For the better part of two years, passersby on Fruitville Road and 17th Street have seen the restoration underway at Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park. On Friday, Dec. 15 they will get their first chance to view the work up close and personal.
The grand reopening of the property from 9 a.m. to noon will include self-guided tours of the golf course restored to the original 1926 Donald Ross layout, guided and self-guided tours of the adjoining 90-acre nature park, remarks by recreation and water quality officials and a ceremonial first tee shot.
“Our historic municipal golf course has been restored and is a beautiful amenity for the community,” said Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert in a news release. “The new wetlands already are cleaning stormwater and attracting wildlife, and the nature park and trails will be a destination for birders, bicyclists and walkers. With a conservation easement on the property, it will be protected in perpetuity.”
The golf course features the restored 18-hold Ross-designed course; a 25-acre practice range with 70 hitting stations, 3.75-acre short game area, 21,000-square-foot putting green and three chipping greens; and a renewed nine-hole adjustable course across Circus Boulevard that will open later. A temporary clubhouse is also in place, which will offer food and beverage service until a permanent clubhouse is built in approximately two years.
The design was headed by golf course architect Richard Mandell of Pinehurst, North Carolina, who specializes in Ross course restorations.
Lengthened to 6,714 yards, the course offers six sets of tee boxes. For those who want to experience the golf course as Donald Ross originally planned, a special set of “Ross tees” will allow golfers to play from the Ross distance of 6,240 yards. The course plays to a par of 71.
Bobby Jones will open for its first round of golf at 7 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 16. Reservations can be booked online at BobbyJonesGolfClub.com. Daily operations at Bobby Jones will be handled by Indigo Sports, a private management company. Fees will follow a dynamic pricing model and include a 40% reduced rate for city residents.
Non-golfers may enjoy The Nature Park at Bobby Jones, which is composed of 90 acres on the eastern portion of the property and features crushed shell and decommissioned golf cart paths repurposed into walking and biking trails around the newly created wetlands. The 1.57-mile Eagle Trail is the primary path, with three offshoots. Access to the trails is adjacent to the driving range.
The nature park is free and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. The park will be closed when the golf course is closed.
In 2022, the City Commission approved downsizing Bobby Jones Golf Club from 45 holes to 27 and approved a conservation easement on the property in partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. The agreement means the city-owned property will remain a protected, preserved green space in perpetuity.
Covering 307 acres, the Bobby Jones property is the single largest green space in the city and is a significant floodplain in the Phillippi Creek watershed, filtering stormwater for 5,800 urban acres from as far north as University Parkway.
To improve water quality, nearly 20 acres of wetlands were created, almost 14.5 acres of native grasses planted and 49,000 nutrient-filtering aquatic plants installed, including sawgrass, fire flag and pickerel weed.
A diversion weir was constructed along one of the main Phillippi Creek tributaries to divert water into the newly created wetlands. The water flow is regulated with two control structures, allowing the wetlands to serve as a regional stormwater treatment system. Ultimately, the filtered water flows into Roberts Bay, the intracoastal waters between Sarasota and Siesta Key. With the installation of new drainage pipes throughout the golf course and improved land grading, the formerly flood-prone property will drain quickly following a rain event.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District granted the city $1.5 million to support the water quality improvements along with a $487,500 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“We’re grateful to the State of Florida for helping to fund the construction of the wetlands to improve our water quality,” City Manager Marlon Brown said in the release. “This truly has been a significant community effort to restore our historic municipal golf course and create a new urban nature park that will be a community treasure enjoyed by generations.”
The city borrowed $20 million to fund the golf course restoration and new clubhouse.
As part of the contractual agreement with the city, Indigo Sports is expected to pursue certification for Bobby Jones in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, with the goal of becoming certified within two years after reopening. During a recent annual bird count, the Sarasota Audubon Society documented 45 unique species on the property.