$15.6 million jet) and good golfing weather year-round. It also
doesn't hurt that Orlando is as conservative as Rush Limbaugh,
same as most pros.

Palmer started the migration. He was smitten with the area when
his Wake Forest team played a match there in 1948 against
Rollins College. Palmer bought Bay Hill in 1970, and now almost
every divot in Orlando can be traced back to the man they call
the King. Palmer romanced the Tour's Citrus Open to Bay Hill in
1979. In '84, he took a lead role in getting Isleworth off the
ground and designed the course there. Arnie no longer has a
financial interest in the development. His latest venture in
Orlando is the Golf Channel, which he launched three years ago
with cable TV entrepreneur Joe Gibbs.

Officially, Orlando is delighted with the influx of high-profile
athletes, but some bluenoses in old-money enclaves consider the
arrival of the jocks to be the worst thing to happen to the town
since, as one longtime resident says, Disney moved in with "that
damn mouse" in '71. Orlando Magic forward Horace Grant found
that some snooty Winter Park neighbors were less than charmed
when they learned that he planned to erect a 24,000-square-foot
house along one of the area's quaint brick streets. Although
Grant spent $1.2 million for a two-acre lot, one resident has
tried to stop construction with a lawsuit that charges that the
house (or is it the owner?) doesn't fit the neighborhood. "You
never want to be the most expensive house on the block," says
Ben Tucker, who grew up in Winter Park and is a director of the
Greater Orlando Association of Realtors, "but you don't want to
be the size of his garage, either."

Maybe Grant should have followed the lead of Magic point guard
Penny Hardaway and bought a place at Isleworth, where
mega-houses are the norm. Home to Griffey, O'Meara, Woods and
former Magic and current Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille
O'Neal, among others, Isleworth is a collection of huge, glitzy
palaces hidden behind two large, secure gates. "For most of us
they're people we read about in the paper," says Tucker. "They
could be in Chicago or Los Angeles."

Should one gain entrance to the forbidden city, the sights are
both awe-inspiring and disappointing. Woods's house is nothing
special, but don't make the mistake of calling the modest
three-bedroom, two-car-garage unit a condo. "It's a villa," you
will be told firmly.

Whatever. Despite the $600,000 price tag, it looks more like
Tiger's old Stanford dorm room on steroids. The town-house-style
units are right next to each other, and there are no backyards
to speak of. Poor Tiger doesn't even have a place for a boat, so
he keeps bugging O'Meara to use his. Woods's digs are only a
stucco starter set, though. He recently closed on a double lot
on Isleworth's Lake Bessie--outbidding Michael Jordan--and plans
to build his dream bachelor pad, complete with a par-3 hole out
back.

Fortunately, Woods lives in a community where amenities such as
a tee and green blend into the landscape like a swing set. A
peninsula stretching through the prime jet-ski runs of the
Butler Chain of Lakes, Isleworth has the general architectural
tone of new money and bales of it. Dick Nunis, chairman of Walt
Disney Attractions, has eight stained-glass windows featuring
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in his master bedroom. Joe
Lewis, one of Isleworth's developers, owns a house that was
built to resemble the clubhouse at Augusta National--only
bigger. Shaq's shack, the sprawling, 25,000-square-foot shopping
center that O'Neal purchased for $3.96 million in 1993, has its
own recording studio and a workout room (he filled in the indoor
pool to make it), and, no, despite what you may have heard, the
place is not for sale. Looming over all of Isleworth, though, is
the 36,600-square-foot Palazzo del Lago (Palace on the Lake), a
three-story monstrosity that looks like a wedding cake and is
owned by time-share entrepreneur David Siegel.

With only 187 families in residence, Isleworth may be the
coziest collection of millionaires in the country. The week
before winning the Masters, Woods whiled away evenings playing
table tennis with Hardaway. At the golf club, Mark McCormack,
the head of International Management Group, the company that
manages Woods, has a locker directly to the left of the one
assigned to Tiger. The lockers of Palmer, O'Meara and Payne
Stewart are to Woods's right. It's no wonder that when Woods
shot a 59 on the Isleworth course the Saturday before the
Masters, Gibbs heard about it, got a copy of the scorecard and
broadcast the news on the Golf Channel that evening.

Lake Nona, however, is the anti-Isleworth, the country gentleman
to Isleworth's nouveau riche. Orlandoans say Lake Nona is easy
to find. You get off the Beeline Expressway at Route 15 and head
south--past the broken-down houses, the double-wide trailers and
the empty spaces--until you're sure you've gone too far. Lake
Nona is the next right.

There Faldo is holed up in two "cottages" that cost about
$500,000 apiece. Besides Holtz, Faldo's neighbors include his
swing doctor, David Leadbetter; two-time U.S. Open champion
Ernie Els; and, for part of the year, Colin Montgomerie, who
rented a large, French-style house during a seven-week stay last
spring. Lake Nona is home to Leadbetter's academy ($1,500 a day)
and is serious about its golf. "Let's just say I don't think
there is any way Tiger Woods would shoot a 59 on our golf
course," says a member, noting that the 1993 World Cup of Golf
was contested on the 7,011-yard Tom Fazio layout.

Faldo lives in only one of his cottages. The idea was to have
one for himself and one for his ex-wife and children when they
visit. (The word is that she, at least, doesn't very often.)
Hounded by the British tabloids last year after he left his wife
for Arizona State coed Brenna Cepelak, Faldo tested the security
at Lake Nona as soon as he moved in. Residents love to tell the
story about the English photog who came to catch the lovebirds
in their nest. Unable to find a way past Lake Nona's gates, he
rented a helicopter, shot from the air--and photographed the
wrong houses.

The story illustrates how things have changed in Orlando over
the last 10 years. All the wealthy sports figures in the area
used to live like Baltimore Orioles manager Davey Johnson, who
still believes that local police provide all the protection his
Winter Park house needs. Same with Palmer. A few tourists
carrying autograph books never spooked him. Arnie could buy a
mansion but prefers the comfy familiarity of his
2,200-square-foot condo at Bay Hill. Palmer often takes meals in
the club's grill, puts in regular hours at his clubhouse office
and tees it up almost daily.

It's easy to see what Palmer likes about Bay Hill. After more
than 30 years, the club is as comfortable as an old shoe.
Unfortunately, despite a $6 million renovation two years ago,
this shoe is a little worn at the heels. Sidewalks outside the
resort are cracked, the dining room looks like a movie set from
the '60s, and the surrounding community is showing unmistakable
signs of age. At places like Isleworth and Lake Nona, residents
sniff that because Bay Hill isn't gated, home values suffer.
Corey Pavin still lives there, but Payne Stewart sold his
$475,000 town house at Bay Hill and built a manse nearby that's
fit for an exiled dictator. Chez Payne is valued at about $1.5
million, is surrounded by a 10-foot-high stucco wall and has an
impressive gate, but to get there you have to bounce along a
dirt access road.

Built in a more trusting time, Bay Hill has too many access
roads to effectively fence it in, which might be why it has a
certain charm the other places lack. On a recent warm evening, a
car drove slowly past a condo not far from the 1st tee. The
garage door was open and a big, friendly looking dog snoozed on
the driveway. Inside, squinting at an adjustment he had just
made to a golf club, was Palmer. He looked up and waved.

There are some things money can't buy.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO [Map of Orlando, Florida, with various celebrities depicted in neighborhoods where they live]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO Hardaway (left) and Shaq are truly oversized drivers when they tee it up at Isleworth. [Drawing of Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal playing golf]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO The paparazzi took to the air at Lake Nona and still failed to find Faldo or his home. [Drawing of Nick Faldo with photographers in helicopter overhead]