While Sarasota deals with a long time issue involving a historic golf club, Pinellas County is spending $1.2 million on a former golf club to, in part, create a new park.
Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota has been a bogey for the city. The Sarasota city-owned facility continues to deteriorate from lack of investment and will need costly renovations.
From the three redesign options, the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory chose the one that, in their opinion, is best suited for the community. The renovation estimate is $21.4 million. The City Commission will formally choose an option at their Tuesday meeting.
At 300 acres, Bobby Jones Golf Club is the largest greenspace in Sarasota. The only municipally-owned 45-hole golf course in Florida, it was built in the 1920s as one of the first 18-hole golf courses in the state. Now the club has 45 holes, but the redesign of the area looks to reduce that number, while retaining its history.
“The Donald Ross course was dismantled...some reflection has occurred since then [and] the people have worked to see us restore the original Donald Ross 18,” said Tom Barwin, City Manager of Sarasota, referring to the designer of the original course.
“And that's the direction we're heading in and so we'll keep that, we’ll restore that sort of glory and history and the nostalgia, and the story behind it all in a high-quality restoration renovation.”
Barwin said after the Great Recession, managing the course became very difficult. Budgets were cut, and the facility required high levels of maintenance for a 40-year-old irrigation system, a 35-year-old drainage system and overflowing grasses in the hills and clubhouse. The lack of reinvestment led to a large decline in visitors.
Environmental concerns, such as water and air quality, have also been issues for the club. Those factors and the flattening of the golf industry have led the city to look for possible options that would benefit the area most. By downsizing the course, the cost of rebuilding and maintaining the location will be less, and eventually, break-even, according to Barwin.
“Our financial plan is to deeply discount the course for local golfers because it is a municipal course,” said Barwin. “That's why we have municipal courses, but then to bring it close to market rates during the season.”
All three redesign options include the restoration of the original Donald Ross 18-hole course, an additional nine-hole course, some practice areas, and environmental elements such as new wetlands, restored natural habitats, and bike paths and hiking trails. Community surveys and input have been taken into account for what the redesign should focus on.
“We're going down a path of two projects: one renovating a portion of the property for golf and its rich history,” said Barwin. “And then phase two is knowing what we have to begin to integrate a park and improving on our environmental assets out there and the hiking, bicycling and those types of amenities.”
“It’d be a combination of a golf course, and more or less than Nature Preserve, open and accessible to the public,” said Barwin. “About 5 or 6% of Sarasotans, city residents, golf at Bobby Jones. But by opening up the property for environmental and park purposes, we believe probably 50% of our residents begin to use the facility once these improvements are made.”
The Sarasota City Commission will hold its regular meeting 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to further discuss these design options.
They hope to begin construction on this project no later than spring 2021. During this time, the course will be closed for nine to twelve months. They would plan to reopen in late 2021 or early 2022.
At the same time, Pinellas County has bought the former Baypointe Golf Club to improve its water quality and create a park. The $1.2 million deal closed last Friday.
County officials say the purchase of the 42 acres will allow Pinellas to enhance its stormwater treatment to improve water quality and storage capacity. The county will also be able to create a new local park.
“Purchasing this property provides a unique opportunity for a regional stormwater park,” said County Administrator Barry A. Burton. “This allows us to meet our environmental goals of keeping pollutants from entering our waterway, while also offering a community amenity.”
Improvements, such as cleaning the property and providing public walking access, are underway, and residents should expect to see crews working in the area. The deal was funded by Penny for Pinellas, the County’s infrastructure sales surtax, through the Surface Water Quality Projects Program.