old sign for the Bobby Jones Golf Complex in Sarasota

Sarasota's Bobby Jones Golf Complex.

Image: Kim Doleatto

In a 2018 story, we asked, "What’s Going on With the Bobby Jones Golf Complex?" Nearly four years later, we have a bit more detail. The Sarasota City Commission on Monday approved several proposals to protect 261 acres of natural land on the property and to build a series of new golf holes.

Since maintenance of the almost-100-year-old course had been put off for decades, everything from tee boxes to bunker sand to the irrigation system was in bad shape. City commissioners voted unanimously Monday to move forward with an agreement with Q.G.S. Development, Inc. to build 18 regulation golf holes, nine short golf holes and a driving range, for a little more than $12.5 million. Construction could start as early as February, and the first 18 holes could open in November, followed by the short course in 2023 and a new clubhouse in 2024.

To the delight of speakers who wore green shirts that said, “Conserve Bobby Jones Now,” the commission also voted unanimously to work with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to create a conservation easement that would protect the property "in perpetuity," as well as to strike a fundraising agreement with the foundation.

“'Perpetuity' is a very big word," said Conservation Foundation president Christine Johnson. "We've been in negotiations with the city for almost three years. The reason we exist is to conserve land and Bobby Jones does that. We're ready to stand shoulder to shoulder to fundraise for the park and look forward to building something that will last forever and draw tourists and residents alike.”

The historic golf course plays a vital environmental role for the region. Enormous volumes of stormwater runoff, from as far away as The Mall at University Town Center, are retained and filtered by the property before flowing into Sarasota Bay. The golf course also serves as a habitat for more than 45 species of birds and numerous other wildlife species, and the hundreds of trees on the property play a critical role in the area’s air quality.

Richard Mandel, the city’s consultant and course architect for the project, said plans for redeveloping the golf course follow a “faithful restoration” approach that relies on the original plans conceptualized by Bobby Jones, for whome the complex is named. The legendary golfer collaborated on the design of Augusta National Golf Club, founded The Masters and left an indelible mark on the sport and on Sarasota’s history when he opened the course in 1926 and dedicated it to the city a year later.

Also on Monday, city commissioners agreed to hire Jon F. Swift Construction to build a restaurant and clubhouse, which would be paid with a bond not to exceed $20 million. Other plans include a new cart barn, two starter booths, a golf development center, two on-course restrooms and a parking lot. When completed, the property will also be home to a new playground.