Earlier this month, members of the public offered their thoughts on the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club. How will that input guide the future of the city course?
Some of the Sarasota residents gathered Oct. 8, in the clubhouse at Bobby Jones Golf Club, were avid golfers. Others didn’t care for the game. But they all had an interest in the future of the city-owned facility.
The meeting was convened by the Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee, an advisory board that’s determining the future needs of a course beset by aging facilities and declining revenues.
By Dec. 14, the committee is expected to produce a finalized report of recommendations. Although the group has found some significant common ground over its first seven months, it was interested in gathering more input from city residents, golfers and non-golfers alike.
More than a dozen people spoke about the future of the course at the town hall-style meeting, with nearly 60 other individuals sharing their thoughts via email. Naturally, that produced a diverse mix of opinions. Taken together, however, a common theme emerged: Keep it simple.
Although there was consensus that the conditions in the course had deteriorated over the past five to 10 years, there wasn’t a clamor for major upheaval. Doing a better job of maintaining the grounds while keeping the prices competitive would help significantly, several speakers stated.
To date, the biggest point of disagreement among the board is the question of whether the city should restore an original 1925 course designed by noted golf architect Donald Ross. The advocacy group Friends of Bobby Jones has led the call for that restoration, and three committee members are also members of Friends of Bobby Jones.
But there were more speakers at the town meeting pushing back against that proposal than supporting it. Critics suggested the name “Donald Ross” doesn’t have cachet for most golfers and that the extra work wouldn’t bring enough benefits in return.
"The many times we heard about Bobby Jones, we never heard about Douglas Ross." — Kathy Kelley Ohlrich
Kathy Kelley Ohlrich is not a golfer, but her in-laws used to play the course regularly and tell tales about Bobby Jones.
“The many times we heard about Bobby Jones, we never heard about Douglas (sic) Ross,” Ohlrich said. “I don’t know who he is.”
Several speakers also spoke negatively about the idea of replacing the clubhouse, a proposal the study committee unanimously supports. Based on the advice of professionals and staff members the committee has contracted, Chairman Dan Smith explained the clubhouse has outlived its lifespan as a useful structure.
“These are things that can’t be fixed with routine maintenance,” Smith said. “If they could be, then we wouldn’t be formed as a committee to do this work.”
Despite the desires of some residents, Smith has been clear: There is not a “quick fix” to bring Bobby Jones up to par.
On Oct. 22, the Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee held its first meeting since the town hall. Although committee members said they valued the chance to hear from the public, it’s still not yet clear how the input will shape the conversation regarding the potential historic restoration.
“I think each member of the committee is looking from their own personal point of view,” Smith said. “That most likely will be the last item that we deal with, because it’s definitely struck some chords for a lot of people.”
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