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SPORTS COME NATURALLY TO LAKE COUNTY

With year-round world-class sporting events, a collection of world-renowned training facilities, and an average year-round temperature of 71 degrees Fahrenheit, Lake County, Fla., has proven to be a competitive outdoor sports mecca. The adventure traveler will have no problem finding a challenging sport in the county.

The area's gently rolling hills, country roads, year-round mild climate, clean lakes and wholesome family atmosphere attract competing athletes from throughout the country and around the world.

TRIATHLETES HIGH

Clermont in Lake County hosts more triathlons than any other community in the world, including the Great Floridian Triathlon, one of only three Ironman distance triathlons in the United States and the only one held in the South. The event, which draws participants from more than 44 states and 12 countries, is organized annually by CFT/Sommer Sports, which also manages the annual Great Clermont Triathlon and Florida Challenge Triathlon. For more information, call (352) 394-1320.

The USA Triathlon National Training Center will move to Clermont in late 1999 and will provide a training site for athletes competing in the 2000 Olympics. Lake County hosted the USA Triathlon National Championship in Clermont in June 1998.

GOLF IS PAR FOR THE COURSE

Towering forests and quiet lakes greet golfers at the Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, which features 36 holes of championship golf and rare 85-foot elevations tee to green. Rated in the top 20 of Florida's 1,100-plus golf courses, Mission Inn boasts two courses: the El Campeon, one of the south's oldest golf courses built in 1926 by Charles Clark of Troon; and Las Colinas, whose signature 12th hole is a par 5 with a narrow tree-lined fairway requiring accuracy from tee to green. Call (352) 324-3885 for more information.

One of the newest golf courses in Central Florida, Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis is the place for golfers who "eat, drink and sleep golf." One of the highly praised P.B. Dye layouts, this "do or dye" course has the designer's trademark touches, such as sandy waste bunkers, undulating greens and dramatic fairway elevation changes. The 18-hole course has six sets of tees measuring from 5,000 yards to 7,000 yards. Call (800) 4-BEAR-18 for more information.

Other highly acclaimed courses -- private, semi-private and public -- include Clerbrook, Green Valley Country Club, Palisades Country Club and Swiss Fairways Country Club in Clermont; Bella Vista Golf & Yacht Club in Howey-in-the-Hills; Country Club of Lady Lake, Hacienda Hills Golf & Country Club and Harbor Hills Golf Club in Lady Lake; Cranes Roost and Pennbrooke Fairways in Leesburg; Country Club of Mount Dora and Mount Dora Golf Association in Mount Dora; Mount Plymouth Golf Club in Mount Plymouth; and Bay Tree Golf Course, Deer Island Golfers' Club and Village Green Golf Course in Tavares.

Every year Lake County plays host to numerous golf tournaments, including the Annual Boys Florida Junior Invitational Golf Championship, one of the oldest continuous tournaments of its kind in the southeast; the Senior Series Golf Tour; the Bobbie Clampett NCCAA Pro-Am Golf Classic; and several NCAA golf tournaments.

To find out about golfing in Lake County, call (800) 476-LAKE.

FISH FOR FUN

Participating in numerous amateur bass fishing tournaments in Lake County throughout the year, anglers can join the competition or simply fish for fun. Lake County hosted the first annual Florida State Freshwater Fishing Championship in 1997 and hosted the Lake County Governors Cup Bass Fishing qualifying tournament in Spring 1998.

In addition to bass, the lakes have a plentiful supply of blue bream, shellcrackers, stripers, speckled perch and catfish. Bait and tackle shops dot the water's edge and fish camps provide rural accommodations and country cooking.

A canoe trip down Alexander Springs in Altoona is a great way to see subtropical plants, bird life and other animals against a backdrop of palm, hardwood swamp and sand pine ridge.

FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES

For those vacationers seeking an adventurous sport, Seminole-Lake Gliderport in Clermont offers introductory sailplane rides for one or two people. The gliderport, the largest glider teaching school in Florida, offers novice and experienced pilots basic and advanced soaring instruction, sailplane rental, tow service, tie downs and hangars.

If an extended stay is desired, two guest rooms and RV hook-ups are available for rent. A swimming pool and picnic area also are located on the grounds.

Owner and operator Knut Kjenslie, originally from Norway, has flown for more than 20 years and also is a "power" airplane pilot, an instructor and FAA examiner.

The glider plane is operated by thermals that lift the plane at a faster rate than gravity pulls it down, extending the distance a sailplane can soar. The glider is launched with an aerotow in which the sailplane is towed by a 200-foot rope secured to the tow plane until the craft reaches the desired altitude. There are no engines to fail; the planes are designed to be sturdy and responsive; and, if need be, they can be set down safely in a field about the length of a football field.

In the spring, the gliderport hosts the annual Seniors Soaring Championship, a worldwide competition for pilots 55 or older. For more information, call (352) 394-5450.

WATER SKIING HAVEN

Pristine lakes, year-round mild weather and sunny skies drew Andy Hansen, the former director of water skiing at Sea World, to Lake County, where he now owns a championship-level water ski school.

Top-rated skiers from the U.S., Japan, England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Brazil travel to Lake County for lessons at two top ski schools: Hansen's Benzel Skiing Center in Groveland and Jack Travers' Sunset Lakes in Okahumpka. College ski teams also train there with hopes of someday competing in national and world championships.

Excellent skiing conditions also lured Pierre and Denise Grimm from Switzerland to Lake County, where they opened the Swiss Ski School on the outskirts of Clermont. The school offers accommodations for the skiers and their families, in addition to offering three lakes, ski lessons and ski packages.

Lake County's Sunset Lakes water ski school hosted the Correct Craft Masters Qualifier, the qualifier for the U.S. Masters Water Ski Championships, and the 1997 World Disabled Championship, which featured contestants from around the world.

The amateur skier also will find plenty of ski-able water and boat ramps at most of the county, state and national parks.

FLY THROUGH THE AIR WITH THE GREATEST OF EASE

At Quest Air in Groveland, adventure seekers can hang glide via aerotow. There's no need for mountains or water to get airborne, so everyone has a far better chance of getting a flight and of getting hands-on experience. Plus, the Florida weather is much more conducive to year-round hang gliding.

Owners Russell Brown, Bob Bailey and Campbell Brown invented the aerotowing method of hang gliding and have been aerotowing in central Florida since the late 1980s. For the past ten years, they have operated Quest Air at the flight park at Lake County's Sheets Air Field, one of only three hang gliding parks in Florida and a handful in the U.S. The threesome have helped start all the aerotow flight parks in the U.S., and they manufacture a proprietary tow plane called a Dragonfly or "flying tractor" as well as a tandem training glider for distribution worldwide.

Quest Air features several different designs of gliders, and rated pilots can either bring their own glider or rent one from the company. Hang glider pilots come from as far away as Europe, South America, Asia, Japan, Australia and Indonesia.

Quest Air operates seven days a week; and introductory lessons start at $68 for a 1,000-foot flight, $125 for a 2,500-foot flight, and $225 for a mile-high adventure, each of which can be applied to the cost of a 20-lesson training program. All instructors are rated tandem pilots by the U.S. Hang Gliding Association, the sport's governing body. For pilots taking a break or for their families joining them, the flight park also features a clubhouse, swimming pool, volleyball court, and a lake for fishing and windsurfing. Check them out at www.questairforce.com or to schedule a flight, call Quest Air at (352) 429-0213.

For a free Lake County vacation guide, visitors can call (800) 430-LAKE.

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