Retirees continue to seek their dream homes in The Villages in large numbers. Sumter County, because of the growth of The Villages, ranks sixth in the nation and No. 1 in Florida in new home construction for the decade 2010-20, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The number of homes in Sumter grew during the 10-year period from about 53,000 to about 75,300, an increase of 42%.
Hays County, part of the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area in Texas, ranks No. 1 with an increase of 57.4% or about 34,000 new homes in the decade.
The lofty ranking comes as no surprise to Sumter County Property Appraiser Joey Hooten, who witnesses the housing growth on a daily basis.
“Sumter County is the envy of the state,” Hooten said. “It’s because we have sustained growth no matter what the economy throws at us.”
That can be attributed to the demand for the lifestyle available in The Villages, Hooten said. “No one has done what we’ve been able to do in this county over the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s nothing short of amazing. And it’s all about what’s being offered in The Villages.”
It doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon either, Hooten added.
“People are moving here more than ever,” he said. In terms of population, The Villages is America’s fastest-growing community over the same time period. The Villages metropolitan statistical area grew from about 93,000 to nearly 130,000, an increase of 38.9%, according to Census data.
The Villages MSA encompasses all of Sumter County, but does not include the portions of The Villages in Lake and Marion counties. Eighty percent of The Villages’ residents live in Sumter, which ranks as the 19th fastest-growing county out of 3,142 nationwide. There are many reasons why The Villages appeals to those seeking to migrate south, said Phil Walker, president of The Villages Homeowners Advocates. “I’m not surprised at all,” said Walker, of the Village of Pennecamp. “I say that because I understand the conditions in northern states, whether it’s taxes or the cold weather, that are driving people to look for relief. When they look around and see the lifestyle and amenities here, it’s easy to see The Villages offers the best. People want to be a part of that lifestyle.”
Estimates from the state’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research show that Sumter County will continue to grow, driven by the southern expansion of The Villages. In 2025, Sumter is expected to have about 168,000 residents; in 2030 that number could climb to 190,000 and by April 1, 2040, it’s predicted that the county will have nearly 224,000 residents, according to BEBR.
The total package of the active adult lifestyle makes The Villages so appealing, said Richard Baier, who is retiring this week as district manager after serving the community for four years. “It’s really an affirmation of all The Villages has to offer for residents,” he said. “With all of the recreation centers, the golf courses, the lifestyle clubs, the beautiful landscaping, the public safety, the health care — there’s truly something for everyone. People recognize the quality of life here is second to none. That’s why people keep moving here.”
Nothing compares to the recreation amenities The Villages offers its residents, according to a national comparison.
John Rohan has watched the expansion of recreation amenities in the community unfold over the 27 years he has served as director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department.
“There’s a lot of things that bring me much joy about what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “But it’s mostly about being part of such a wonderful community of residents who embrace and support the vision of providing exceptional recreation and park services to help better their lives.”
What The Villages accomplished over three decades with recreation eclipses the number of amenities in most U.S. cities, according to data collected by the Trust for Public Land.
With 223 pickleball courts, The Villages has nearly 100 more courts than the top U.S. city — Honolulu, Hawaii, with 128 courts — according to the nonprofit organization in its “2021 City Park Facts.”
The Villages also has more swimming pools than any of the top 100 U.S. cities. The Villages has 103 swimming pools, of which 60 are adult neighborhood pools, 31 are family pools and 12 are sports pools. Pickleball and swimming are only two of the many recreational opportunities offered to residents.
Rohan and his staff manage amenities at 105 recreation facilities, including 15 softball fields; six dog parks, with separate areas for small and large dogs; and seven fitness clubs at regional recreation complexes.
More than 3,100 resident lifestyle clubs meet at recreation centers.
More is on the way, including:
Homestead Recreation Center is expecting to open soon in the villages of Citrus Grove and Newell. It will be home to a resort-style family pool, a boardwalk nature trail, a dog park, the community’s first astronomy pads for stargazing at night, pickleball, tennis, horseshoes, bocce, corn toss and shuffleboard.
First Responders Recreation Center is well underway in the Village of Calumet Grove. Outdoor amenities will include several not currently available north of County Road 466 such as an 18-hole putt and play golf course, a resort-style family pool, a fire pit and platform tennis, in addition to a lawn bowling/croquet green and pickleball, basketball and sand volleyball/beach tennis courts.
Lake Okahumpka Recreation Center will feature a waterfront restaurant, a lakeside park and a pedestrian trail along the lake. It will become a hub of water activities like kayaking and paddle boarding.
Franklin Recreation Center in the upcoming Leesburg area of The Villages, located off Meggison Road in the Village of Lake Denham, will be home to both the Mickeylee Pitch & Putt golf course and Jubilee Putting Course.
Golf is a way of life in The Villages.
Nowhere in the world — and that’s not hyperbole — are there as many holes of golf under one community umbrella as there are in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
The Villages is home to 55 courses, from a Pitch & Putt to a one-time LPGA venue, representing 711 holes of golf. Three million rounds are played in a year. Upward of 2,500 holes-in-one are recorded annually by residents and their guests.
When it comes to golf, there just aren’t many small numbers in The Villages.
“We have more action than any other development in the world,” marveled Tony Wilson, head PGA professional at Cane Garden Country Club, the busiest of 13 championship courses spread throughout the community.
The Villages has plenty of offerings. Those 13 championship complexes — some 18 holes, most offering 27 — are complemented by 41 executive courses for golfers of varying skill levels. The Marsh View Pitch & Putt completes the rotation.
Two executive courses feature larger cups, offering a variation that takes some of the frustration out of putting. Players also can take on two putting courses — the Fenney Putt & Play or the Himalayas putting course at Palmer Legends.
“Our goal is we want to embrace all golfers,” said Ken Roshaven, executive director of golf services for The Villages Golf & Tennis. “Make it safe and easy. That’s not dumbing it down, but making it accessible. We don’t want you to be intimidated by a game that can be intimidating.”
Southern Oaks Golf Club is The Villages’ newest championship course and first addition of its type in nearly seven years. The Live Oak and Laurel Oak nines mirror each other in an “L” shape as they approach Florida’s Turnpike and split in opposite directions before looping back. Each nine also features a unique configuration boasting three par-3s, three par-4s and three par-5s.
The Villages vision of becoming “America’s Healthiest Hometown” remains a top priority.
A health care network consisting of primary care, specialty care, emergency services and hospital care provides first-class services to residents in their own community. And there is more on the horizon.
UF Health has announced plans to develop a 400-acre health care hub anchored by a new University of Florida Hospital — part of the network that includes the existing UF Health The Villages Hospital, UF Health The Villages Freestanding Emergency Room and UF Health Leesburg Hospital.
The Villages Health recently opened its seventh primary care center, building on a model that prioritizes close relationships between doctors and patients.
Providers still are moving into the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood, a 240,000-square foot facility that opened in 2020, bringing medical experts from 25 specialties together under one roof.
It’s all part of working toward a goal established about a decade ago, said Dr. Elliot Sussman, chairman of The Villages Health.
“We knew early on the vision was to transform The Villages into America’s Healthiest Hometown,” Sussman said.
UF Health is the newest partner in that mission. In January 2020, the University of Florida Health acquired Central Florida Health and its sister hospitals, meaning a name change to UF Health The Villages Hospital. The change means the 307-bed acute care hospital also can tap into the wider UF Health hospital system and its nationally ranked resources, which include the flagship facility — UF Health Shands in Gainesville, as well as another in Jacksonville.
In October, UF Health leaders announced a new medical residency program coming to The Villages Hospital. The move signals “a dramatic inflection point in quality of care” for residents here, said Dr. Kevin Behrns, chief medical officer for UF Health The Villages Hospital.
Last July, the Lake County Commission approved economic incentives to lure a planned mixed-use development featuring a medical city to the Lake County portion of The Villages. The $100-million plus project is expected to break ground in early 2022.
Shopping and Dining
In one golf cart trip, residents can pick up the dry cleaning, go to a doctor’s appointment, grab lunch with friends and get groceries for dinner.
The Villages has three town squares — Spanish Springs, Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood. They provide marketplaces where people can go to find what they need and want, as well as nightly entertainment. Outside of those town centers, The Villages has 12 retail shopping centers with at least one grocery store as an anchor. The newest one, Magnolia Plaza, opened in early 2021 and still is adding new shops and businesses. Commercial areas also exist that are dedicated to non-retail offices. Those looking for medical specialists, financial help, dentistry and other services can go to the 15 golf cart-accessible professional plazas.
The town centers saw several new businesses open last year, such as Flip Flop Shops in Spanish Springs and Island Fin Poke restaurant in Brownwood.
As these new businesses come online, they join the larger community where the loyalty of residents and commitment from businesses create a strong atmosphere of support for small businesses. The Villages Commercial Property Management reports the total average occupancy rate is 97%.
“The Villages combines the stability of a population that has steadily and consistently grown with a dynamic group of people who enjoy getting out and enjoying all that the community has to offer,” said Scott Renick, The Villages director of commercial development. “From a restaurant and retailers perspective it is both a safe and vibrant market for business.”
Villagers who love great food have a wide array of options to choose from. The Villages has more than 140 dining options in the community, with something for everyone.
Eleven country clubs feature restaurants that have served residents for decades, often acting as a meeting place for groups and where golfers relax after a round on the course. Each of the country clubs are locally owned and operated.
Residents also can choose from a variety of other eating options ranging from small, locally owned diners to large, nationally known brands. Restaurants are woven into the structure of each town center and shopping plaza, while country clubs are situated inside neighborhoods.
Several more new additions are on the horizon including McGrady’s Pub & Restaurant and the Market at Sawgrass Grove; Harvest at Brownwood; The Back Porch at Mulberry Grove Plaza; and Reveille Cafe, McDonald’s and Foxtail Coffee Co. coming to Magnolia Plaza.
Residents can access everything The Villages has to offer using their favorite form of transportation — golf carts.
The vision of linking all residents to shopping, amenities and services Villages-wide became reality in March 2021 with the opening of the Water Lily Bridge across Florida’s Turnpike.
“Connectivity is an essential part of life in our community,” said Kelsea Manly, director of operations for The Villages. “It brings people together.”
When The Villages began expansion south of State Road 44, it unveiled a bold plan to construct multiple bridges to provide full golf-cart connectivity to the entire community. Water Lily Bridge, along with Brownwood and Chitty Chatty bridges, now provide access to all of The Villages from north to south.
A second Turnpike bridge — the Southern Oaks Bridge — is under construction south of the Okahumpka Service Plaza. It will accommodate vehicular traffic as well as golf carts to connect the Sawgrass Grove area north of the Turnpike with the planned Wellness Village and Eastport lifestyle center to the south.
“Residents tell us all the time how much they enjoy the golf cart lifestyle,” said Tracy Morse, vice president of design for The Villages. “Our vision for full connectivity is all about making sure folks can travel by golf cart anywhere they want in the community. We hope this will be one more reason Villagers are proud to call The Villages home.”
Community Support District
A new charter school campus will serve as the centerpiece of the community support district Middleton by The Villages. Middleton will be adjacent to The Villages south of Central Parkway (formerly County Road 470) and will offer housing, shopping, dining and recreation opportunities to meet the needs of families.
At the heart of the community will be a second K-8 campus for The Villages Charter School, a new location for The Villages High School and an expansion of The Villages Early Childhood Center. Housing options at Middleton will include single-family homes, townhomes and apartments.
The schools, a downtown area and recreation amenities will be accessible by walking, biking or golf cart thanks to a network of pathways, trails and tunnels.
Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or email@example.com.