Gerald Lagace remembers playing golf with his friends at Bobby Jones Golf Club in the 1970’s.
The group would play nine holes on Wednesdays. They’d walk the course and have money left over to buy a beer at the golf course’s eatery.
“It was a good meeting place,” Lagace said of Bobby Jones, “a good place to go and have some fun, at a reasonable rate out of your pocket.”
At the time, it only cost $100 a year for unlimited play.
Lagace hasn’t played at Bobby Jones in years, but he looks back fondly at his time at the historic golf complex. He approves of the city of Sarasota’s plan to renovate the property.
“The 27 holes that they want to put up – I think it would be a very good project,” Lagace said.
He hopes that the green fees at the upgraded course will be affordable for working class people.
The Sarasota City Commission approved several plans for Bobby Jones Golf Club on Jan. 10, which will allow a major renovation of the course to begin, potentially, next month, according to the project’s architect.
The Herald-Tribune spoke with golfers about the course's revived fortunes. Some are excited that the project is moving forward and are hope that the course will charge golfers affordable fees.
Others want the city to modify its design plans, as they want to ensure that the 18-hole course is authentically restored to its original Donald Ross design.
The city’s plans for Bobby Jones
Plant City-based QGS Development Inc. will be renovating the golf complex, after city commissioners this month voted to approve a $12.5 million contract.
The number of golf holes at Bobby Jones will be reduced from 45 to 27, which will allow a significant portion of the property to become a nature park. The 27 holes will include a 9-hole adjustable short course and an 18-hole course.
Richard Mandell, the project’s golf architect, said he and his team are restoring the 18-hole course designed by celebrated golf architect Donald Ross in the 1920s, with a few exceptions. The property has large trees that weren’t on the course that Ross designed. The fairways can’t be as wide as they were in Ross’ day because of the trees' location, Mandell said.
He’s hoping that the 18-hole course will open in November – in time for the winter season – and that the 9-hole course will open next January, though the plans could change.
A new clubhouse will also be built and could open to the public in 2024, according to the city.
Thoughts on the design
Shawn Pierson, the president of the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, said his organization believes that the current design for the 18-hole course isn’t an authentic restoration of Donald Ross’ design. He has compared the original Ross drawing of the course to the Mandell design.
“You can see, very readily, how different the Mandell design is from the Ross design and how many added elements are there that we believe overcomplicate the cost and certainly overcomplicate the maintenance routine,” he said.
The Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club believes that the city can save money by faithfully restoring the course to the Ross design.
Pierson recommends that the city put the Bobby Jones design before an advisory board known as the Historic Preservation Board, as it is a historic restoration project.
Golfers wait for Bobby Jones to re-open
Phil Gaines, who has played at Bobby Jones for over 50 years, said the course's regulars are 'anxious to get back.' The course has been closed to golf play since 2020.
“A new course always has people interested,” he said. “So if they do it right and everything, the people will come the first time. The key is, obviously, to get them to come back.”
Gaines was a member at Bobby Jones until the course stopped offering memberships. He thinks that the new course should allow people to buy memberships, as that would allow it to have a stable base of golfers. He also hopes that the course will charge a “reasonable price.”
Joe Baracco, owner of Pinecraft Golf Shop, said he saw increased interest in golf during the pandemic.
“That brought a lot of people into the game that really had no prior experience with golf,” he said, “because … it’s one of the only things people could do if they wanted to gather together and be socially distanced in a safe manner.”
Baracco wishes Bobby Jones had been open during the pandemic, a time when golf became more popular.
He doesn’t think that the course’s closure has affected the profitability of his business, though. Golfers have found other courses where they can play. But Baracco noted that a lot of his customers liked playing at Bobby Jones, as it had three courses.
He’s happy that the city is finally going to re-open the historic golf complex.
“I really want to see Bobby do well,” he said. “It’s the reason why I’m still in Sarasota. I met a lot of people through Bobby Jones Golf Course, and just the camaraderie and the relationships that I made through golf made me open up this golf shop.”
Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at email@example.com or (941) 228-3321 and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota golfers look forward to the re-opening of Bobby Jones club