The city of Sarasota and Sarasota County have scored another win in the sports tourism arena, as Bowls USA has picked the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club to host the U.S. Open in 2016 and 2017.
"In our bid we highlighted the amount of hotels, the cultural events, the lifestyle, and were really trying to sell it as place where you could bring your whole family," said Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club President Daniel Jittu in a phone interview with the Sarasota Observer. The group included pictures of the local beaches with its bid documents, and touted the quality of greens located on the bayfront next to the Municipal Auditorium.
"We're very excited about another international event coming to our area, and having it right in downtown Sarasota," said Sarasota County Sports Development and Athletics Manager Pat Calhoon, who along with City Public Works General Manager Todd Kucharski helped assemble the bid.
But, right now, the the bayfront location isn't quite ready for the U.S. Open.
A "bowl" runs the current greens in 10 seconds — roughly five seconds less than desired, Jittu said. The finely-laid grass will need to be "trained" to become dry and hard before the event, yet still survive after the event.
"The good news is we've got a couple of years to get it down, and we've got a brand new team assembled for maintaining athletic fields in the county," Calhoon said.
"Leading up to the events we will be reaching out to the 52 nations who belong to the World Bowls Association and the world sporting networks," Jittu wrote in an April 28 email thanking Sarasota County Commission Chairman Charles Hines for his letter of support last month.
Stakeholders will need to figure out how to accommodate the 400 players slated for the event, which could mean the use of other greens throughout the county.
"We know it's got to be like a rock star event," Jittu said.
The event fits into the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club's recent push to popularize the sport in the area, which includes plans for a youth summer mini-league beginning next month with students from the Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences.
The recent discussions about reviving the Cultural Park Plan for the bayfront took the local bowling community by surprise, further bolstering the Club's efforts to educate the public about the sports, which included a presentation to the Sarasota City Commission.
"We want to bring more people (into lawn bowling)" Jittu said, especially year-round residents so the club maintains its numbers during the off season, but snowbirds are always welcome. "It's like golfing, once you get into it you want to be close to where you can play."