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Bobby Jones restoration reaches last major milestone

Sprigging the greens at the city-owned golf course means rebuilding the Donald Ross design is nearing completion.

Golf course architect Richard Mandell watches as the first green, No. 15, is sprigged at Bobby Jones Golf Club.
Golf course architect Richard Mandell watches as the first green, No. 15, is sprigged at Bobby Jones Golf Club.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
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Riding in a maintenance vehicle from the No. 8 tee box toward the green at Bobby Jones Golf Club, Richard Mandell said one of his favorite features of the golf course lay just ahead.

The architect hired to design the $12.5 million project to restore the city-owned course to its original Donald Ross layout has seen it all — he’s restored 10 Ross courses and has rebuilt or designed from scratch 64 others — so it’s often what's imperceptible to the uninitiated that captures his attention. 

The feature doesn’t affect the play of the par-3, unless a duffed tee shot stops on the downward slope of it leaving an awkward stance, but after the cart crossed a small rise and stopped, he pointed back to the mound complex between the tee and the green. 

“That mound right behind you,” he said. “You can’t see it from the tee, but it’s there.”

Like all other elements included in the reimagining of the original Donald Ross 18 holes that were later incorporated into 36, the diminutive mound is all about drainage, the topography designed to turn the floodplain that was the Bobby Jones Golf Complex into a properly draining course, directing stormwater into a newly created wetland that will eventually become a nature park. That and other subtle contours around the course, which replicates the layout and signature Donald Ross greens when it opened in 1926, also add character to an otherwise flat piece of land.

It’s been seven years since the city awarded Mandell the contract to bring the municipal property back to life. After multiple iterations by the city since the original plan to rebuild all 36 holes, work finally began in earnest in spring 2022, two years after the course was closed. Last Thursday, the sprigging of the greens started at No. 15, which Mandell described as the one of the last major milestones of the construction.

“We are at the big milestone. The next one is to finish the short course. My shaper is out there just cleaning it up, getting rid of all the weeds and shaping it,” said Mandell. “In two weeks, I'll come back, and I will finalize all the little details and paint the grass lines. I’ll come in for two days and we'll work sunup to sundown each day.”

The Bobby Jones course is Donald Ross’ creation restored and enhanced. The short course — a nine-hole “adjustable” par-3 — is all Mandell. Located across Circus Boulevard, Mandell has imagined a course that can follow multiple directions and be changed, likely on a weekly basis, to provide a varying playing experience, not just in routing, but with tees playing to different greens as well.

Watching grass grow

Once the greens on the Ross course are sprigged they will take approximately eight weeks to grow in, and at that point the course is considered playable. Grass throughout the course will have twice that amount of growing time, though, before play begins with a planned opening this fall.

Richard Mandell checks the drainage grid of the 13th green before it is sprigged.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“The front nine will be sprigged (this week) and we’re not looking at opening until November, so we've got four months of growing in,” Mandell said. “The grass is going to be in great shape.”

Both the Ross course and the Mandell short course, he said, will open simultaneously.

Prior to sprigging, the greens are staked off in grids that allow Mandell to examine and give final approval for the playability of the slopes and effectiveness of drainage. Mandell consults diagrams on his phone while stepping off sections of the putting surfaces to ensure they are as designed. Once planted and grown in, they can’t be changed short of reconstruction.

Once sprigging is complete, work between now and November will shift to cleaning up native areas on the front nine — construction worked its way from 17th Street to Fruitville Road, so the front nine was the last to be shaped and planted — plus manicuring playing and non-playing areas, and growing in fairways and rough. The massive practice range will also be planted. 

In addition, the temporary clubhouse will be delivered and installed, on-course restrooms on opposite corners of the property are under construction, the driving range service building has been plumbed and, at the short course, a small service building will be constructed. The existing parking lot will be paved and remaining debris from demolition and construction will be removed. All that work is the responsibility of Jon. F. Swift Construction of Sarasota. 

Mandell, who simultaneously balances multiple projects, is gratified to see the course nearing completion, particularly when at times it appeared it may never get started. 

“I never thought we wouldn't get to this point,” Mandell said. “I’ve never had a project that just went belly up on me so it was just a matter of time. I just bided my time while the city went through whatever process it needed as this went from 45 to 36 to 27 holes.”

Despite delays in getting the project started, Mandell said he is more than satisfied with the end result.

“There are a lot of features that exceeded my expectations. The short course will definitely exceed my expectations because that one I didn't have a complete vision of when I started,” he said. “The Ross course, like other renovations, you know how it’s going to turn out. If it’s a new course I have a vision of what I'm doing before I start, but the short course here was an opportunity for me to freelance, so that was a lot of fun.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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