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Usually a bastion of privilege and privacy, Tiger Woods' neighbourhood besieged since his crash

WINDERMERE, Fla. - The professional athletes, bold-faced celebrities and corporate moguls who live in Tiger Woods' neighbourhood favour it less for its clay tennis courts and Arnold Palmer-designed golf course than for its two-and-a-half-metre security wall and platoon of private guards.

WINDERMERE, Fla. - The professional athletes, bold-faced celebrities and corporate moguls who live in Tiger Woods' neighbourhood favour it less for its clay tennis courts and Arnold Palmer-designed golf course than for its two-and-a-half-metre security wall and platoon of private guards.

Among the many Isleworth amenities - sprawling outdoor sculptures, picturesque lakes, an 8,200-square-metre clubhouse - the one its well-to-do residents value most is its privacy. That's been harder to maintain since Friday, when the world's top golfer and most famous athlete smashed his Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree as he pulled out of his driveway in the middle of the night.

Woods' crash outside his multimillion-dollar home near Orlando has drawn a media mob to the exclusive 300-family community, or more specifically, to its gated checkpoints. Visitors can only get past the Spanish-tiled gatehouse at the main entrance if a resident gives their name to a guard. The white-shirted guards in quasi-police uniforms then check visitors' IDs to verify names on the list.

More than a dozen television trucks were camped outside the entrance Monday as almost 100 reporters, photographers and TV crew members filmed residents' comings and goings. TV helicopters hovered overhead.

And the media are likely to stay until they get answers to where Woods was headed at 2:25 a.m. and what caused the crash. Woods, who briefly lost consciousness and was treated for cuts and bruises at a hospital, has issued two short statements through his Web site and has declined to talk with the Florida Highway Patrol.

In his statements, the famously insular golfer called the accident embarrassing and asked the public to respect - what else? - his privacy.

It's the second time in three months his community has made national news. In September, a prominent developer having money problems was accused of fatally shooting his wife in their home, which was once owned by Palmer.

Bob Ward is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his 55-year-old wife, Diane. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on a US$100,000 bail.

In a state that boasts locales like Miami Beach and Key West, there are ritzier, more exotic spots than Isleworth, which sits on old orange groves amid the central Florida swamps.

Yet since the neighbourhood's development in the 1980s, it has attracted sports stars and celebrities by the dozen. Former and current residents include Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and Dee Brown from the NBA; baseball star Ken Griffey Jr.; Andre Reed of the NFL; former Wimbledon doubles champion Todd Woodbridge; and actor Wesley Snipes.

So many PGA golfers live in Isleworth that the neighbourhood fields a team each year to play in a tournament against a rival luxury neighbourhood in metro Orlando. Isleworth's Tavistock Cup team this year included Mark O'Meara, Stuart Appleby, Darren Clarke, John Cook, J.B. Holmes, Charles Howell III and Woods, among other pros. Florida doesn't have a state income tax and there are nearby numerous world-class courses where they can practice.

Orlando Magic forward Vince Carter has lived in Isleworth long before he came to the NBA franchise this season. Carter, who grew up in Daytona Beach, said he chose the community as a place where he can relax.

"I like quiet. I like being a little out of the way," Carter said.

Carter also said he sympathizes with Woods, who has attended Magic games in the past with courtside seats.

Pro athletes are specifically attracted to Isleworth, where new homes range from $1.5 million to $8 million, "because of the security and the class of the whole place and its accessibility to the airport," said Joyce McClane, a retiree who was one of Isleworth's earliest residents. She bought a lot in the neighbourhood with her husband in 1987.

For Kyung Hee Yoon, the appeal is security. She and her radiologist husband bought a $2.5-million home five years ago after moving to central Florida from New York. Having celebrity neighbours such as the PGA's Appleby was almost an afterthought, she said.

"It is actually not really a big deal," she said. "I sometimes see (famous) people but it doesn't bother me. They're just treated like neighbours."

With its golf course, tennis courts and camp for kids, Isleworth's country club is the nexus of the neighbourhood's social life. Sometimes the celebrity athletes get special treatment and can play golf when the course is closed.

"It's just a perfect life," McClane said. "We're very fortunate."

 
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