Ask people in Timber Pines about their community and you don't just get answers, you get testimonials.
"It's probably the greatest gathering of happy people I have experienced in my lifetime," said Bernie Hilton, 87, a retired insurance agency owner who has lived in Timber Pines for 15 years.
Avid golfers such as Hilton — who, incidentally, shot his age last week — have three 18-hole courses to choose from. For residents who enjoy woodworking, there's a workshop to use and an organized group to join, as there is for just about every other imaginable leisure activity and interest; 85 such clubs are registered with the Timber Pines Community Association.
Timber Pines also offers a performing arts center, a billiards hall, a fitness center and grounds with brimming, sparkling artificial lakes and stands of mature pines left from the property's previous use as a tree farm.
When you hear residents talk about waking up every morning and looking ahead to nothing but fun activities, it sounds almost like summer camp — except days don't end with Beefaroni and bug juice, but with maybe a cocktail at the community center and dinner at Red Lobster.
Timber Pines is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, which is significant because of its size alone — nearly 3,500 residential units. But more than that, this anniversary marks the arrival of a new kind of living in Hernando.
Timber Pines was one of the county's first gated communities — paving the way for Wellington, Silverthorn and Southern Hills, along with several other planned-but-unbuilt projects — and remains the most complete one. More than any other neighborhood in the county, it allows people to seal themselves off inside walls nearly full time with other, very similar people.
It's segregated by age, with a requirement that residents be at least 55 years old. Incomes are tightly bunched around the mean, which, by the way, at $44,000 per year is not much higher than the county average, according to the U.S. Census. It's heavily Republican and 98.9 percent white.
Gated communities "have been criticized by many as the antithesis of establishing interaction and diversity," said Lester Solin, a veteran urban planner from the Orlando area.
So the issue is not whether residents like it in places such as Timber Pines. Of course they do, as is their right. The issue is what it means for the rest of us.
Well, it means good things for the economy, Hilton said. Residents hire home improvement crews and lawn services, the trucks of which roll through the community almost continually. Hilton and his wife, Marie, go out to eat so often, he said, "we're on a first-name basis with people in a half-dozen restaurants."
Also, said Frank Sayers, the community association president, if you poll volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, HPH Hospice and Oak Hill Hospital, you'll find many of them are Timber Pines residents.
They get out, in other words.
But, still, they live in.
When I asked residents about the reason they moved to Timber Pines, they didn't talk about the county, or Spring Hill, or the stretch of U.S. 19 outside the community's main gate. They talked about the inside — the trees, the golf.
Because that sport seems so important to so many people in Timber Pines, I thought about the way the it is played there. And I thought about the book I'm reading, Coming Apart, by the conservative political scientist Charles Murray.
It's not about gated communities, particularly, but Murray does write about the consequences of separating haves and have-nots, one of which is that successful people — such as, generally speaking, residents of Timber Pines — don't share their values with less successful folks.
Golf has never been the most inclusive sport, but in some towns, Brooksville for example, there are public courses where kids can play for not much money and might end up learning golf and maybe even life lessons from veteran players. There are even programs, such as First Tee, that encourage this to happen.
In Timber Pines, on the other hand, golfers play in pairs and foursomes with people very much like themselves, on courses where no one under 16 years old is allowed.