***Update: The City of Sarasota voted to approve the $12.5 million renovation at Bobby Jones Golf Club on Monday evening, also passing a measure granting conservation status over the land in perpetuity.***
Before Bobby Jones Golf Club could earn an audience with one of the most famous players in the history of the sport, the Sarasota, Fla.-based municipal course faced a slightly different issue: it needed a name.
It was 1926, and after a prolonged period of construction, the famed Donald Ross had completed his design work on the course — the latest in a string of design efforts across the Sunshine State. Ross had done a particularly noteworthy job in Sarasota, building the 6,700-yard, par-72 course on a large parcel of public property about three miles inland.
When the town’s residents eventually decided they ought to name the course they so frequently enjoyed, only one name found itself in consideration: the most famous golfer of the era, Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones.
Jones was an adopted son of Sarasota. He was first introduced to the area in 1925, when he competed in a highly publicized 72-hole match against Walter Hagen at Whitfield, another nearby Ross course. It was still seven years before Jones would become Augusta National’s founding member, and his winter schedule was light. So Jones returned to Sarasota in the winter of ’26, playing a half-dozen more matches against the finest players of the era.
On February 13, 1927, with Jones in attendance, the people of Sarasota officially dedicated Bobby Jones Golf Club. Jones would go on to shoot 73 on Ross’ work that day, besting a group of local amateurs by two strokes.
In the near-hundred years since that grand opening, Bobby Jones Golf Club has seen a ton of golf, and precious little change. Yes, the land looks different — the surrounding area is now a nature sanctuary, open for public use well beyond golf. But up until the summer, the facilities were untouched from their mid-century development, and years of use had sagged the condition of the namesake course.
Today, the course remains closed and its facilities have been bulldozed. But there is hope for the future — hope that could come as quickly as Monday.
According to a report from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the city of Sarasota will consider a series of measures this week that could alter the future of the club for the better.
The headliner is a proposed $12.5 million renovation to the park which, if passed, will cover the cost of expanded access to walking trails, new facilities, a new clubhouse, the construction of a nine-hole executive course, and most pressingly, a full-fledged restoration of the beloved, 18-hole Ross muni. A course development company named QGS Developments has been given the contract for the restoration, should the city’s commission give the green light. The city will also debate whether to hand over course management responsibilities to Antares Golf, LLC, operators of a host of municipal courses nationwide. And the cherry on top, for golf-lovers and Ross nerds? The city will also consider a motion urging it to give conservation status to the course, which would prevent the course from being developed or sold in perpetuity.
There’s much we won’t know until the city of Sarasota communes Monday evening to discuss the changes, but the club’s decision to bulldoze the remaining structures would seem be a favorable sign for proponents of a large-scale renovation.
For now at least, there’s reason for cautious optimism for the future of one of golf’s most historic munis. That’s good news.
As for clearing up the naming discrepancy with Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta? Well, we’ll leave that for a future day.