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Warm and friendly and thoroughly tanned, Ray Peterson is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Assuming he had a shirt on his back. On a recent Saturday afternoon, he didn't. Striding down the fairways at Cypress Cove Golf Course in Kissimmee, Fla., the 56-year-old mechanical engineer looked perfectly at ease wearing nothing more than a cowboy hat and a broad grin. "I always play without shoes," he said. "I don't feel comfortable in them." Or anything else. Peterson was one of 30 naturists, aged 37 to 76, teeing it up in the sport's
quintessential skins game. "The human body is not meant to be in a bra and underwear," said Sandi Tayler, whose own body wasn't in them either. Showing not a trace of embarrassment, with unclothed parts moving free, she and her fellow duffers gave proof that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
The nine-hole pitch-and-putt course takes up 21/2 acres of the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa, a veritable Garden of Eden of saunas, swimming pools, tennis courts, hot tubs and spring-fed lakes. Of the 272 nudist clubs in the U.S. and Canada, Cypress Cove is one of only two with its own course. "Too bad the pros won't strip down like us--most are too staid and straitlaced," said Tayler's husband, John, 56. "I'd like to see John Daly go naked, though." The rest of us would gladly avert our gaze.
With its history of checked trousers and white belts and shoes, golf may be the most sartorially challenged of all sports. But playing in your birthday suit? "Actually," deadpans Sam Jackson, the president of the Cypress Cove Golf Association, "my golf outfit is transparent."
Jackson, a 66-year-old retired Marine, believes his game is enhanced when he plays without attire. He likes the feeling of the sun on his belly and the breeze against his butt. He likes the sense of lightness, of being totally unencumbered. "Normally, after a day out on the greens I'd come back with a golfer's tan," he says. "Here, there are no tan lines."
To be fair, nude golf has it disadvantages. "You have no pockets," says Peterson. "There's nowhere to keep your tees or balls or billfold." And after a ride on a golf cart you may have trouble separating your genitals from the seat. That's one reason nudists always carry towels.
Visitors would be wise not to call Cypress Cove a nudist colony. "Some members are offended by the term," says operations manager Ted Hadley. "They think it sounds like leper colony." Nudist community is more in keeping with the intent of Hadley's late grandfather Jim, who built the resort to provide a sanctuary for those who not only want to sunbathe in the altogether but also want to live life au naturel.
Cypress Cove was unveiled during the Johnson Administration, and 41 years later it's still unabashedly going strong. NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO PROBLEM reads the sign over the door of the administration building. Clothing is pretty much optional. The swimming area that abuts Cheeks Bar and Grill (REST YOURS AT OURS) is the only place nudism is compulsory.
Just as it is at most country clubs, Cypress Cove's 3,300 members tend to be conservative Republicans, affluent white folks looking for a safe, crime-free environment. Some are full-time residents, but for most the resort is a weekend and vacation spot. Twelve years ago longtime resident Mike Wax had the crazy idea to turn a wooded corner of the club into a par-3 course. He laid out nine holes, from 25 to 48 yards long.
The golfers who signed up for the Saturday better-ball challenge wouldn't have cared if the grass had been sown with poison ivy. Risk-averse nudists, they were not: They dined, after all, on chili, a cuisine with great potential to backfire. And despite a blazing sun, hardly any of them wore sunblock. "I haven't in 15 years," said Sandi Tayler, which explained the Cheetos-colored rash that crept across her torso.