The Sarasota City Commission, capitalizing on the presence of a local golf icon, committed itself to developing a new plan to guide the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club at a meeting Monday.
Still, the bold vision endorsed by several individuals in attendance was tempered with pragmatic concerns, most notably questions surrounding the cost of revitalizing the aging facility.
The commission unanimously directed staff to draft a resolution that would create an ad-hoc committee regarding a master plan for Bobby Jones. The precise details of the committee are still to be finalized, but commissioners indicated that the citizen board would help determine the scope of such a document, which would then be written by an outside agency.
The board took up the topic following a Sept. 3 workshop about the Bobby Jones Golf Club. A 2014 study by the National Golf Foundation said the city is in need of a comprehensive plan for managing the future of the course, and the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club has created a four-part vision to improve the facility and grow the game locally.
One of those initiatives is named after Paul Azinger, a Sarasota High School graduate who played at Bobby Jones before going on to success as a professional golfer. Azinger appeared at Monday’s meeting, urging commissioners to capitalize on the chance to improve the facility.
Azinger said that, although the current state of the golf club is suboptimal, it has the potential to become a serious draw. He pointed to Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, which like Bobby Jones features a course designed by Donald Ross, and which hosted this year’s U.S. Open tournament following a 2011 renovation.
Were the city willing to address some of the problems that plague the course — drainage issues, aging infrastructure — several speakers said Bobby Jones could become a significant attraction.
“Every golf course gets old, not unlike cars or houses,” Azinger said. “There comes a time when you just have to have a facelift.”
Although the commission moved toward the creation of a citizen committee to help guide the master planning process, some commissioners encouraged a more cautious approach when considering the possible improvements. Commissioners Shannon Snyder and Susan Chapman both emphasized that cost would be an issue for the city, with Chapman expressing concern that pro-golf interests could take the master plan in a direction the city could not afford.
“I'm really reluctant to go to the ad-hoc committee point of view, because we do have such strong passionate interest groups for whom it seems cost is no object,” Chapman said. “For us, cost is an object, and we're going to have a financing plan for whatever we do.”
Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said the eventual master plan would offer a variety of options for commissioners to pick and chose from depending on budgetary constraints and the will of the board.
Shawn Pierson, president of Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, said he was encouraged by the commission’s action, and that he hoped that the eventual master planning process would allow for broad citizen input.
“What it does is it allows for the widest possible community input,” Pierson said about the potential ad-hoc committee. “They’ll all be able to come and offer their experience and vision.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].