A Ghost Course in Central Florida, and a Golf Trip to the Twilight Zone

The former Winter Springs Golf Course, Winter Springs, Florida.

Part of the former Winter Springs Golf Club, Winter Springs, Florida. The cart barn, clubhouse, and parking lot are near the bottom of the image, just right of center.

A common experience for Florida golfers in recent years: trying to make a tee time at a golf course they’ve heard good things about, and discovering that the phone has been disconnected and the Web domain is for sale. An example is Winter Springs Golf Club, which went belly-up in 2006. I was in the Orlando area last weekend, on a Golf Digest assignment, and decided to have a look. Here’s the clubhouse, as it appears from the main parking lot:

IMG_0810Apparently, someone bought the course with the idea of building houses on it, and only then discovered that a deed restriction made that impossible. (Due diligence!) Now it sits.

IMG_0817The old club had a lighted driving range. Here’s what it looks like now:

IMG_0837While I was snooping around, a policeman noticed my car and drove in to see what I was doing. He called in my driver’s license number, to make sure I wasn’t wanted for something. Then we chatted about golf for a while, and he asked me whether another ten or fifteen minutes of trespassing would be enough. I thanked him, and he suggested that I stay out of the clubhouse.

Here's the back of the clubhouse. Those particle-board sheets cover the windows of what used to be the grill room and the golf shop.

Here’s the back of the clubhouse. Those particle-board sheets cover the windows of what used to be the restaurant and the golf shop.

It doesn’t take long for a golf hole to turn into something that isn’t recognizable as a golf hole. Here’s the first tee, the first fairway, and what’s left of the first-hole cart path:IMG_0822 That hole was a straightaway par 5. According to the sign, there were four tee positions:IMG_0827

Florida probably still has too many golf courses. Even so, it’s sad to see the ruins of a place where you know at least a few of the regulars felt more at home than they did at home.

IMG_0843Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, the golf courses might as well be in receivership. This is what my back yard looked like on Thursday afternoon, when the storm was still only getting started:

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And here’s how things looked on Friday morning. (The doghouse on the right, which is on top of a wall, belonged to one of the three cats that lived in our yard for many years.)

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My wife and I have been throwing birdseed into the snow, and attracting mainly juncos and cardinals. When the seed runs low, the birds send an emissary to the back door to complain. When I got up this morning, there were junco footprints on the doormat:

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I tossed out a double load, and a few minutes later the birds were back:

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Birds really do this, incidentally. During the summer, when our hummingbird feeder runs out, a hummingbird will fly up to the window closest to the computer in my wife’s office, on the second floor, and hover there until she notices.

Same back yard, with hummingbird, in better times.

Same back yard, with hummingbird, in better times.

The wife of one of my golf buddies told me that when the feeder runs out at her house a hummingbird will fly, in sequence, to windows in the rooms where she can usually be found during the day: kitchen, bedroom, laundry room. After I’d fed the birds, I re-shoveled the path to the back door:

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Last week, my friends and I had no choice but to return to the simulators at Maggie McFly’s—which, I’m sorry to report, are showing their age. Our round lasted at least a half-hour longer than it should have, because the sensors had trouble picking up the balls. Still, it was golf. And, because Ferris had never played on a simulator before, we picked Pebble Beach. Here’s Rick, lining up a putt on the twelfth:

20140207_165317-001Spookily, the golf tournament on TV, which we watched between shots, was also at Pebble Beach, and there were quite a few occasions when the hole we were playing was exactly the same hole they were showing on TV—in this case, the thirteenth:

20140207_165321-001It was pretty darned eerie.