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Having fun is big business

The billboards start as far north as Lake City and as far south as Tampa, beckoning Florida travelers to come to Citrus County. To golf. While Citrus County offers a myriad of recreational activities for visitors and year-round residents, the most obvious - and most popular - is golf.

"It's certainly gaining a reputation for golf," Plantation Inn and Golf Resort head professional Jim Brennan said. "We're turning people away here every day."

The Plantation is easily the busiest of the county's 10 courses,

accommodating nearly 50,000 golfers during the January-to-May season, Brennan said.

But even with six public, one private and three semiprivate golf courses in the county, there are plans to build more. The business of having fun continues to bring big business to Citrus County.

Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto is still reaping the benefits of being named Golf Digest's "Best New Private Course" in 1988. Playing privileges are exclusive: members only.

The Plantation Inn and Golf Resort in Crystal River attracts national and international guests with its reputation as a friendly vacation resort, offering special golf package rates year-round for the hotel and 27-hole facility.

During the busy winter months, when Citrus County's population bulges from the influx of Northern residents seeking mild winter weather, finding tee times at any of the county's courses can be a challenge.

But golf is not the only game in town, nor is everyone in town a golfer.

"Recreation in general is a tremendously large industry," Citrus County Parks and Recreation Director John Jackson said. "People tend to overlook or forget about it, but recreation is anything you're doing when you're not working, eating, sleeping, and I've added a new one, worshipping. Anytime you're not fulfilling basic needs, you're involved in recreation.

"I would bet you 95 percent of the population gets involved in recreation every day - morning, afternoon or evening."

And in Citrus County, the choices seem endless.

The county supports four bowling alleys, two on each side of the county, with a fifth planned for the centrally located Beverly Hills community.

"Citrus County has proven to be a bowler's paradise," said Dennis McNally, general manager of Manatee Lanes in Crystal River. "They just love to bowl."

At Manatee Lanes and Steve Neff Lanes in Homosassa bowlers don't even have to worry about keeping score. The two westside alleys offer the latest in computer scorekeeping and graphics technologies.

For those who would like a break from the links and lanes, there are plenty of other leisure activities available, from canoeing on the Withlacoochee River (rentals are available at area fish camps) to horseback riding in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Hikers and joggers might want to try the trails of the Withlacoochee State Forest or Inverness' Whispering Pines Park.

For those who prefer hiking in wilder surroundings, there is plenty of wilderness along the west side of the county. The Suncoast chapter of the Florida Trail Association schedules frequent outings in the forest and at Flying Eagle Ranch in east Citrus County near the Sumter County line.

There are several large flea markets to visit, including Stokes on State Road 44, the Inverness Flea Market on U.S. 41 near the Inverness airport, Howard's on U.S. 19 in Homosassa Springs and Cowboy Junction on SR 44 at County Road 490 in Lecanto.

For the more adventurous, there are glider rides at the Crystal River airport for $20 a ride, airboat rides at Hoffman & Sons and area fish camps, and auto racing part of the year at the Citrus Speedway on U.S. 41 in Inverness.

Citrus County's bait houses and fish camps, both fresh- and saltwater, are busy year-round. Private guides can be hired from most outlets.

Citrus County residents keep two parks and recreation departments jumping. The Citrus County and Inverness parks and recreation departments offer a variety of sporting leagues from softball to karate for men and women of all ages. The county also organizes arts and crafts classes regularly.