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Award-winning golf architect talks his plan for Bobby Jones

Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.

Richard Mandell.
Richard Mandell.
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If you have been out to Bobby Jones Golf Club lately, you’ve probably noticed that things could do with an upgrade, both on the club’s 45 total holes and in the clubhouse.

Well, your prayers have been answered, and something of a holy figure in the golf architecture world is the one answering them.

Richard Mandell has been hired to completely re-do the course. Mandell’s courses have won Golf Inc.’s Municipal Renovation of the Year award two years in a row, and won a similar award from Golf Magazine in 2014.

Legendary designer Donald Ross laid out the original 18 holes in 1925. For anyone worried about what Mandell might turn the course into, fear not. 

"I don't want to turn it into anything,” Mandell said. “I want to return it to its peak of greatness. Part of that is rebuilding the infrastructure of the site so that it’s more functional, and improving conditions, and recapturing some of the great strategic charm of the golf course. Bunker locations, hazards that challenge golfers more than penalize golfers.

“In the world of golf, people have lost their way as it relates to fun and strategy and focused more on aesthetics. I want the place to look great, and that is part of my vision, but I don’t want it to just be a place to get great views. Form follows function. It has to serve a purpose of creating an activity. We don’t want to create something that is an art piece at all, really. We want something that is about playing golf.”

Mandell identified two main areas where the course needs improving the most: The fairway grass, and drainage. He seemed excited at the prospect of that last issue, though. There are lots of ways to get creative with drainage, including habitats for wildlife and storm water retention for surrounding communities, Mandell said.

It’s not just the course itself that is getting a makeover. The entire clubhouse is getting built from scratch. Michael Bryant, a subcontractor on Mandell’s team who works mainly as a clubhouse architect, will be assisting with that job. Bryant previously worked on The Lodge at Country Club East in Lakewood Ranch, which was awarded the Golden Fork second prize by Golf Inc. in the “new, private” category.

At a morning Feb. 7 meeting with Mandell and Bryant, golfers gave their opinions on what they would like to see in the new clubhouse. While none of the ideas are official (and will not be for at least a few months), it is clear that people want Bobby Jones to be more of a community center than it has been in the past. Even if you don’t play golf at all, you should be able to head to the center once or twice a month and find something fun to do, whether that be grabbing dinner, taking a class in a classroom or dancing at a party.

There is also a fervor for showing off the course’s history and place in Sarasota golf’s heart.

“The locals feel that this is the center of Sarasota golf,” Mandell said. “There has been talk long before I showed up that maybe this could be the spot for a Sarasota golf Hall of Fame. I think it’s a great idea. I think the history should permeate throughout the building, but I also think there should be some sort of permanent display.”

Mandell won’t have the final word on that decision, but his opinion carries a lot of weight. There is certainly Bobby Jones history worth telling, not just of the player, but of the course — Even George Herman “Babe” Ruth teed off there, after all.

The master plan process, or the renovation business plan process, as Mandell calls it, has a notice to proceed deadline of May 1. That’s the date when the full master plan and its hard numbers will be revealed to city officials.

Until then, Mandell and Bryant will stay hard at work on implementing all the changes the public wants to see while revitalizing the spirit that made Bobby Jones so special. Get excited, golf fans.



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