The city of Sarasota in Florida has reopened its Donald Ross-designed municipal course at Bobby Jones Golf Club following a major restoration project led by golf course architect Richard Mandell.
This story was first reported by Golf Course Architecture magazine.
The club previously had 45 holes, 18 of which were originally designed by Donald Ross. Work to restore the Ross holes and update practice facilities began in March 2022. Mandell has also created a nine-hole par-three course – named the “Gillespie” after Sarasota’s first mayor – that has 30 hole options, allowing it to be configured to play five different ways, and is scheduled to open in early 2024. Ninety acres of the club’s land has been converted to a nature park, which is free and open to the public.
“Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota is as significant as they come because the land on which Donald Ross created this masterpiece is still intact, allowing us to restore his original plan,” said Mandell. “The reintroduction of strategic mounding throughout the layout Ross planned long ago will be new and different from what many Ross golf aficionados are accustomed to playing. Bobby Jones has exceeded even my expectations as we approach opening day. I’m extremely excited to play the course myself.”
New drainage was installed throughout the course, which was prone to flooding, and, along with improved land grading, the property is now expected to drain quickly and efficiently following a rain event.
The Ross course has six tee boxes at varying distances in order to create an enjoyable experience for all players of all abilities, with the total length now ranging from 4,583 to 6,714 yards. The ‘Ross’ tees allow golfers to play the par-71 course as the original architect planned, at a total length of 6,240 yards.
“By adding forward tee distances, we’re welcoming a wider range of golfers at different skill levels,” said Sue Martin, parks and recreation team member. “Traditionally, red tees have been the closest to a hole, then white and blue tees farther away. Golf is evolving. With three additional tee distances, more options are available for golfers at Bobby Jones to have fun and add variety to their game, whether they’re a novice or lifelong player.”
A new 25-acre practice facility includes a putting green, short game area with three chipping greens and two teardrop target greens, and a driving range with 70 hitting stations.
A permanent clubhouse is planned and expected to be open to the public in approximately two years.
The club has received an Environmental Excellence Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects in recognition of the project’s positive impact on the environment.
The nature park features crushed shell and decommissioned golf cart paths repurposed into walking and cycling trails around the newly created wetlands that attract wildlife.
The city commission approved a conservation easement on the property in partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which means the city-owned property will remain a protected, preserved green space in perpetuity.
Covering 307 acres, the Bobby Jones property is the largest green space in the city, and a significant floodplain in the Philippi Creek watershed. It filters stormwater for 5,800 urban acres.
To improve water quality, nearly 20 acres of wetlands were created, almost 14.5 acres of native grasses planted and 49,000 nutrient-filtering aquatic plants installed, including sawgrass, fire flag and pickerel weed.
In addition, a diversion weir was constructed along one of the main Phillippi Creek tributaries to divert water into the newly created wetlands. The water flow is regulated with two control structures in the wetlands, allowing the wetlands to serve as a regional stormwater treatment system. Ultimately, the filtered water flows into Roberts Bay, the intracoastal waters between Sarasota and Siesta Key. It is estimated 900 pounds of nitrogen and 300 pounds of phosphorus will be removed each year.
Course operator Indigo is expected to pursue certification for Bobby Jones in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, with the goal of becoming certified within two years after reopening. During a recent annual bird count, the Sarasota Audubon Society documented 45 unique species on the property.