SUN CITY CENTER
As the sun sets on the golf course outside the Palm Court Café, the party inside has already started. The drinks are two for one. The music is blaring. A DJ plays the Cupid Shuffle and a dozen ladies rush to the dance floor. It's 6 p.m. Do you know where your grandma is?
If she lives in the retirement community of Kings Point, she might be at this resident-only hot spot. Especially if she's on a date. Or on the prowl.
With more than 5,000 unmarried residents, the dating scene in Sun City Center is far from dead.
But it can get a little interesting.
For every single man there are three single women, according to the 2010 Census. The average age is 74.
On Thursdays, a DJ plays music from 5 to 8 p.m. at the South Club's cafe. And, according to residents, it's one of the best places to meet new people in this usually quiet community.
Gracie Swagel, 66, met her boyfriend there.
One year ago today, a friend introduced her to Rick Razick Sr., 77.
"He was sitting at the bar," Swagel said. "He brought me a rose and took me to dinner."
Razick had seen her around the community before, but the retired Air Force pilot hadn't been interested then.
"There were plenty of women here," Razick said.
"She got me hooked," he said. "She's very nice to me."
For Swagel, a widower, it took a lot of courage to get back into dating.
"The whole world changes when you lose a spouse," she said. "The hardest thing was to get started."
The couple plan to have an early Valentine's date to celebrate their anniversary.
"We don't know how it will work out," Swagel said, "but we are happy here and now."
If it sounds a lot like dating anywhere else, that's because it is, said Mary Haverstock, 79.
Haverstock's husband passed away soon after they moved to Kings Point a decade ago.
Since then, she has learned a few things about dating as she ages.
The women are still the same.
"It's very much like high school with the jealousy," she said.
The men still have the ability to drive the women crazy.
"They are not that much different from when they were young," she said.
What has changed? Dating becomes something you do for yourself again, she said. There are no parents to check in with or other people to worry about.
Haverstock loves dancing, so she often comes to the Palm Court Café on Thursdays and takes a few turns around the dance floor.
If a man catches her eye, at least she can see how he behaves before she agrees to go out with him.
"One of the nice things about it here is that you can meet men in a group setting," she said. "If they are a gentleman, you learn that before you agree to a date."
Bobbi Burnette, 55, agrees with the jealousy part. She moved to Kings Point with her husband when she was 53 and she says she was immediately lambasted because of her age.
"I moved here and the other women hated my guts," she said.
She is now divorced. She quickly found that dating her neighbors wasn't something she was interested in.
"A lot of the men are looking for a nurse or a purse," she said. "I'm not either."
Then there are the women so desperate to find a man in the unevenly split community that residents often refer to them as the "casserole brigade" in hushed tones.
"There are women who look in the newspapers to find out whose wife passed away," Burnette said. "Then they'll go bring him a casserole."
Burnette is now dating a man who lives outside the community.
Jack Keller, 78, and Carol Carter, 71, met in Kings Point. Both have been married before. Keller is a widower and Carter a divorcee.
They try not to take things too seriously.
"We have a lot of fun together and we laugh," Keller said.
They often go to the horse races or dancing. Sometimes Carter cooks.
"She puts a slug on a plate," Keller joked.
He pursued her, attracted to her appearance and her kind nature, he said.
For Carter, it came down to one kiss.
"I kissed him, and when I kissed him, that was it."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.