It seems like an uneven exchange. A young woman at a steel desk gives me a plastic bag tag with my name on it, a blue folder full of schedules and a 19-cent spiral notebook. In return, I write her a check for $1,540, made out to "Ben Sutton Golf Schools."
"Happy hour is at 5:45, dinner is at 6:30," she says, sweeping the check out of view with the deftness of a three-card monte dealer. "You'll meet your pro at dinner. Do you know who you have?"
I do not, so she runs her finger down the roster. When she finds my name, she snorts. "You've got Toby Lyons. He's a crazy old fart."
It figures. The palm-lined streets outside are choked with C.O.F.'s driving golf carts. On the way from the Tampa airport I had passed this billboard: SUN CITY CENTER—AMERICA'S RETIREMENT TOWN. I even spotted the classic C.O.F. bumper sticker: A BALD HEAD IS A SOLAR PANEL FOR A SEX MACHINE.
I smile gamely and wander off to look for my room. The Sun City Center Inn is more early Travelodge than the El Dorado it appears to be in the promotional video. A brisk breeze has picked up and a citadel of thunderheads is about to overwhelm the afternoon sun.
An hour later, it begins to rain. The wind howls. Water rises in the rock garden between the units and laps at my doorsill.
I call my wife, Pat, in Kansas City. "I'm homesick."
She says, "I don't want to hear about it."
Thus comforted, I go to dinner.
The welcome dinner is in a warm and cozy private room at the inn. There are seven or eight tables, segregated by sex, each presided over by a teaching pro. The introductions are quick and cordial. My group of 14-to-24 handicappers consists of a Pennsylvania glass merchant-sculptor, a corporate executive from Taiwan, a college history professor, a West Coast businessman, a Sun City Center retiree and a retired Air Force One pilot.