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Bobby Jones Golf Club
Sarasota Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 2 months ago

Sarasota city manager recommends downsizing Bobby Jones

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In a memo, Tom Barwin said keeping all 45 holes at the city-owned golf course would pose too much financial risk.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

City administration is recommending against spending $20 million to renovate all 45 holes at Bobby Jones Golf Club, instead encouraging the City Commission to reduce the number of holes at the municipal course to minimize “financial risk to city budgets and the general taxpayer.”

City Manager Tom Barwin endorsed shifting to an 18- or 27-hole course in an Aug. 21 memo to commissioners. The City Commission is scheduled to meet today to discuss the future of Bobby Jones. Since 2014, officials have been discussing a strategy for improving an aging facility that has required hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies from the city's general fund.

The commission previously committed to a project that would overhaul the entire 45-hole course, optimistic upgrades to irrigation and drainage infrastructure could make the course profitable again. Earlier this summer, however, a consultant estimated the city would lose $7.58 million on the facility between fiscal year 2021 and 2028 if it went forward with that project.

In July, the commission asked the consultant to produce a report on the possibility of reducing the course to 27 holes or 18 holes. The new report projected the city would have to spend $5.04 million on the course between 2021 and 2028 if an improvement project shrunk Bobby Jones to 27 holes.

Under both projections, the consultant said Bobby Jones could be profitable when focused just on an operating budget. Expenses outweighed income when the consultant factored in debt service payments associated with a renovation project, ongoing capital costs and the creation of a contingency fund.

The city is also exploring the possibility of partnering with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to designate the entirety of the 300-acre property as public open space in perpetuity. Barwin suggested the city could use portions of the land to offer light recreation and provide opportunities for the public to engage with nature.

In his memo, Barwin emphasized the perceived financial risk to the city if it undertakes a 45-hole project. He anticipated the possibility of some public pushback to the proposed downsizing, but he strongly encouraged the commission to move forward with reducing the size of the city-owned course.

“The city cannot be all things to all people,” Barwin wrote in the memo. “The City Commission will be under pressure from local golfers who understandably are passionate about the course and want as much golf as possible at [Bobby Jones]. However, the economics do not make sense beyond an 18- or 27-hole configuration, especially with new and related opportunities which have been identified opening up the full property for other parks, recreational and outdoor activity.”

The full agenda for today’s meeting is available on the city website.

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