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Carting in the season

A procession of fanciful golf carts sparks festive moods and organizers' ambitions for space in a record book.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2002

SUN CITY CENTER -- Tampa stages an annual pirate invasion. Plant City celebrates the harvest with a 10-day Strawberry Festival.

So what do you do when your community is best known for golf courses and the 72-year-old average age of its residents?

In Sun City Center, you kick off the holiday season with a golf cart parade.

And not just any golf cart parade. If organizers have their way, Friday's event will go down as a Guinness-approved world record, though just among parades featuring decorated golf carts.

"I've been coming out here for two or three years now, but this ... this is impressive," said Harriet Hall, who joined hundreds of her southern Hillsborough neighbors along the parade route Friday morning.

She cheered as friends passed in golf carts, dressed with holiday cheer.

There were carts done up as gingerbread houses and trains. Others were draped with gifts, trees and ornaments. One was fitted with a snowplow.

Drivers wore holiday costumes. Television anchorman Bob Hite led the charge as grand marshal.

Berna Deane Pezdirtz and Helen East came as reindeer and rode in a golf cart fashioned into a sleigh. They put Santa out front to do the pulling.

"Poor old Santa left his whip in our house," Pezdirtz said. "We decided to put it to use on him."

In all, 188 of the diminutive floats passed by. They were videotaped by parade volunteers and their number tallied by Laurence L. Hanney, a certified public accountant based in Sun City Center, who used the old four marks and a slash system to keep track.

"The tried and true method of accounting," Hanney said.

The evidence will be shipped to the folks at Guinness, record keeper of all things biggest. Organizers hope a special category will be created for them.

"They were kind of amazed," said Laura York, a former television meteorologist who runs a marketing company and is coordinating the Guinness entry. "They're in London, so it was kind of hard to describe exactly what we're talking about here."

Residents are pretty sure they have the record. The only rival they could find is in Palm Desert, Calif., where a golf cart parade last month drew 92 entries. That's less than half the number that participated Friday.

Sun City Center has always had a love affair with golf carts. Its 10,000 residents -- 15,000 if you include those in neighboring Kings Point -- own about 4,000 carts, which they use on and off the links.

Some help their owners get through a round of golf. But they are used instead of cars just as often.

Most are a far cry from the beat-up carts that cruise the fairways of a typical public golf course. Many are fashioned to resemble popular luxury cars and classics. There's even a Rolls-Royce or two.

The idea of a parade sprouted a few years ago, when a few residents talked about ideas for a big community-building event. Somebody said they should use the golf carts.

"That was pretty much it," said Jim Cooper, the main parade organizer, who works part time for a company that sells golf carts.

They gathered shortly before 9 a.m. Friday in a strip mall parking lot on State Road 674, the community's main drag. Volunteers anxiously combed the lot for moving vehicles, warning, "Careful, golf carts coming through."

One man played Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer from his golf cart. It seemed almost appropriate after Lois Moreland, dressed as Santa, went splat on the pavement after her friend, Lynn Paonessa, gassed their golf cart a bit too vigorously.

"Mrs. Claus here has a lead foot," Moreland said.

"I thought our parade days were over," Paonessa said.

It ended well. The parade proceeded without incident along a 1.1-mile circuit. Cart riders handed -- but didn't throw -- candy and beads to people lining the roadway. Nobody had to flash anyone to get anything.

And Moreland and Paonessa won a third-place prize for their get-up.

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