Bobby Jones Golf Club Reopens in Sarasota

by | Dec 16, 2023 | Where to Play

Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Trail officilly reopend today in Southwest Florida. The opening ceremoniens included walking tours of the 199-acre golf course restored to the original layout as designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross.

“This will be a day to celebrate and remember,” said Mayor Liz Alpert. “Our historic municipal golf course has been restored and is a beautiful amenity for the community. The new wetlands already are cleaning stormwater and attracting wildlife. And, the  nature park and trails will be a destination for birders, bicyclists, and walkers. With a conservation easement on the property, it will be protected in perpetuity. There’s no question Bobby Jones will be an urban oasis for those who enjoy green space and being outdoors for generations to come.”

The golf complex features:

  • Restored 18-hole Donald Ross-designed course
  • Renewed 9-hole adjustable Gillespie Course that can be played five different ways with 30 hole options
  • 25-acre practice facility featuring:
    • Driving range with 70 hitting stations
    • 3.75 acre short game area with three chipping greens and two teardrop target greens
    • 21,000 square foot putting green
  • Temporary clubhouse with food and beverage service

“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 Richard Mandell, golf course architect.

The golf course yardage extends from 4,583 yards to 6,714 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 who managed the golf course and shepherded the restoration. “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.”

The redesigned 9-hole Gillespie short course will reopen in early 2024 and feature adjustable holes, meaning the maintenance crew can rearrange holes. As many as 30 different hole combinations will be available, offering golfers distinct, new experiences.

The permanent clubhouse is anticipated to be constructed and open to the public in approximately two years.

The City borrowed $20 million to fund the golf course restoration and new clubhouse.

Bobby Jones Golf Club will turn 100 years old in 2027.

The Nature Park at Bobby Jones encompasses 90 acres on the eastern portion of the property and features crushed shell and decommissioned golf cart paths repurposed into walking/bicycling trails around the newly created wetlands teeming with wildlife. The 1.57-mile Eagle Trail is the primary path with three offshoots:  Prairie Trail (.4 mile), Hammock Trail (.12 mile), and Osprey Trail (.07 mile). Access to the trails is adjacent to the driving range.

The nature park is free and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. The park will be closed when the golf course is closed.

Following extensive community discussion over five years, the City Commission in 2022 unanimously approved downsizing Bobby Jones Golf Club from 45 holes to 27. The non-golf green space was designated a nature park, totaling nearly 100 acres.

The Commission also unanimously approved a conservation easement on the property in partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. The agreement means the City-owned property will remain a protected, preserved green space in perpetuity.

“The grand reopening of Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park is truly a joyous moment for our community,” said Christine P. Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation. “We worked for years, side-by-side with the City of Sarasota, citizens and community advocacy groups to ensure the permanent protection of this centrally located park. Benefiting people and nature, kids and grown-ups, wildlife and waterways – forever protecting Bobby Jones is a win for our entire community. We are thankful for the City’s foresight and willingness to conserve this special place.”

Covering 307 acres, the Bobby Jones property is the single largest green space in the City of Sarasota. It is a significant floodplain in the Phillippi Creek watershed and filters stormwater for 5,800 urban acres as far north as University Parkway.

Nearly 20 acres of wetlands were created to improve water quality, almost 14.5 acres of native grasses were planted and 49,000 nutrient-filtering aquatic plants were 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. An estimated 900 pounds of nitrogen and 300 pounds of phosphorus will be removed each year.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) granted the City of Sarasota $1.5 million to support the water quality improvements, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) provided a $487,500 grant.

“We’re grateful to the State of Florida for helping to fund the construction of the wetlands to improve our water quality,” said City Manager Marlon Brown. “Thank you to our many partners and supporters including SWFWMD, FDEP, Sarasota County government and the Conservation Foundation. This truly has been a significant community effort to restore our historic municipal golf course and create a new urban nature park that will be a community treasure enjoyed by generations.”

With the installation of new drainage pipes throughout the golf course and improved land grading, the property will drain quickly and efficiently following a rain event.

Daily operations at Bobby Jones will be handled by Indigo Sports LLC, a private management company. Green fees will be dynamic, including a 40% reduced rate on the Donald Ross course for City of Sarasota residents.

“Our commitment to providing an exceptional experience to players of all ages and abilities remains unwavering,” said Bobby Jones Golf Club General Manager John Sparrow. “This beautiful golf club, practice facility and nature trail will ensure that we can deliver on that promise and more.”

“We appreciate Indigo revisiting the green fees schedule and offering that deep 40% discounted rate for our residents,” said Mayor Alpert.  “Bobby Jones is a municipal course and needs to be affordable for our City residents. Depending upon the month and time of day, a resident could pay under $10 to play while walking.  That’s a very good deal. We’re very pleased with this reduced rate.”

As part of the contractual agreement with the City, 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.

Photos Courtesy of Bobby Jones Golf Club


About the Author

<a href="" target="_self">Steve Pike</a>

Steve Pike

Steve “Spike” Pike is a lifelong journalist whose career covers Major League Baseball, the NFL, and college basketball. For the past 26 years, Spike has been one of the more respected voices in the golf and travel industries, working for such publications as Golfweek, Golf World, and Golf Digest for The New York Times Magazine Group. In 1998, Spike helped launch the website for the PGA of America. As a freelance travel and golf writer, Spike’s travels have taken him around the world. He has played golf from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews, walked the Great Wall of China, climbed an active volcano in the Canary Islands, been on safari in South Africa, and dived with sharks off Guadalupe, Baja California.