In the News 1909-Now
Bobby Jones Golf Club News Archives
Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club looks into the archives of newspapers and newsmakers, with selected articles that bring history alive
American Course to close for drainage improvements Aug. 13
august 9, 2018
city of sarasota
SARASOTA — The American Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club, owned and operated by the City of Sarasota, will close temporarily for drainage improvements effective Monday, Aug. 13. The 18-hole course is expected to reopen by Dec. 1.
Due to poor drainage, the course is overwhelmed with water and frequently unplayable following a heavy rain. During the temporary closure, the drainage on all 18 fairways will be corrected.
“The improvements are needed as a stop gap measure,” said Bobby Jones Golf Club Manager Sue Martin. “By eliminating the water and soggy conditions, the American Course will be playable and once again attract golfers who want to spend time playing a round at this urban oasis.”
The City Commission approved limited capital improvements at the municipal golf course last month to help keep Bobby Jones open to the public and playable while a master plan for the golf course is finalized and executed over the coming years.
NOT JUST CHILD'S PLAY
CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
JULY 28, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY JIM BROCKMAN / CORRESPONDENT
Youths take shot at trip to Augusta National in Drive, Chip and Putt competition
SARASOTA — A trio of 10-year-old boys led the charge Saturday as 11 area junior golfers advanced with a chance to play Augusta National Golf Club next April and then stick around to watch the 2019 Masters Tournament.
Jordan Brown of Lakewood Ranch, Jayden Potter of Sarasota and Bradenton’s Ferguson McLeod finished one-two-three to sweep the Boys 10-11 Division at the PGA Drive, Chip and Putt competition at the Bobby Jones Golf Club.
It’s the fifth straight year Sarasota’s historic municipal golf course has played host to the qualifying event. The top three finishers in each of the eight age divisions, four divisions each for boys and girls, will move on to play the sub-regional event slated for Bonita Springs on Aug. 11.
More than 200 young golfers from Miami to Ocala were on hand, vying for one of the 24 qualifying spots as the heat and humidity skyrocketed. Players were awarded points for their distance and accuracy in three of the game’s basic fundamentals.
Brown won his division with a 39 (driving), 55 (chipping), and 55 for putting for a total of 149 points. He’s headed for sixth grade at Nolan Middle School in the fall.
“It was nice to win,” Brown said. “I played well. I hit some good drives and did some good chipping.
“My goal is to continue to get better and win more tournaments. Nolan Middle School has a golf team.”
Making it all the way to Augusta would entail a top two finish in their division at the Bonita Bay Club to earn a berth in the regional qualifier, scheduled for TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach on Sept. 29. The winner there in each division gets the red carpet treatment and a free trip next spring to Augusta, Georgia.
“I have never been to Augusta,” Brown said. “It sounds like it would be fun. It would be awesome to get to go there.”
Potter went 25-60-60 for a total of 145 to nail down second place.
“My putting was very good,” Potter said. “But my chipping was better. I got them all within 20 feet. The hard part is trying to get it close to the pin. I was able to do that today.”
Potter knows a long journey remains to make the trip to Augusta. However, the effort is worth it.
“I would probably think I was dreaming if I got to go there,” Potter said.
McLeod, who will be a fifth-grader at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School this fall, wrapped up third place with a 36-50-55 for a total of 141. Conlin Bradshaw of Brandon was a distant fourth with 127 points.
The only other area golfer to finish first on Saturday was Tristan Pasch of Parrish, who went 13-36-65 – 119 to capture the Boys 7-9 Division.
Gentry Gauthier of Nokomis and North Port’s Charles Kemble finished second and third, respectively, in the Boys 12-13 Division. Gauthier tallied 146 points and Kemble collected 123 as Jake Ackerman of Riverview in Hillsborough won the division with 151 points.
A pair of Sarasota boys qualified for the sub-regional in the 14-15 Division as Harrison Chojnowski finished second with 158 points and Jackson Septer was third at 145. Tampa’s Saraj Kollegal won the division with 168 points.
The top area finish by a female golfer was Chloe Chang of Sarasota, who snared second place in the Girls 10-11 Division with a total of 138 points. Bradenton’s Natalie Angelo was third at 97.
Hayli Snaer of Venice finished third in the 12-13 Division with 119 points.
[NOTE: FRIENDS OF BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB SPONSORED THE INAUGURAL DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT BOOTCAMP AT BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB.]
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE BOBBY JONES GOLF COMPLEX?
JULY 26, 2018
SARASOTA MAGAZINE AUGUST 2018
BY DAVID HACKETT
The City Commission is expected to vote late this summer on whether to fund improvements to the neglected facility.
On a weekday afternoon in mid-June, the air of neglect hangs over the Bobby Jones Golf Complex like the sagging branches of a willow tree. Three cars dot a parking strip that spans the length of a football field. The golf cart attendant sits idly by his stand. I walk into the clubhouse, which was built during the first term of the Nixon administration and has the 1970s-style wood paneling from your uncle’s den to prove it.
“Think you can squeeze me in today?” I ask the fellow behind the register.
“Not a problem,” he replies, looking out over the nearly deserted course. “You’ll almost have the place to yourself.”
The whole scene is hard to fathom. For decades, Bobby Jones has been, like Siesta Key Beach, Selby Gardens or the Ringling Museum, a place that defines Sarasota. The 45-hole facility includes two 18-hole courses, as well as a Par 3 “executive” course, spanning 300 acres and encompassing nearly half the city’s public green space. Players who have battled its challenging contours, part of which were designed nearly a century ago by legendary golf architect Donald Ross, include Babe Ruth, Gene Sarazen, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and former top pro Paul Azinger, who honed his game at Bobby Jones as a teen-ager and still holds the course record of 62.
Yet its true spirit is embodied in innumerable duffers, kids, seniors and minorities who could never afford to tee up at a private club, yet still had access to a championship course in the heart of the city at rates that even in the height of season are roughly half the average for courses in Sarasota County: $49 compared to $82.56. Scores of courses are open to the public in Southwest Florida, but Bobby Jones is the only municipal course from Sarasota south to Fort Myers.
“In its heyday, people from all over the world came to Sarasota to play Bobby Jones,” says Al Woodle, a Sarasota native and retired city police captain who has been playing golf here for more than 40 years. “But now it’s basically unplayable. I can’t recommend it to anyone.”
Since critical maintenance has been put off for decades, everything from tee boxes to bunker sand to the irrigation system is in failing condition. Drainage is so poor that the course is forced to close for days after heavy rains. Strapped for cash during the Great Recession, the city raided Bobby Jones’ reserve funds, which had nearly $2 million.
It should be obvious. If you let a golf course fall apart, people will stop coming. In 1993, 164,000 rounds of golf were played at Bobby Jones. Last year, despite Sarasota’s growth, only 79,000 rounds were played at the three courses.
After more than paying for itself for most of its history, Bobby Jones is likely to need $625,000 from the city to cover its operating costs this year. And that does not take into account the capital improvements, which an architect hired by the city has pegged at between $16 million and $22 million.
This fork in the road for Bobby Jones comes at a time when land values are soaring, as are calls for more affordable housing, trails and parks. All of which would seem to make a vast golf complex in the heart of the city vulnerable to being sold off or converted to other use.
Yet public sentiment has been strong for preserving Bobby Jones as a golf center, says Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch. “Bobby Jones is such a big part of our heritage,” she says. “Young people, seniors, snowbirds, tourists, it’s there for everyone. It doesn’t need to be a cash cow, it just needs to pay its own way. If we make the necessary improvements, it can do so again.”
One of the biggest things Bobby Jones has going for it has nothing to do with sand bunkers or tee boxes. It’s the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for 100 acres of public green space for every thousand residents. The city’s population is swelling toward 60,000 and Sarasota has about 600 acres of green space, of which Bobby Jones constitutes half. That means selling the golf course for development, even for affordable housing, would put Sarasota at odds with its own mandate. In addition, under the golf course are four aquifers, part of the city’s reserve water system.
Course manager Sue Martin says the low end of the capital improvement plan—$16 million—is enough to revive Bobby Jones. It includes a new training center and clubhouse, both of which would boost revenue. She’s confident that with those changes and course improvements Bobby Jones could get back to 125,000 rounds a year.
In addition, Bobby Jones is home to such a vast variety of birds and land animals, Koch-Ahearn says a birding trail could be part of the renovations if it does not infringe on the golf courses.
Bobby Jones opened in 1926 and, a year later, its namesake, then the world’s most famous golfer (who was in Sarasota selling real estate), dedicated it. Because Bobby Jones was an amateur, he could not accept payment, so the city gave him a Pierce-Arrow automobile.
It will cost far more than that to restore Bobby Jones to its former luster. The City Commission is expected to vote late this summer on whether to fund the improvements.
STRUGGLING BOBBY JONES COURSE USED TO RAKE IN CASH
JULY 26, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
The financially floundering municipal course — which requires nearly $17 million in renovations to transform the dilapidated club into a destination again — boasted fund balances that fluctuated between roughly $1.3 million to nearly $2 million from budget years 2005 to 2009, city documents show
SARASOTA — Financially depleted Bobby Jones Golf Club was once self-sufficient, profitable and at one point had a lofty fund balance capable of covering some of the pricey renovations the deteriorating city-operated club needs today, city records dating back more than three decades show.
The cash-strapped municipal course — which requires nearly $17 million in renovations to transform the dilapidated club into a destination again — boasted fund balances that fluctuated between roughly $1.3 million to nearly $2 million from budget years 2005 to 2009, city documents dating back to 1983 show.
During its most profitable stretch from budget years 2004 to 2006, the club generated approximately $1.5 million after expenditures, according to city documents. The 45-hole club — which received a $425,000 subsidy from the general fund this year and could require a $650,000 subsidy next year — now has a fund balance of $102,280, incapable of contributing to basic repairs it needs.
Declining rounds of golf played at the club, neglected renovations and the city funneling more than $333,000 from Bobby Jones from 2008 to 2011 during the Great Recession to cover vital city services contributed to the drain, according to city officials and documents.
An additional $295,000 a communications tower on club grounds generated was siphoned from Bobby Jones from 2009 to 2016 because of the recession, course manager Sue Martin said. Even more money for city employee pensions was subsidized by the course, said Martin, who began running the course in 2008.
In 2017 alone, roughly $48,400 from Bobby Jones was transferred to a post-employee benefits fund. The number fluctuates annually, records show.
Regardless of how profitable the course was, Martin maintains the major renovations required today were not needed during the course’s boom years before the economic downturn.
“Over the years, we’ve had to dip into those fund balances to do minor repairs just to keep going,” Martin said. “Now we’re at the point where we don’t have the fund balance anymore.”
In the past 30 years, the city has invested roughly $3.2 million in major course improvements, according to city documents. That’s an average investment of about $106,600 annually during those three decades. Tee boxes, which have a typical life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, have not been replaced in more than 30 years. Irrigation heads and pipes, which have a life expectancy of 10 to 30 years, are more than three decades old. Bunker sand, which has a life expectancy of five to seven years, is more than 20 years old.
The American course received $1.9 million in renovations in 1988 and British course greens were rebuilt in 1994 and 2008 at a cost of $320,959. American course greens were rebuilt in 2000, costing $247,911, city documents show.
But you’ll hear a different story if you ask Jay Fink, a former member of the now defunct Bobby Jones Advisory Board. Fink says the nearly 50-year-old clubhouse, which currently needs a new roof and air conditioning system, had the same problems during the profitable years. Fink also recalls hundreds of thousands of dollars being funneled out of Bobby Jones to support other city funds and projects.
“It seemed like every month when we went to the meetings, there were always major issues with the clubhouse,” Fink said.
“Based on studies, they said we would actually be better to have that building torn down to build a brand new clubhouse,” Fink added.
According to a 2004 Herald-Tribune story, commissioners at the time agreed to spend about $3.5 million to replace the 7,720-square-foot clubhouse, which had a leaky roof, aging plumbing and an outdated air-conditioning system. The new clubhouse, however, never materialized because the course never recovered from the loss of tourism after the Sept. 11 attacks and the city wanted to avoid raising rates at the municipal course to cover the price of the project.
Questions swirled the following year about the potential mismanagement of money at Bobby Jones.
A 2005 city audit of the course criticized deals city officials made with private contractors and detailed a variety of violations. In one instance, then-City Manager Michael McNees signed a $438,000 contract to lease global positioning equipment for Bobby Jones golf carts without seeking competitive bids or City Commission approval.
McNees also sealed the deal before the City Commission budgeted money for it — a violation of city ordinances. Another contractor, hired to run the restaurant in the Bobby Jones clubhouse, was consistently late on rent payments and didn’t pay a penalty. At the same time, the city was charging the restaurant too little for its electricity and too much for water and cable.
Martin and golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell in May recommended a slew of upgrades to the club — which opened in 1926 — including: replacing the antiquated irrigation system, renovating the deteriorating clubhouse, creating a golf development center, rebuilding all the greens by 2023 and expanding the driving range. It’s estimated to cost nearly $17 million to perform the specified renovations to all 45 holes, which would include a new development center and a clubhouse. Roughly $735,000 of the cost would be covered by an existing one-cent sales tax, and the city identified $3.5 million in possible grant funding.
The City Commission is considering the proposal.
Bobby Jones fund balances
FY 1983-84: $20,810
FY 1984-95: $137,606
FY 1985-86: $107,645
FY 1986-87: $213,749
FY 1987-88: -$240,050
FY 1988-89: -$301,269
FY 1989-90: -$449,378
FY 1990-91: -$566,564
FY 1991-92: -$503,210
FY 1992-93: -$464,717
FY 1993-94: -$338,769
FY 1994-95: -$257,999
FY 1995-96: -$236,717
FY 1996-97: -$62,673
FY 1997-98: $63,526
FY 1998-99: $170,407
FY 1999-00: $63,301
FY 2000-01: $585,808
FY 2001-02: $491,505
FY 2002-03: $465,426
FY 2003-04: $469,597
FY 2004-05: $740,198
FY 2005-06: $1,301,085
FY 2006-07: $1,942,806
FY 2007-08: $1,979,926
FY 2008-09: $1,979,459
FY 2009-10: $1,294,205
FY 2010-11: $393,894
FY 2011-12: $332,797
FY 2012-13: $202,608
FY 2013-14: $914,043
FY 2014-13: $505,386
FY 2015-16: $48,564
FY 2016-17: -$183,034
May 2018: $102,280 (with the help of a subsidy)
SARASOTA CITY COMMISSION WANTS TO AVOID A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE
JUNE 28, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
SARASOTA — City commissioners want to trim fat from the proposed budget to avoid a potential property tax hike.
The Sarasota City Commission on Wednesday voted 3-2 to have city administrators re-evaluate the proposed $229 million 2018-19 budget to find areas to cut expenditures or hires to spare property owners from a suggested 2.85 percent property tax increase that staffers have recommended. City administrators on Tuesday asked the commission to consider a tax hike from $3.17 per $1,000 of assessed value to $3.26 to cover a roughly $914,000 deficit to the $73 million general fund budget — which is the main operating fund of the $229 million budget — they say was created by the transfer of five parks from Sarasota County. The potential tax increase would cost a homeowner with a taxable value of $200,000 an extra $1.51 per month or $18.10 a year, city officials said. The dissenting votes belonged to Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Charles Shaw.
A revised budget is expected to be presented to the commission sometime next month.
“We’ve got to look at this a little bit more conservatively,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said during a special meeting about the budget. ”... We can’t fund all of this now. We just can’t.”
Commissioner Hagen Brody, who fiercely opposed a property tax hike, questioned how the city could blame the budget shortfall solely on parks.
“You’re labeling this ‘the parks tax increase,’ but I just want you to know I’m not buying it,” Brody told administrators.
City administrators, however, insist the unanticipated costs with taking over the parks has created the deficit. The transfer will require 14 new full-time and 14 part-time employees, officials said. Beginning Oct. 1, the city will retain ownership of Arlington Park and Aquatic Center, Centennial Park, Ken Thompson Park, Payne Park Tennis Center and the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club.
The proposed budget includes several items classified by staff as “budget issues” that city staff characterized as new costs the city had to assume. The parks transfer is listed as an issue in addition to personnel and equipment requests from the police department, human resources, the planning department, housing and community development and financial administration. The requests, which also include street and highway maintenance costs, total $2.1 million.
Financially depleted Bobby Jones Golf Club is projected to require a subsidy of $650,000 next budget year. The 45-hole golf club could also require $375,000 in subsidies this budget year in addition to a $425,000 subsidy the commission already approved this year. Just recently, part of the nearly 50-year-old air conditioning unit in the aging clubhouse broke and drainage issues on parts of the course have become so bad a temporary fix is required, course manager Sue Martin said.
“We just keep getting more surprises,” Martin said.
City officials have attributed the need for a subsidy for the second consecutive year to neglected improvements to the course and declining revenues because of a diminishing golf industry. Golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell last year identified $21.6 million of improvements needed for all 45 holes. The city recently held a series of public workshops to help the City Commission at a later date determine which of Mandell’s recommendations to undertake. It’s estimated to cost nearly $17 million to perform the specified renovations to all 45 holes, which would include a new development center and a clubhouse. Roughly $735,000 of the cost would be covered by an existing one-cent sales tax, and the city identified $3.5 million in possible grant funding.
The upcoming budget, however, did not set aside funding for the significant renovations that will require commission approval.
“Inevitably, some supplemental additional funding is going to be necessary,” City Manager Tom Barwin said. “And with the kind of history it has, and its potential, we’re going to work real hard to market it and keep it a fun experience and hopefully have it come very close to breaking even or returning to being a positive cash flow over time.”
SARASOTA MULLING A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE
JUNE 26, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
ADMINISTRATORS SEEK ADDITIONAL REVENUE TO MAINTAIN FIVE PARKS TRANSFERRED FROM COUNTY
SARASOTA — Property owners in the city of Sarasota could face a slight tax rate increase to cover costs associated with extra park maintenance.
City administrators have asked the Sarasota City Commission to consider approving a 2.85 percent property tax hike — from $3.17 per $1,000 of assessed value to $3.26 — to cover a roughly $914,000 deficit to the $73 million 2018-19 general fund budget created by the transfer of five parks from Sarasota County. The potential tax increase would cost a homeowner with a taxable value of $200,000 about $1.51 per month or $18.10 a year, city officials said at a budget workshop on Tuesday.
Beginning Oct. 1, the city will retain ownership of the Arlington Park and Aquatic Center, Centennial Park, Ken Thompson Park, Payne Park Tennis Center and the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club. The city had an agreement with the county that the county would maintain the parks until September 2021, unless the county gave the city a year’s notice it no longer wanted the parks. The county gave proper notice last year. The transfer also requires the city to hire 14 new full-time positions next budget year to handle the added maintenance, Finance Director Kelly Strickland said.
“The operation of the city-owned parks is not something that we had anticipated, and it’s an additional expense for the city — that’s why we’re proposing a tax increase,” Strickland said.
Commissioner Hagen Brody was skeptical that parks are solely to blame for the shortfall, adding he hopes that city staffers could find fat to trim off the budget to avoid a rate hike.
“In my mind, presenting a balanced budget doesn’t mean presenting a budget that requires us to raise taxes,” Brody said.
Officials anticipate the city will collect roughly $35.6 million in property tax revenue for the general fund — the city’s main operating fund — should the commission approve the tax rate increase, city documents show. The projection is also based off preliminary taxable property value estimates released earlier this month by Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst that show the city experienced an estimated 8.49 percent jump in values from $9.7 billion in 2017 to $10.5 billion this year.
The city last raised property taxes in 2013, according to city documents. The commission next month will set a tentative property tax rate and will approve the final budget in September.
Next year’s budget — which is about $6.2 million larger than the current 2017-18 general fund budget — requests 22 new hires for the Sarasota Police Department, Parks & Recreation and human resources, according to city documents. The police department requested seven positions and allocated $250,000 toward launching a body camera program — should the commission desire to equip officers with them. The program would require two new hires and would outfit 100 officers with body-worn cameras and equip patrol cars with 100 cameras, documents show.
The commission was reluctant to approve the expenditure Tuesday without holding a workshop on the issue.
“We have been very conservative about adding any positions at all, so we can be prepared for the next downturn — whenever that comes,” City Manager Tom Barwin said.
The beleaguered Bobby Jones Golf Club is projected to require a subsidy of $650,000 next budget year. The 45-hole golf club could also require $375,000 in subsidies this budget year in addition to a $425,000 subsidy the commission already approved this year. City officials have attributed the need for a subsidy for the second consecutive year to neglected improvements to the course and declining revenues because of a diminishing golf industry.
FORUMS FIND SUPPORT FOR BOBBY JONES UPGRADES
THURSDAY, JUNE 21, 2018
AFTER GATHERING PUBLIC INPUT, THE CITY IS PREPARING TO ONCE AGAIN TO DISCUSS OPTIONS FOR RENOVATING ITS 45-HOLE GOLF COMPLEX
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
One of Richard Mandell’s major takeaways after four public workshops about the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club: Sarasota residents still believe the course can succeed.
“I feel like everyone’s pretty supportive of our efforts,” said Mandell, a golf architect working with the city on plans to renovate the municipal golf course. “They recognize something needs to be done — on a large scale, not just Band-Aids.”
On June 13 and 14, the city held a series of meetings designed to gather community feedback as officials debate the best path forward for Bobby Jones. In 2017, Mandell wrote a report stating the 45-hole complex needed more than $20 million in comprehensive renovations.
Following the production of the report, the city has demurred on how much it should actually invest in the golf course.
The course hasn’t turned a profit in the past five years. It needed a $425,000 subsidy in the previous budget and is projected to need a $600,000 subsidy in 2018-19. Concerned about the financial state of Bobby Jones, the City Commission wanted to hear what residents envisioned as an appropriate renovation plan.
Based on the input at the final workshop, those who chose to attend the meeting were enthusiastic about investing significant money into the course. Golfers said they would use the course more if it were improved. They believed the larger golf community felt the same way.
“Nobody wants to go play because of the condition,” said Steve Matthews, a golfer who spoke at the June 14 workshop. “I’m totally in support of spending this money to go fix it, because it’s a gem we as a city and a county should be really proud of.”
Matthews said he would be happy to pay $40 or $50 to play at Bobby Jones if it was in good shape, potentially double the existing fees. Other golfers shared the same sentiment, Mandell said, which could radically change the financial equations for the course.
Mandell suggested a tiered-fee system could generate additional revenue. The commission expressed a desire to keep Bobby Jones affordable for residents, so Mandell said the course could charge its lowest rates for city residents. But after examining other local golf course rates, Mandell said the city could potentially charge tourists more than $100 to play a round and still draw them.
“That’s a game-changer, from a revenue standpoint,” Mandell said.
Some golfers suggested a gradual approach to renovating the course — perhaps an initial smaller investment designed to improve 18 holes before proceeding to improve the rest of the course and clubhouse.
Other attendees suggested the county should be responsible for contributing funds to Bobby Jones, arguing the course is a regional amenity.
“The city is a part of the county,” resident and golfer Bill Coughlin said. “The county should share the costs.”
Mandell said that, because he was hired by the city and the city owns the course, he does not plan to broach that subject as part of a conversation about renovating the course.
At a May meeting, city commissioners made clear they hoped the workshops would include more than just the golf community. Mandell estimated that 40% of the attendees were nongolfers. He believed that group was largely of the opinion that Bobby Jones is an open-space asset that needs to be maintained.
“We did not hear from any nongolfers saying, ‘Tear it up and build condos,’” Mandell said. “I think they understand the benefits of that beyond just the golf itself.”
Mandell intends to return to the commission later this summer with more detailed financing options for a potential final decision on Bobby Jones renovations.
Despite the financial challenges the course is facing, Mandell said he thinks the general consensus is that Bobby Jones can turn its situation around with the proper investment.
“A majority of people want to preserve all 45 golf holes,” Mandell said.
DECADES OF NEGLECT AT SARASOTA'S BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB
JUNE 14, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
CITY OFFICIALS BLAME RECESSION FOR YEARS OF NEGLECT, BUT RECORDS SUGGEST DELINQUENCY SPANNED DECADES
SARASOTA — City officials blame the Great Recession for years of neglect to the financially floundering Bobby Jones Golf Club, but city records suggest the delinquency spanned three decades.
The recession, which caused the real estate market to collapse and halted new construction 10 years ago, forced city officials to divert money from the once-profitable club — which could require a $650,000 subsidy next budget year — to pay for vital city services, Sue Martin, the course’s manager said Thursday.
The neglect, however, started well before the recession, city documents suggest. In the past 30 years, the city has invested roughly $3.2 million in major course investments, according to city documents. That’s an average investment of about $106,600 annually during those three decades.
“It really had to do with the recession. Our city commissioners are faced with having to balance a budget, and notoriously, recreation is one of the things that kind of goes to a lower priority in any city, any state, any county,” Martin said. “Because you have to pave your roads, you have to fix your water lines, you have to have sewers and police protection.”
Tee boxes, which have a typical life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, have not been replaced in more than 30 years. Irrigation heads and pipes, which have a life expectancy of 10 to 30 years, are more than three decades old, city documents show. Bunker sand, which has a life expectancy of five to seven years, is more than 20 years old, documents show.
“There was some money put into it,” Martin said of the years preceding the economic downturn. The life cycle of many of the club’s components began to “age out” and needed replacement when the recession hit, Martin added.
The American course received $1.9 million in renovations in 1988 and British course greens were rebuilt in 1994 and 2008 at a cost of $320,959. American course greens were rebuilt in 2000, costing $247,911, city documents show.
The club, which opened in 1926, was last profitable in 2012 when it generated roughly $2.84 million. Minus expenses of about $2.82 million, the course had an income of $25,502, city records show.
Records also show the courses have seen a steady decline in play for the past three budget years, which run from October to September. Budget year 2015-16 saw a decrease of more than 7,800 players from 98,315 players the previous year. The city reported about 79,000 players in budget year 2016-17.
Golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell last year identified $21.6 million of improvements needed for all 45 holes. The City Commission recently agreed to hold a series of public workshops to help it determine which of Mandell’s recommendations to undertake.
Mandell and Martin were on hand Thursday during a workshop at City Hall where they heard suggestions from Sarasota residents. Those in attendance suggested upgrading all 45 holes, maintaining only 36 or 27 holes and using the rest of the space for other recreational activities, forming a foundation to sustain the course and implementing Florida resident rates.
Priority fixes Mandell and city staff have recommended: replace the antiquated irrigation system, renovate the deteriorating clubhouse, create a golf development center, rebuild all the greens by 2023 and expand the driving range. It’s estimated to cost nearly $17 million to perform the specified renovations to all 45 holes, which would include a new development center and a clubhouse. Roughly $735,000 of the cost would be covered by an existing one-cent sales tax, and the city identified $3.5 million in possible grant funding.
“The infrastructure at Bobby Jones is pretty much shot, and that’s why conditions are the way they are,” Mandell said.
The findings from the public workshops will be presented to the City Commission at a future date.
BOBBY JONES ISSUES REMAIN UNSETTLED
THURSDAY, JUNE 7, 2018
THE CITY HOPES COMMUNITY WORKSHOPS AND AN ADVISORY BOARD WILL HELP ESTABLISH A STRATEGY FOR ADDRESSING THE GOLF COURSE'S FINANCIAL WOES.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
It’s been six years since Bobby Jones Golf Club last turned a profit.
Fiscal year 2012 is the lone blip in what has been a long downward trend for the municipal golf course, which had previously been a self-sustaining entity. Other than the $25,502 the golf course made that year, the city has lost money operating the course every year since 2009.
Typically, the losses have been substantial — at least $140,000 every year since 2010, and an average of $364,331 annually over the past five years. The course depleted its reserves, which necessitated a $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund in this year’s budget. Preliminary staff estimates say that subsidy could increase to $600,000 next year.
Still, at the latest in an ongoing series of meetings regarding the future of Bobby Jones, city officials expressed optimism the golf complex could once again become financially stable.
“We have seen Bobby Jones be sustainable,” Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said at a May 31 meeting. “Bobby Jones had $2 million, almost, in reserves. When you take care of it and you invest in it, it’s going to be profitable. It’s not pretend.”
Even though the city continues to believe in the viability of Bobby Jones, it’s still unclear how, exactly, the City Commission wants to improve the course. At the May 31 meeting, held specifically to discuss Bobby Jones, the city declined to make any substantive decision regarding the complex itself. Instead, the commission directed staff to hold public workshops on potential improvements and to create a new advisory board for Bobby Jones-related topics.
Last year, the city received a recommended renovation plan from consultant Richard Mandell. In total, the report estimated the improvement needs of the facility at $21.6 million. Even a less intensive overhaul could cost more than $18 million, he said.
After discussing the report in October, the commission directed staff to research strategies for funding and implementing changes to Bobby Jones.
Staff, including Mandell, presented updated financing strategies for improving the course. Renovating all 45 holes, including a new player development center and clubhouse, would require an additional $16 million in funding, staff said. Staff has identified $3.5 million in potential grant opportunities to pay for that project.
The presentation also included smaller alternative scopes of work. Renovating just 36 holes, ignoring the clubhouse and development center, would require an additional $12 million. Renovating 27 holes would require $10 million, and 18 holes would require $6.4 million. Shrinking the number of holes at the golf course would require fewer rounds played to pay off the debt service from any renovations, staff said.
A majority of the commission expressed interest in maintaining 45 holes at Bobby Jones.
“There’s strong evidence, if we bring this course back up to its ability to be enjoyable and playable, we will see the returns,” Ahearn-Koch said. “I believe it’s an investment the community wants.”
City Commissioner Hagen Brody was the lone vote against the city’s actions May 31. Already a critic of the state of Bobby Jones, Brody said finding a less expensive plan was even more crucial in the wake of a recent lawsuit that has the city facing a payment of nearly $50 million in damages.
“I think pursuing the ‘best Christmas ever’ package is — to me, it’s crazy,” Brody said.
The city has scheduled meetings June 13 and June 14 to gather input on the facility’s future. Brody said he wanted the discussion to expand beyond just people who use the course, a sentiment the rest of the commission echoed.
“This is not only a golf issue, but it’s a taxpayer issue,” Brody said. “I want to hear what the people in all three districts think.”
SARASOTA SOLICITS COMMUNITY INPUT ON BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB
JUNE 6, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
SARASOTA — The city is holding a series of public workshops next week to garner community input on the future of the deteriorating Bobby Jones Golf Club.
The Sarasota City Commission has called for the meetings to solicit input on which improvements it should undertake of an estimated $21.6 million overhaul that golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell recommended late last year. The 45-hole flood-prone complex in recent years has been a financial strain because of neglected improvements and declining play at the course, city officials have said.
This budget year, for the first time, the club received a $425,000 subsidy. City staff previously estimated the course would need $1 million more next budget year, but that figure is closer to $600,000, city officials said. Administrators in March predicted a roughly $1.5 million deficit in the upcoming budget year despite an anticipated rise in property values — the nearly 100-year-old Bobby Jones Golf Club is a contributing factor to that shortfall, city officials have said.
Meetings will take place on June 13 at 2 p.m. at Payne Park Auditorium, 2100 Laurel Street and at 5:30 p.m. at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, 1845 John Rivers St. A second round of meetings will be held on June 14 at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at City Hall in the SRQ Media Room, 1565 First St.
“We pride ourselves on customer service and listening to feedback from our patrons and neighbors,” course manager Sue Martin said in a statement Wednesday. “We appreciate all the opinions we’ve heard so far about our historic course, and we look forward to receiving even more community input that will help guide Bobby Jones Golf Club into its next 100 years.”
The City Commission last week put off making renovation decisions on the course until after the public meetings. It also voted to reestablish a Bobby Jones advisory board — disbanded in 2010 — to advise the commission as to which upgrades it should undertake.
Priority fixes that Mandell and city staff have recommended: replace the antiquated irrigation system, renovate the deteriorating clubhouse, create a golf development center, rebuild all the greens by 2023 and expand the driving range. It’s estimated to cost nearly $17 million to perform the specified renovations to all 45 holes, which would include a new development center and a clubhouse. Roughly $735,000 of the cost would be covered by an existing one-cent sales tax and the city has identified $3.5 million in possible grant funding.
CITY ESTIMATE OF SUBSIDY NEEDED FOR GOLF COURSE DROPS
JUNE 1, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
SARASOTA — The financial hemorrhaging of the city’s Bobby Jones Golf Club isn’t as extensive as city staffers initially thought — a development mentioned fleetingly Thursday during a lengthy City Commission workshop on the course’s deteriorating condition.
The financially depleted golf course needs a $600,000 subsidy rather than the $1 million previously estimated to sustain it in the 2018-19 budget year, city officials say. Course manager Sue Martin cited the revised figure about three hours into the workshop in which commissioners discussed needed upgrades and renovations to the facility that opened in 1926. The city has not kept up with needed improvements and the course has seen declining play, contributing to the financial problems.
In the meeting, Commissioner Hagen Brody, referred to the $1 million shortfall figure, at which point Martin interjected: ”$600,000 ... preliminary numbers.”
Neither Brody nor Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch were briefed on the new figure prior to Martin’s cursory revelation, they said Friday.
“I did notice the correction when Commissioner Brody said ‘$1 million’ and she said ‘$600,000,’” Ahearn-Koch said.
City spokeswoman Jan Thornburg on Friday acknowledged commissioners were never briefed about the update.
“The City Commission will be updated on all department budgets during budget workshops later this month,” Thornburg said in an email.
City officials on Friday were unable to provide the Herald-Tribune with an itemized list of needs the course requires to justify the subsidy.
“It was a projection based on trends,” Thornburg said in an email.
“It never was a firm $1 million subsidy. It was a projection,” Thornburg wrote. “Projections change, as this one did. The golf course manager corrected misinformation at the table.”
Brody wants “straight answers and verifiable math” from staff about the fluctuating subsidy, he said Friday.
“Something to me stinks. I think people are going to see through this fuzzy math and we need honesty, not only from our staff, but also honesty with ourselves about how we’re going to move forward with Bobby Jones,” Brody said. “I want to save Bobby Jones and I want to make decisions that are going to ensure it’s viability for years to come. And if we’re not honest with ourselves about the reality of the Bobby Jones situation, then we’re never going to move forward and put it on a path to viability.”
Ahern-Koch is expecting the breakdown of course needs and how much they’ll cost at the workshops later this month.
“I’m sure we’ll get one. We usually do get an itemized breakdown,” Ahern-Koch said. “We usually get details when we ask. I’m not worried they can’t provide it.”
This budget year, for the first time, the club received a $425,000 subsidy. City staff previously estimated the course would need $1 million more next budget year. Administrators in March predicted a roughly $1.5 million deficit in the upcoming budget year despite an anticipated rise in property values — the Bobby Jones Golf Club is a contributing factor to that shortfall, city officials have said.
The commission on Thursday called for the reestablishment of a Bobby Jones advisory board — disbanded in 2010 — to advise it as to which improvements it should undertake of an estimated $21.6 million overhaul of the 45-hole complex golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell recommended late last year.
Priority fixes Mandell and city staff have recommended: replace the antiquated irrigation system, renovate the deteriorating clubhouse, create a golf development center, rebuild all the greens by 2023 and expand the driving range. It’s estimated to cost nearly $17 million to perform the specified renovations to all 45 holes, which would include a new development center and a clubhouse. Roughly $735,000 of the cost would be covered by an existing one-cent sales tax and the city identified $3.5 million in possible grant funding.
FINANCIAL TRAVAILS CONTINUE AT MUNICIPAL BOBBY JONES COURSE
BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUBS'S FINANCIAL WOES CONTINUE
THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 2018
The municipal golf course could need another $400,000 subsidy before the end of the fiscal year — and a $1 million subsidy next year.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
Sue Martin, the manager of Bobby Jones Golf Club, can tell you a long list of challenges the city-owned facility faces.
The infrastructure of the 45-hole complex is in disrepair. A 2017 report from an outside consultant said the course could use more than $21 million in renovations.
There are lots of other competitors in the region, many of which are able to offer competitive rates and courses that are in better condition. And, in general, the golf industry throughout Florida is seeing fewer rounds played.
During the past three years, these issues have been reflected in the city’s budget discussions. Ahead of approving the 2017-18 budget, staff requested a $425,000 general fund subsidy for operations at Bobby Jones. Although the course is intended to be self-sustaining, its reserves had run out for the first time staff could recall.
Now, as the city looks ahead to the 2018-19 budget, the issues appear to be deepening. A preliminary estimate suggests Bobby Jones could need a $1 million subsidy in the next fiscal year. And, before this year is over, staff could come back to the commission to ask for another $400,000 to fund Bobby Jones in the 2017-18 fiscal year — the $425,000 subsidy proving insufficient to buoy operations.
Despite all those challenges, Martin seems confident there’s a path to restoring Bobby Jones to a more sustainable place.
“It’s a gem,” Martin said. “It just needs some polishing right now.”
The City Commission expressed more trepidation about the future of Bobby Jones. At a Feb. 26 budget meeting, the board directed staff to come back with additional information about why the course appeared to be faring worse than originally projected.
“That’s really outrageous,” City Commissioner Hagen Brody said. “I think the community is going to agree that subsidizing that golf course to that extent is really ludicrous.”
Martin stressed that the figures presented at the budget meeting were preliminary. She said they were based on conservative projections from the city's financial staff, though she acknowledged the numbers were variable in either direction.
She couldn’t identify a single reason as to why the course was faring worse than expected. The issues with the course’s infrastructure are daunting, Martin said. When it rains, the drainage is so poor that sometimes the course is closed for multiple days afterward.
The course was particularly hard hit in the wake of Hurricane Irma last year, which closed at least a portion of the course for two weeks.
That’s one reason why the number of rounds played at the course continues to decrease. In other cases, Martin said, golfers are looking elsewhere, opting to play at better-maintained facilities.
Whatever the factors may be, the decline is stark. Through the end of February in 2015-16, there had been 46,794 rounds of golf played at Bobby Jones. Through the same point in 2017-18, there have been 35,723 rounds played.
This, Martin argues, underscores the need for significant improvements.
“Until we fix the infrastructure out there, we’re not as competitive as we could be in the market for golf,” Martin said. “If you’re not competitive, you’re not going to attract the golfers. It all hinges on the rounds of golf.”
The city has spent an extended period of time considering what improvements it should make at Bobby Jones. In early 2015, a resident advisory committee began examining the needs of the golf facility. In early 2017, the city hired golf architect Richard Mandell to produce a master plan for renovating the course.
After receiving Mandell’s report in October, the commission directed staff to engage with the public about potential improvements and research possible funding mechanisms. Martin said staff hopes to present that information to the board in April or May.
Brody said he wants to see Bobby Jones remain public space — and for the city to continue to offer a municipal golf operation — but he thinks the city should consider all its options as it searches for a way to reverse the financial status of the facility. That includes potentially reducing the number of holes and re-examining the management structure.
“It’s clear something has to change,” Brody said. “I’m not prepared to continue having Bobby Jones absorb that amount of taxpayer dollars.”
He suggested the course should be looking for a way to at least break even. Martin agreed, and said beyond selling the facility, staff was not ruling out any possibilities as it prepared to present options to the commission for consideration.
“Pretty much everything’s on the table,” Martin said.
SARASOTA CITY COMMISSION FACES BUDGET Choices
SATURDAY, MARCH 3, 2018
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
SARASOTA — The City Commission might face the tough decision of raising taxes, cutting services or dipping into reserve funds to balance an anticipated budget shortfall of nearly $2 million for the next fiscal year.
Administrators predict a roughly $1.5 million deficit in the 2018-19 budget year despite an anticipated rise in property values, Finance Director Kelly Strickland told the commission during a special budget workshop last week. The Bobby Jones Golf Club will require a $1 million subsidy and the city must cover roughly $2 million in costs associated with taking over six county operated parks — two factors that put the general fund in the red.
“We could use our reserves to balance the budget (but) that’s not ideal depending on where we’re at,” Strickland said. “Another option is to raise taxes and another option is to look at the services that we provide. Do we really need to increase? Maybe not. Or maybe we even have to decrease.”
The estimated budget of $66.8 million — about $5.1 million larger than the current budget — factors in a 7 percent increase in property values, which should generate $31.6 million for the general fund, but won’t be enough to balance the shortfall, Strickland said. Strickland, however, said she believes property values could rise by 9 percent. The state estimates an increase of 6.3 percent in taxable property value and will announce the figures in June. Last year the city saw a 9.8 percent rise in assessed property values.
Some commissioners were incensed by the news, with Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie calling for a review of the municipal golf club’s finances, rounds of play and rain days.
Commissioner Hagen Brody decried the proposed subsidy for the club.
“Bobby Jones is really outrageous, and I think that community is really going to agree that subsidizing that golf course to that extent is really ludicrous,” Brody said.
“The economy goes up and down, but when we’re in an up economy, we really should be in the position to lower taxes for people, not have to decide whether we’re going to raise them or not every time,” Brody later added. “If we spent a little smarter, I think that we would be in that position. It’s hard to see us being in that position this year.”
The city has not raised taxes since 2014, Strickland said.
Bobby Jones course manager Sue Martin attributes the need for a subsidy for the second consecutive year to neglected improvements to the course and declining revenues due to a diminishing golf industry. This budget year, for the first time, the club received a $425,000 subsidy to prop up its $2.8 million budget.
The commission last year approved a $21.6 million overhaul of the club, which consists of three courses with 45 holes total, but agreed the fixes will be carried out in phases. The $21.6 million iteration includes every upgrade that every stakeholder wanted, including renovating both 18-hole courses, a new clubhouse and driving range, extensive stormwater upgrades and constructing a new player development center with an innovative “adjustable” nine-hole course at the site.
“We’ve been putting very expensive band-aids on the facility to keep it going during these years of deciding what’s going to happen,” Martin said.
Records show the courses have seen a steady decline in play for the past three budget years, which run from October to September. Budget year 2015-16 saw a decrease of more than 7,800 players from 98,315 players the previous year. The city reported about 79,000 players in budget year 2016-17.
Rainy days typically wash out the course for several days, Martin said. The club’s irrigation system was installed in the 1970s and needs to be replaced, she said.
“When (players) leave because we’re closed due to weather, they find a different golf course and they start to think, ‘Well I’m kind of comfortable here,’” Martin said.
Adding to the deficit is $2 million the city must spend to take over six county parks. Beginning Oct. 1, the city will retain ownership of the Arlington Park and Aquatic Center, Centennial Park, Harts Landing, Ken Thompson Park, Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club and the Payne Park Tennis Center. The city had an agreement with Sarasota County that the county would maintain the parks until September 2021, unless the county gave the city a year’s notice it no longer wanted the parks. The county gave proper notice last year, Strickland said.
The commission will hold several budget workshops and hearings this year before approving the final budget in September.
CITY LOOKS AHEAD TO 2018-19 BUDGET
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2018
PRELIMINARY ESTIMATES SHOW A NEARLY $1.5 MILLION GENERAL FUND BUDGET DEFICIT. COMMISSIONERS HAD DIFFERENT APPROACHES ON A SOLUTION.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
The city isn’t even halfway through fiscal year 2017-18, but the City Commission is already looking ahead to next year’s budget.
On Monday, the City Commission held a special meeting to get a preliminary outline of the 2018-19 budget. The meeting was designed to discuss basics, outline challenges and identify opportunities in the coming year, as well as give the commission a chance to direct staff as it prepares budget proposals.
Much of the attention at Monday’s meeting focused on an overview of the general fund budget. Although staff currently projects revenues to increase from $66.8 million to $69.6 million, expenditures are expected to rise from $68.5 million to $71.1 million.
The early gap in next year’s budget was a source of concern for some commissioners. City staff identified several sources of increased expenditures in the preliminary 2018-19 budget. One of the largest ones was $1.9 million to assume control of parks the county currently operates, a change expected to occur later this year.
Kelly Strickland, the city’s director of financial administration, said the 2018-19 budget projections did not incorporate information regarding potential revenue from those parks. Still, the responsibility for the parks is likely to negatively affect the city’s balances.
Another major expense is a projected $1 million subsidy for Bobby Jones Golf Club. The golf complex is designed to operate as an enterprise fund, where the revenues fund the expenditures. But last year, Bobby Jones exhausted its reserves and required a $425,000 general fund subsidy.
That was the first time staff could recall the golf course requiring a subsidy, but Bobby Jones has continued to struggle. Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Hagen Brody both directed staff to provide more information on why Bobby Jones was faring poorly enough to demand such a large cash infusion.
“That’s really outrageous, and I think the community is going to agree that subsidizing that golf course to that extent is really ludicrous,” Brody said.
GOLFING MAYOR PUT EARLY SARASOTA IN THE SWING OF THINGS
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2017
BY JEFF LA HURD, CORRESPONDENT
In 1902, upon hearing the hoped-for news that legitimate train service was coming to Sarasota, 53 men gathered in Harry Higel’s office on the wharf at the foot of lower Main Street and voted to incorporate as a town. For the town seal they chose what was described as “A mullet with a rising sun over palmettoes with shells at the base.”
The town motto was the hopeful, perhaps prayerful, “May Sarasota Prosper,” and John Hamilton Gillespie was elected mayor.
Gillespie was well-suited for the role. He had arrived in 1886 at the behest of his father, Sir John Gillespie to reverse the fortunes of the failed Ormiston Colony of the Scottish Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. This syndicate had purchased 50,000 acres — at $1 per acre — in what was a veritable wilderness, and after the colony disbanded in despair, the company wanted to dispose of their property.
Gillespie was a large, gregarious man of wealth, and well-liked by the locals. As Alex Browning, one of the original colonists put it, “The natives and early settlers came to look upon him as a great big boy who could take a joke and was always ready to do a good turn for his neighbors.”
It was left to Gillespie to put into the fledgling community the infrastructure that should have already been in place upon the arrival of the Scots.
Gillespie, who today is considered the Father of Sarasota, knew that to be successful, a community needed ease of transportation, accommodations and activities to attract and to keep the visitors occupied.
For the first, he established rail service from Braidentown with his often derided Slow and Wobbly train, which made the journey only when the conductor felt that enough cargo and passengers were available to make the short trip worthwhile. It was not a successful venture.
For accommodations, he constructed the 35-room De Soto Hotel on Palm Avenue and lower Main Street at the bayfront.
His third and most important achievement was the construction of a golf course — the first in Florida.
Gillespie had long been an avid golfer. He recalled that his grandfather left him a set of McEvan and Philip golf clubs when he was 8 years old and played the sport regularly thereafter. It was a real passion for him, and early on he saw its potential as a tourist draw. Later he would lay out courses for the Plant System in Kissimmee, Jacksonville, Winter Park, Tampa and Cuba. He became known as the “golfing mayor.”
The Sarasota Times noted, “It was not until Bellaire became famous as a golf course that Tampa waked up to its responsibilities and now what a change we do find.”
On one of his forays around the state extolling the virtues of golf for a successful community, he was reported as a miscreant to law enforcement as he slapped the ball around with a stick. In another community he was nearly shot by “an excited and inebriated cowboy who spied me as I passed the saloon in my red (golfing) coat.”
Shortly after he arrived here in 1886 he laid out a two-hole practice course near his home. Alex Browning, a youngster who arrived with the Scot Colony, recalled seeing Gillespie practicing his swing there.
Gillespie asked if he played. When Browning replied that he did not, Gillespie said to him, “Mon, y’re missin’ half ye life.” (Young Browning later became an architect and designed the Frances-Carlton Apartments and also worked on the Tampa Bay Hotel.)
Years later, Leonard Reid, Gillespie’s manservant and friend, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune the story of how he and Gillespie laid out the first nine-hole course in the area. They walked for miles through the palmettos and brush, while Gillespie sketched. According to Reid’s account, 50 men grubbed the palmettos and set up the fairways. He indicated the fairways were 30 to 40 feet wide and stated, “That’s why the Colonel (honorary title) was so good. He’d always win his match because he could shoot straight. Colonel Gillespie only took a half a swing and the other men could always out hit him. But they would end up in the woods while Colonel got in the hole.”
His nine-hole course went from Links Avenue east toward today’s Sarasota County Terrace Building, the second further east, the third near Ringling Shopping Center, the fourth near Tuttle Avenue, then the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth all headed back west, with the ninth hole directly in front of the Gillespie’s house, Golf Hall. A clubhouse was completed in 1905. (The seven-hole, near what is today the Kane Building, had a swampy water hazard and Reid remembered that Gillespie liked it, calling it his “sporty” hole.)
Clubs in this era were given names instead of numbered woods and irons. They were dubbed niblick, lofter, mashie, mashie niblick, midiron, cique. The shafts were made of hickory wrapped with sheepskin. Wood T’s were yet to be used; instead the ball was put on top of some sand, and the smaller British size ball was played.
The Sarasota Times reported Gillespie was “Perhaps the most ardent of golfers ... and spends many hours every day in the winter season practicing difficult hazards and making famous shots.” The paper noted “His judgement is the criterion to which all disputes are taken for settlement.”
Writing under the name The Colonel, Gillespie was a regular contributor to New York Golf and The Golfers’ Magazine.
Among the changes to golf, Gillespie mentioned an article in an 1867 periodical: “As for his (the golfer’s) wife, she must amuse herself as best she can; she cannot even accompany him in his game as a spectator, the presence of ladies being by no means regarded with favor ... the links is not the place for women; they talk incessantly, and they never stand still, and if they do, the wind won’t allow their dresses to stand still.”
Gillespie sold all of his holdings to Owen Burns in 1910, including the golf course. Sometime later, as the course began to deteriorate, a group of citizens met to decide its future. Perhaps echoing Gillespie, someone was quoted, “A resort town without golf is like the play Hamlet without the main character.”
On the morning of Sept. 7, 1923, Gillespie left Golf Hall to give instructions to his workers, and as he was returning he collapsed on the links and was carried to his home, where he died.
He was eulogized in The Sarasota Times: “The Colonel was a great man. His passing leaves us lonely, mournful, filled with grief... Now his voice is still forever and the light of his eyes are gone, but his memory is imperishable.”
TOP 100 STORIES OF 2017
A NEW PLAN FOR BOBBY JONES
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2017
BY DAN WAGNER
Sarasota city officials embraced a multimillion-dollar plan for the municipal Bobby Jones Golf Club.
Sarasota city leaders endorsed a plan for a $21.6 million overhaul of the municipal Bobby Jones Golf Club in October, despite balking at the price tag.
The full project includes renovations to both 18-hole courses, a new clubhouse and driving range, extensive stormwater upgrades and construction of a new player development center with an innovative “adjustable” nine-hole course.
But city leaders are unlikely to fund all of those ideas, instead suggesting they might phase in pieces of the master plan to revamp the historic municipal golf course originally conceived by legendary course designer Donald Ross in the 1920s.
That is exactly how golf architect Richard Mandell designed the plan for the course that sought and received, for the first time, a $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund this year to prop up its $2.8 million budget amid declining revenues.
BOBBY JONES PLAN APPROVED
SARASOTA ENDORSES NEW BOBBY JONES GOLF PLAN
tuesDAY, octoBER 3, 2017
BY ZACK MURDOCK, STAFF WRITER
CITY COMMISSION EMBRACES $21.6M OVERHAUL, HINTING THAT PRICE MAY DROP
CITY LEADERS ARE LIKELY TO PURSUE ONLY PIECES OF A $21.6 MILLION PLAN.
SARASOTA - City leaders endorsed a plan for a $21.6 million overhaul of the municipal Bobby Jones Golf Club on Monday night, despite balking at the price tag.
Instead, city commissioners hinted they do not intend to spend anywhere near the entire cost of the whole project, likely favoring a plan that combines individual elements that could be eligible for grant funding into a smaller-scale upgrade for the facility.
That is essentially how golf architect and city consultant Richard Mandell designed his new master plan to revamp the historic municipal golf course originally conceived by legendary course designer Donald Ross in the 1920s.
The $21.6 million iteration includes every upgrade that every stakeholder wanted, including renovating both 18-hole courses, a new clubhouse and driving range, extensive stormwater upgrades and constructing a new player development center with an innovative “adjustable” nine-hole course at the site.
Mandell has broken it down further to provide costs for each of those elements, suggesting the city could mix and match its priorities depending on how much it wants to spend and pointing to potential grants that could help defray those costs.
“We all know in life we don’t get everything we want,” Mandell told the City Commission. “So I went back and created a less involved alternative, something that would get the job done.”
For example, Mandell’s plan includes extensive stormwater improvements for the site that is a critical piece of the Phillippi Creek watershed that helps control water quality and flooding in that area of the city and county.
It could pursue those projects and upgrade tee boxes for about $9 million and likely would be eligible for several grants, including a match of up to half from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, according to the plan.
Those grant opportunities particularly interested Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, who asked the city to accept the plan and have staff begin to pull it apart to identify what pieces could be reasonable based on available city and grant funding opportunities. After staff identifies those possibilities, she has directed the city to host workshops to present several reasonable options the commission could begin to fund and construct over the coming years.
The workshops will give golfers an “opportunity to tell us what they want, whether it’s all, nothing or some combination of the options” and the commission can make final funding decisions from there, she said.
More than a dozen avid golfers, some of whom served on the original study committee that led to the new master plan, spoke in support of the improvements. But some have suggested Mandell’s plan strays too far from the original Ross designs, which some hoped to restore exactly and fear anything otherwise could jeopardize grant funding.
Only Commissioner Hagen Brody voted against the plan, extending his ongoing criticism that the commission is not being conservative enough financially. He echoed the frequently heralded numbers that “golf is dying” as courses close and fewer players hit the links.
This year, for the first time, the club sought and received a $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund to prop up its $2.8 million budget amid declining revenues.
Brody suggested crafting several options that actually scale back the golf club, potentially dropping one or more of the courses or facilities entirely in an effort to save money. None of the other commissioners supported and neither do the groups that helped develop the master plan, which did at least briefly consider that option.
“We have to be realistic here. The facts are that golf is in decline,” Brody said. “We’re not trying to save golf and I don’t see us creating a world-renowned destination. We’re trying to provide a public course at an affordable price that’s a quality course people can enjoy playing on.”
Mandell disagreed. He has argued that as long as the city wants Bobby Jones to remain a golf facility, it will have to pony up for at least some upgrades, which will be expensive no matter how minimal.
“There is a core of golfers and there are a bunch of them right behind me,” he said. “The game of golf is strong, but once golf decided to become an industry ... people started losing money. It’s not a dying sport at all; it’s a bubble.”
BOBBY JONES IMPROVEMENT NEEDS TOP $20 MILLION
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2017
A consultant says Bobby Jones Golf Club is in need of major renovations — and that there’s no guarantee the course will ever turn a profit.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
Throughout his 169-page business plan recommending renovations for Bobby Jones Golf Club, golf architect Richard Mandell repeatedly states the 45-hole, city-owned facility has fallen into disrepair.
Nearly all of the course features have outlived their recommended lifespans. The lack of infrastructure investments has diminished the reputation of Bobby Jones.
“Public perception of Bobby Jones Golf Club … is of an old and tired, rundown (municipal course) with terrible conditions compared to surrounding semi-private courses,” Mandell wrote.
Mandell, hired in January to develop a master plan for improvements at Bobby Jones, presented his finished report to the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection board Sept. 19. In addition to detailing hole redesigns and drainage upgrades, Mandell also provided an estimate for the work needed to restore Bobby Jones to a high-quality public course.
In his plan for renovating Bobby Jones Golf Club, Richard Mandell attempts to maintain the elements of the course players like while emphasizing the history of the facility and improving the infrastructure.
Mandell’s recommendations include:
Transforming the Gillespie Course into a player development center
Removing the “American Course” and “British Course” designations, creating four nine-hole groupings that can be configured into two different 18-hole courses
Redesigning the 18 Donald Ross-designed holes to capture the spirit of the original layout
Building a new two-story clubhouse
Replacing the irrigation system
Expanding the drainage system
Re-grassing the entire course
The full report is available on the city website.
The total price for a comprehensive renovation of Bobby Jones is $21.6 million, Mandell estimates. Recognizing the significance of that expense, he also shared a “less-involved” plan — with a price tag of $18.7 million.
The city commissioned Mandell’s report because of declining revenues and activity at Bobby Jones. In the budget for 2017-18, the municipal course will receive a $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund. Bobby Jones is supposed to be a self-sustaining operation, but after six consecutive years of losses, the facility’s reserve fund has run dry.
Mandell said most of the investments he recommended are the only way that Bobby Jones could become a successful long-term golf operation. But, questioned by members of the parks board, he said there would still uncertainty about the course’s profitability.
“If the city of Sarasota wants Bobby Jones to stay as Bobby Jones, they have to rebuild these features,” Mandell said. “Will it be self-sufficient? I can’t answer that.”
Hitting the green
That uncertainty didn’t sit well with John Tuccillo, a member of the parks board.
He was complimentary of Mandell’s work, but felt the city wasn’t in a good position to make a decision about the future of Bobby Jones without an equally thorough analysis of the business operations after any upgrades were implemented.
“We are operating here under the ‘Field of Dreams’ assumption — if you build it, they will come,” Tuccillo said. “Golf is a dying sport; golf courses are a dying business. There really isn’t any kind of guarantee that the financial performance of Bobby Jones Golf Course is going to be improved even by implementing your full plan.”
Mandell said some expenses could be offset with grant funding. Still, Tuccillo feared the prospect of the city investing upward of $10 million only for the course to keep losing money.
Mandell has objected to the characterization of golf as a dying sport. Instead, he says golf went through a 30- to 40-year period of bloat, with the bubble bursting recently. As a result, there is more competition among golf operations.
He admits that’s a challenge for Bobby Jones. But he believes the municipal facility has its own advantages. It has history in the community. It bears the name of a legendary golfer, and renowned golf architect Donald Ross designed the course. It’s not surrounded by residential properties, and it’s priced competitively.
And he thinks the city benefits from maintaining 425 acres of open space. The idea of the city cutting ties with the golf operation at Bobby Jones was not part of his analysis.
The City Commission is scheduled to discuss Mandell’s report Monday, Oct. 2. Mandell has itemized his recommended improvements, anticipating some fiscal concerns from officials. He’s also presented a four-year phasing plan for the renovations.
He knows the scope of the upgrades is jarring. But based on the current status of Bobby Jones, he said there’s no reasonable way to keep operating the facility without a major overhaul.
“Forget everything this report says — the bottom line is, at some point, these features need to be rebuilt in order to function as a golf course,” Mandell said. “That’s no matter what.”
BOBBY JONES RENOVATION TO COST UP TO $21.6 MILLION
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017
BY ZACK BURDOCK, STAFF WRITER
CITY CONSULTANT SUGGESTS DIVVYING UP IMPROVEMENTS INTO SERIES OF MINI-PROJECTS
SARASOTA - A completely renovated and improved Bobby Jones Golf Club could cost the city of Sarasota more than $21.6 million, according to the final master plan finished this month.
The long-awaited plan has been in the works since the beginning of the year and represents a best-case proposal to revamp the historic municipal golf course originally conceived by legendary course designer Donald Ross in the 1920s.
But the price tag for the full project is $7 million more than a study committee estimated the project could cost several years ago and will raise eyebrows at the City Commission, which just concluded a contentious budget process with lingering questions about future obligations.
Members of the city’s parks board, who have helped develop the plan with city consultant and golf course architect Richard Mandell, struggled with the sticker shock, too. They unanimously approved the plan last week and lauded its recommendations, but they conceded it is a steep price with no guarantees.
To help, Mandell has broken the project into a series of mini-projects from which the city can pick and choose its favorites — greens and tees, a practice facility, a clubhouse, drainage and environmental improvements can all be mixed and matched.
Parks board member John Tuccillo praised Mandell’s vision for the course but offered a grim warning.
“We are operating here under the ‘Field of Dreams’ assumption: If you build it they will come,” he said. “Golf is a dying sport, golf courses are a dying business and there really isn’t any kind of guarantee that the financial performance of Bobby Jones golf course is going to be improved, even by implementing the full plan. For people who golf, it’ll be delightful. Will it bring more people? I don’t know.
“My problem is, are we going to get, with the redesign and with the renovation, sufficient traffic on an operational basis to keep Bobby Jones solvent?”
But Mandell challenged that thinking, arguing much of the course and its facilities are long past their expected 30-year lifespan. There is no disagreement that the area should remain a golf club, it’s just a matter of choosing how to invest in it, he said.
“If the city of Sarasota wants Bobby Jones to stay as Bobby Jones, they have to rebuild these features,” he said. “Will it be self-sufficient? I can’t answer that. If the city sees this as open space and there are all these environmental benefits and they see it as a recreational opportunity, they’ve got to improve the infrastructure no matter what.
“I can’t guarantee you you’re going to make money at it, but if you’re in, you’ve got to be in.”
At the center of Mandell’s plan for the three-course, 45-hole complex are course renovations, a new clubhouse and the re-imagining of the nine-hole executive course on the west side of Circus Boulevard there. He envisions turning the area into an "adjustable course," driving range and extra practice facilities as a learning center for new or young golfers.
The final recommendation for the two 18-hole courses, the British and the American, is to revamp them as four, nine-hole segments. During part of the year, they could play as the existing British and American courses. But during another part of the year, the city could open the north and west nines as a new 18-hole configuration and the south and east nines as another, essentially turning the complex into four distinct courses.
The entire project also would include extensive improvements to the course’s capacity as a stormwater site.
The proposal includes increasing the important wetland’s floodplain capacity by almost 20 acres with additional canals, pond storage and dry hollow. It also includes planting another 18 acres of native pond buffers to help water runoff and sites for 10 additional wellhead locations to expand the city’s capacity to draw drinking water from underneath the course in an emergency.
“We start with one basic estimate, which is what I would call a comprehensive renovation option, for the whole site that satisfies all desires of all stakeholders,” Mandell explained. “So if we took everything that everybody wanted and we did our ‘Bewitched’ little nose thing — all desires of all stakeholders as best we can — here’s what we’re going to do and here’s our cost.”
But Mandell is the first to admit the entire project likely is too expensive to bite off at once, or even at all.
Nearly a quarter of Mandell’s almost 170-page report details more than a dozen funding options, from spreading projects over several years to breaking them into individual pieces the city could choose from and schedule at will.
For example, it would cost about $4.25 million to rebuild bunkers and greens on the British and American courses. It would cost about $9 million to pursue just the drainage improvements and remake the tee boxes, Mandell offered.
As much as $10 million in various local, state and federal grants also could be available for the project, which could help at least partially fund nearly every type of improvement the city might choose, Mandell added.
Any option the City Commission ultimately might choose for Bobby Jones is likely to come with a cost-benefit analysis of the future of the municipal club.
This year, for the first time, the club sought and received a $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund to prop up its $2.8 million budget amid declining revenues.
The golf course is projecting a $287,000 loss in the coming year. It has turned a profit once since 2009 — of $25,000 in 2011 — in the heart of the economic downturn, according to city documents. From 2007 to 2013, total rounds at the club annually dropped from a high of 143,000 to 102,000, Mandell reported.
“It’s all about attracting rounds and getting more rounds,” Mandell said. “That’s the challenge.”
Mandell’s plan does not address how upgrades could affect the courses’ prices — that is a policy decision city leaders would have to weigh against their goals for the club, he said.
When the study committee recommended upgrades for the facility, it estimated a $14.5 million project would require at least a $5 increase to per-round costs to help defray the expense, said parks board member Shawn Pierson, who leads the Friends of the Bobby Jones Golf Club and has passionately worked for years on plans for the course.
Parks board members agreed it will be critical to keep Bobby Jones an affordable golf option, particularly compared to other private courses competing for many of the same players.
That must be part of the discussion with the City Commission about the plan and how or when to implement any of it, Bobby Jones General Manager Sue Martin said. She hopes to bring the plan to the full commission at its Oct. 2 meeting.
IRMA'S WINDS 'FIND' DOZENS OF LOST GOLF BALLS AT BOBBY JONES
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
BY ERIC GARWOOD, MANAGING EDITOR
The city of Sarasota announced that the American course at Bobby Jones is expected to open for play Saturday, Sept. 23. The British and Gillespie courses were already open for play.
In golf, the cardinal rule is simple: Play it where it lies.
In the sand, in the mud, in the long grass. Just take your medicine and hit it. And hit it again, if necessary.
Except in the case of a palm tree on the par-5 sixth hole of Bobby Jones Golf Club’s British Course. And a few more similar palms around the course.
When Hurricane Irma struck over the weekend, that particular palm gave up at least a dozen reasons for violating golf’s most basic tenet -- they had been stuck there after errant shots. Plenty of other balls turned up similarly below other palm canopies around the course, as they often do after high winds.
“It’s kind of like an Easter egg pick-up out there,’’ said Sue Martin, the golf manager at the city-run course, adding the staff probably collected 150 balls that tumbled from the tightly packed palm fronds atop the trees that line the fairways.
The course on Fruitville Road came through the storm fairly well, according the city of Sarasota. Martin said 17 trees fell, but none of them are in play. Crews are in the process of removing them and clearing debris from around the property. Martin said the course’s 6-inch rain gauge filled up between Saturday and Tuesday, so at least that much rain fell, but the water is receding.
She said she hopes the British course will be ready by Friday morning, but the American might take a little longer.
Oh, and the penalty for hitting a ball semi-permanently into a tree?
It’s either a lost ball (if you can’t see it) or an unplayable lie (if you can). Either way, It’s one stroke.
NEW BOBBY JONES PLAN NEARING COMPLETION
THURSDAY, JULY 13, 2017
BY ZACK MURDOCK
SARASOTA - With a plan to revamp Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Club just a few weeks from completion, city officials and their consultant on the project are still fine-tuning every last detail.
That means what the city is affectionately calling the 100 percent master plan for its historic municipal course is unlikely to remain that way, joked city consultant and golf course architect Richard Mandell.
“This is the plan, and it will be the basis of what I present to the City Commission next month along with my full report,” he said. “But once that goes out, I know people are going to have a field day with it. I expect plenty of new suggestions and ideas after that presentation, and that’s what this process is all about, and we can keep adjusting; we’ve just got to get it right.”
At the center of Mandell’s plan for the three-course, 45-hole complex are course renovations, a new clubhouse and the reimagining of the nine-hole executive course on the west side of Circus Boulevard there. He envisions turning the area into an "adjustable course," driving range and extra practice facilities as a learning center for new or young golfers.
He and the city’s parks advisory board spent almost two hours on the would-be complete master plan on Thursday night, trying to workshop ideas for possible alternative locations for the planned new driving range and entirely rebuilt clubhouse — each with a smattering of pros and cons.
Moving the driving range to the eastern end of all the courses could be a problem with the canals running across the property or could leave one of the two 18-hole courses a few yards short of regulation, Mandell said. But leaving it along Circus Boulevard would require a shorter range and netting, both of which raised red flags with golfers and the course’s Glen Oaks neighbors, he admitted.
The city also could consider inching the new clubhouse closer to the road or farther north to make more space behind and around it, depending on their preference or worries about a temporary clubhouse structure, Mandell added.
The course’s representative on the parks board, Shawn Pierson, who leads the Friends of the Bobby Jones Golf Club and has passionately worked for years on plans for the course, advocated strongly for further tinkering on the driving range’s location. But the idea got little support from the parks board, and Bobby Jones General Manager Sue Martin said City Manager Tom Barwin also favors the current design.
“I think we’re still in the solving-the-puzzle phase, versus selecting from among one of three or four options,” Pierson said. “We’re just now looking at the options and starting to digest them.”
Mandell is scheduled to present his final recommendations to the City Commission for review on Aug. 21. The city hired Mandell at the beginning of the year for $115,000 and will receive a lengthy, technical report along with the conceptual design.
“There are limitations to this site that, no matter what we choose, will keep it from being what everybody wants,” Mandell told the parks board. “The solution I’m showing, because we’ve studied all this, is the better solution.”
Golfers’ yearslong hopes of upgrading the course lie under the cloud of financial uncertainty, though.
Mandell has not yet presented cost estimates for his concept, but the price tag is expected to be a multimillion dollar investment. His final report to the commission, to be made available shortly before the meeting, will include specific cost figures, he said Thursday.
The recommendations will land in the middle of ongoing discussions about the city’s budget, including a first-ever subsidy to the golf club.
Bobby Jones has struggled financially since the economic downturn and has asked for a $425,000 transfer from city coffers in 2018 to prop up its $2.8 million budget.
IN THE ROUGH: BOBBY JONES FACES REVENUE CHALLENGES
THURSDAY, JULY 13, 2017
IS AN INFUSION OF CASH INTO BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB ENOUGH TO TURN THE MUNICIPAL COURSE INTO A MONEYMAKER FOR THE CITY?
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
If the City Commission approves staff’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18, taxpayers will fund a $425,000 subsidy to Bobby Jones Golf Club — a facility whose reserves have run dry for the first time officials can recall.
The deterioration of Bobby Jones is an oft-discussed subject at City Hall. City staff say the 45-hole municipal facility, located on the east end of town, is suffering because its infrastructure dates back to the 1980s. The irrigation is bad. The drainage is bad.
As a result, the course tends to be in rough shape, too. The city replaced the greens on both 18-hole courses at Bobby Jones, and General Manager Sue Martin said that $500,000 investment has more than paid off. But golfers still grouse about the conditions of the fairways, and the estimated income from greens fees declined by about $20,000 over last year.
City staff isn’t denying there are problems with the way the course has operated during the past decade. As they asked for that $425,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund at a budget workshop in June, they made clear that Bobby Jones will continue to struggle if nothing changes.
“Over the last 10 years, the golf course has been in decline, and the capital influx hasn’t been there to compete with the golf courses in the area,” Martin said.
That capital influx, officials hope, is the key to turning around the fortunes of Bobby Jones. On Thursday, golf architect Richard Mandell will unveil his complete master plan for improving the facility at a Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Board meeting.
The city hired Mandell in January, paying $115,000 to get advice on how the golf club could be brought up to par. That contract came after a citizen study committee spent nearly a year assessing the needs of Bobby Jones and said the city should invest $14.5 million to improve the facility.
Mandell isn’t making his plans public before Thursday’s meeting because he wants to incorporate input from the advisory board before sharing it with a broader audience. During seven walkthroughs with golfers during his planning process, he’s gotten positive feedback to his vision for Bobby Jones, which is built around maintaining the existing character of the courses while improving the quality.
One thing that won’t be included in Mandell’s plans? A model for how to make Bobby Jones a financially stable business in the wake of any improvements.
Mandell said his expertise is in the physical conditions of the course, and the scope of his contract with the city doesn’t include the operations of the facility.
So, if Bobby Jones gets the “capital influx” staff says it needs, how sure can the city be that the club will stop losing money? Martin said it’s hard to understate the impact of the aging infrastructure the courses use. A rainy day could cost facility two or three days of revenue because the courses are so slow to drain.
“It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of attention being given to the decline of the facility,” Martin said. “There could be golfers out there saying, ‘Let’s wait for them to improve it before we go.’”
Martin said staff has begun discussing the need to have a formal business plan in place to go along with any improvements, but she described that as the next step in the planning process.
“We can’t get a business plan until we know where we’re going with the master plan,” she said.
Although Mandell didn’t want to get into the specifics of managing the course financially, he shares Martin’s optimism about the club’s ability to succeed following the right improvements. He dismissed a narrative that calls golf a declining sport.
What has happened, he said, is a burst bubble. The number of golf courses expanded beginning in the 1980s, mostly private courses that anchored residential developments. The number of casual golfers increased around that time, and has drawn down since.
Mandell said that has created a real problem for the golf business. Those private courses, struggling to stay afloat, are opening up to the public — and offering rates competitive with municipal facilities.
“That all of a sudden does become competition for Bobby Jones, but Bobby Jones has a lot more going for it than these courses,” Mandell said.
The history of the course in the community is a legitimate asset, Mandell said. So are the names associated with it: golfer Bobby Jones and architect Donald Ross, both influential figures in the early history of the sport in America. Both residents and visitors want to golf at Bobby Jones — just not in the current conditions.
“People are finding Bobby Jones,” Mandell said.
“What they’re finding is a golf course that’s in decline.”
Nearly six months after Mandell began his master planning work, many questions remain unanswered. How much will the improvements cost? How long will it take to overhaul the facility? And what, exactly, does a thriving Bobby Jones Golf Club look like from an operations standpoint?
Despite those questions, officials have not shown any signs of wavering in their belief that Bobby Jones is an asset for the city. And Mandell is confident that a high-quality municipal golf facility can succeed in Sarasota.
“If the country hears that Bobby Jones has been completely renovated and rebuilt, they’re going to flock,” Mandell said.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
July 11, 2017
This is being referred to as a bailout of Bobby Jones, but we know that Bobby Jones has generated funds that have been rerouted by the City over the years to other areas. So let's look at this as the City repaying the golf course for monies it borrowed from the club.
There was no mention of taxpayer dollars to fund the capital improvements in discussions other than from misinformed individuals. What has been discussed was Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Historical Preservation grants which protect the environment and protect the history of Florida. The rest of the funds were proposed to come from a REVENUE bond secured by the future revenues of the golf course which industry data for municipal golf courses show would support this. Certainly a public private partnership should be explored but only with the right companies.
Troon, for instance, struggled with Legacy Golf Club and there are other instances of private management failures in the area. These companies are profit driven and it is important to find the right fit, especially in a municipal golf course environment.
Environmentally, as we have mentioned many times before, this project will result in significant improvements to the water quality of Phillippi Creek and Sarasota Bay.
From a historical standpoint this golf course is the most significant historical asset the City has and is a key destination on the Florida Historic Golf Trail when operating properly. If you are truly vested in your community this history should be important to you!
Municipal courses in Coral Gables, Miami Shores, Ft Myers, Orlando and other areas have gone through major improvements to great success. These are the examples we should be looking at not major cities in other regions that really aren't comparable to Sarasota. Florida municipalities have the same basic characteristics, are located in the same region of the country and have the same need to attract golfing retirees.
People have no problem with taxpayers funding parks that generate no revenue but when it comes to one that does, the largest park which happens to be a golf club, its "oh no we can't do that", even though it would pay for itself. Seriously??
The answer maybe with private management but make no mistake the answer is yes we need to move forward with this project but as part of the plan demand that the City fixes the many operational problems that are beating the club in to the ground.
Dan M. Smith, Chairman, Bobby Jones Golf Course Study Committee, Sarasota; and Treasurer and Trustee, Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, Inc.
BOBBY JONES COURSE NEEDS CHANGE, NOT BAILOUT
THURSDAY, JULY 6, 2017
BY ADRIAN MOORE, CONTRIBUTOR
The city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club has been going downhill for years. Unable to compete with many much nicer and similarly priced golf properties around Sarasota, it just can’t bring in the golfers needed to pay for running it, let alone improving it.
The course has only brought revenue above operating costs one year out of the past eight, losing over $1.3 million in recent years and consuming all of its reserves. So it’s no surprise that this year they have come to the City Commission to “humbly ask for a subsidy out of the general fund.” They anticipate a loss of $287,000 in the coming year unless they raise fees or get a bailout from the non-golfing taxpayers.
Note this comes after the city spent $115,000 to hire a golf architect to propose a multimillion dollar plan to upgrade the complex. Those millions will come, you guessed it, from the non-golfing taxpayers.
Given that Bobby Jones hasn’t been able to compete against other golf courses for many years, it makes no sense for city taxpayers to bail them out or spend millions to rebuild a losing competitor. The Bobby Jones Golf Club was once nice, but it lost the competition with rivals. Making it nice again, but keeping the same management, is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, and we all know what that is the definition of …
So I am going to repeat what I said a year ago. The city should look into a private golf company to take over management of Bobby Jones under contract. Let a company that runs golf courses all over the nation, and makes money with them, invest its money in the improvements, rather than gambling taxpayer dollars. They would do the marketing to bring in more golfers and reap the rewards if they succeed — but also bear the costs if they fail. This kind of arrangement puts the risk of success or failure on the private firm, where it belongs, not on city taxpayers. But the city retains ownership of the course and control of rates and policies through the contract.
Cities like Chicago and Phoenix have done exactly this a few years ago and have experienced great success. The City Commission should look at this winning idea instead of spending millions on a failed formula.
FORE! BOBBY JONES NEEDS $425,000
FOR THE FIRST TIME, HISTORIC 45-HOLE COMPLEX REQUIRES HELP FROM THE CITY'S GENERAL FUND
THE MUNICIPAL COURSES ARE PROJECTING A $287,000 LOSS NEXT YEAR AND HAVE ONLY TURNED A PROFIT ONCE SINCE THE RECESSION
MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2017
BY ZACK MURDOCK
SARASOTA - The Bobby Jones Golf Club needs $425,000 in city subsidies to prop up its $2.8 million budget next year as golfers and city leaders await a final master plan to revamp the historic municipal complex.
It will be the first time the three-course, 45-hole complex requires help from the city’s largely property-tax funded general fund while it grapples with the same declines facing the entire golf industry, said Sue Martin, the club’s general manager.
“This is the first year we’ve had to come in front of the City Commission and humbly ask for a subsidy out of the general fund,” Martin told the commission during budget workshops last week. “Over the last, probably 10 years, the golf course has been in decline and the capital influx has not been there to compete with our neighbor golf courses.”
The golf course is projecting a $287,000 loss in the coming year and has only turned a profit once since 2009 — in 2011 — and the heart of the economic downturn, according to city documents.
“If we don’t keep our golf course in playable condition — and that is our product, the golf course is our product — we can’t get the price point in order to cover all of our expenses,” Martin said. “Basically it’s come down to, we are looking at the general fund.”
The first subsidy will allow the club, which hosts roughly 115,000 golfers each year, to forgo large jumps in green fees and cart rentals to try to make up the difference, Martin said.
“I think a municipal golf course really serves a purpose,” she said. “We invite and welcome any and all golfers, at all levels, all economic status and we’d like to keep our price point so that it is available for just the normal person to come golf. But the tradeoff is that we will need a subsidy.”
In an effort to reduce costs further, Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle is working with the course’s landscaping and maintenance company to cut about $100,000 out of its contract without reducing maintenance of the courses themselves.
The subsidy request comes just ahead of the unveiling of a new master plan to overhaul the 90-year-old club following two years of review and debate.
Golf architect Richard Mandell is expected to present his final recommendations to the city’s parks board, which helps oversee Bobby Jones, and the City Commission in mid- to late July. The commission hired Mandell for $115,000 earlier this year.
So far Mandell has detailed parts of his planned proposals at several workshops, including redesigning the nine-hole Gillespie Course as an "adjustable golf course" with a learning center for new or young golfers.
Although the plans have received some positive feedback, the price tag for major changes to the club remains to be seen.
Once the commission hears Mandell’s pitch, it will have to determine how much of his plan to implement and how to pay for it. That could mean spreading the changes out in phases over several years, Martin suggested.
The project also would have to be added to a growing and expensive to-do list, which now includes the potential purchase of the Players Centre for Performing Arts and the eventual big ticket costs of the Bayfront 20:20 plan.
But Fogle and Martin agreed the recommendations should be implemented, however possible, to try to restore course.
“Obviously the main thing is getting the master plan hopefully approved and trying to figure out a way to fund this master plan, so we don’t throw it on the shelf and do nothing with it,” Fogle said. “Bobby Jones is a historic golf course and ... I want it to be the world class golf course that it once was, that the city could be proud of.”
GOLF ARCHITECT OUTLINES BOBBY JONES OVERHAUL
THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017
Richard Mandell says Bobby Jones Golf Club needs major infrastructure upgrades, but the character of the courses don’t have to change for the facility to succeed.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
After completing 90% of the design work for a Bobby Jones Golf Club master plan, golf architect Richard Mandell’s vision for the course doesn’t involve too many radical changes — on the surface, at least.
Most of the more significant alterations he’s recommending are contained to the Gillespie Executive Course west of Circus Boulevard, which he wants to transform into a training area with a larger driving range. But on the American and British courses, Mandell wants to preserve the character of the 36 holes while improving the conditions for golfers.
In the past week, Mandell has provided a series of updates on his master plan for the city-owned facility. On Tuesday, he held a pair of workshops at Bobby Jones, where the public could provide feedback on the plans.
The city has expressed a desire to reinvigorate Bobby Jones as both revenue and the number of rounds played at the course have declined annually. In 2015, a citizen advisory committee recommended $14.5 million in improvements. In January, the city approved a $115,000 contract with Richard Mandell Golf Architecture to develop a master plan.
Mandell has affirmed one of the findings of the study committee: Bobby Jones is in need of major structural improvements. One of his priorities is improving drainage on the course, which includes adding five acres of flood control to the 325-acre site. He recommends achieving that by building ponds and dry basins that, in conjunction with raising some of the low-lying holes, is designed to redirect water away from the playing area.
Beyond the natural drainage improvements, Mandell said the course needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, for the irrigation and drainage systems at Bobby Jones have outlived their useful lifespan. He thinks infrastructure upgrades would address many complaints about the facility.
“They don’t like the drainage problems, the lack of sand in some of the bunkers,” Mandell said. “They like the general character of the golf course.”
Mandell repeatedly referred to the distinct characters of the two 18-hole courses at Bobby Jones. Golfers told him the American Course is shorter, designed for “target golf” with a lot of water throughout. The British Course, by contrast, is longer, sleepier and has relatively little water.
Within these 36 holes, he’s recommending a change that would allow staff to dynamically arrange two 18-hole courses on a day-to-day basis. Dividing them into four nine-hole segments, Mandell suggests staff could have golfers play the front nine of the American and the back nine of the British, or other combinations.
Beyond that, the changes are minor. He recommends lengthening both courses, and creating seven different tee boxes for each hole to accommodate golfers of various ability levels. He wants to make sure the holes are more clearly defined, too, for both safety and playability reasons.
The golfers at Tuesday’s workshops shared largely positive feedback. Sheila Schwabl plays at Bobby Jones twice a week, and she said the proposed changes strike a good balance between preserving what’s good about the course and making much-needed improvements to a deteriorating facility.
“It’s been a tough year for the fairways, that’s for sure,” Schwabl
Mandell said he’s strived to keep the public engaged.
“If you listen to what people want and try to figure out how to accommodate them, the rest of the process is a breeze," he said.
There’s no solid estimate on the cost or timeline of the improvements at this point. Mandell said it should take no more than a year to improve an 18-hole segment of the facility, and that any improvements would likely be conducted in phases. He said the budget figures he’d seen thrown around in the past — including the $14.5 million the committee presented — were probably “somewhat in the ballpark.”
Mandell is scheduled to present a final report to the City Commission in July. On its own, he said even a major investment won’t be enough to secure the facility’s long-term success.
“Once this is done and the shot in the arm is there, the key is for the city to stand behind it and give people the resources to keep it from slipping like it had in the past,” Mandell said.
CITY TO BRIEF GOLFERS ON BOBBY JONES PLANS
MONDAY, MAY 22, 2017
A consultant is 90% done with a master plan for Bobby Jones Golf Club. On Tuesday, he’ll present his ideas to the public during two workshops.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
Before golf architect Richard Mandell lays out his vision for the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club to the City Commission, you’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on his master plan for the city-owned course.
On Tuesday, Mandell will lead two presentations about the master plan at Bobby Jones. The plans are approximately 90% complete.
If You Go
What: Bobby Jones Golf Club master plan discussion
When: 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 23
Where: Bobby Jones Golf Club conference room, 1000 Circus Blvd.
Mandell has provided two public updates on his work in the past two months. In April, at a City Commission workshop, he shared a plan for the land on which the nine-hole Gillespie Executive Course sits. The proposed changes focused on adding practice facilities while maintaining a short nine-hole course.
On Thursday, Mandell made a presentation to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Board. The update included a discussion of potential drainage improvements and changes to the layout of the 18-hole American and British courses.
In January, the city agreed to a $115,000 contract with Richard Mandell Golf Architecture to develop master plan for the course. As the annual number of rounds played at the course has declined, the commission has expressed an interest in refreshing the property.
A citizen study committee suggested the city should invest as much as $14.5 million to update the course.
GOLF: FOX COMPLETES COMEBACK FOR CITY TITLE
MAY 7, 2017
He closes with 71 to edge Knight by a stroke
BY JIM BROCKMAN, CORRESPONDENT
K.C. Fox found himself nine strokes off the lead following the first round of this year’s City of Sarasota Men’s Golf Championship.
A lesser competitor might have quietly faded away and waited until next year.
But the 57-year-old came roaring back with sizzling rounds of 66 and 68 after a dismal opening round of 77 to trail co-leaders Bradley Knight and Scott Cox by a single stroke, heading into Sunday’s final round.
Fox fired a solid 1-under par 71 on Sunday to finish 6-under for the tournament at 282, edging the 26-year-old Knight, who played his high school golf at Riverview, by a single stroke.
Knight’s 1-over 73 on Sunday was his only round of the tournament, held annually on the British Course at the venerable 90-year-old Bobby Jones Golf Club, that wasn’t under par.
Cox, who fired a third-round best 5-under 67 on Saturday, finished with a 78 Sunday to wind up at even-par 288.
Three-time City champion Phil Walters and Ray Wenck were tied at 286, four shots behind Fox.
“It’s a tough tournament over 72 holes, on a tough golf course,” Fox said. “There are a lot of good players. You’ve got to be patient. I think patience was my main virtue out there today. I didn’t get frustrated about anything.”
Fox’s patience was certainly tested when he shot his disappointing first-round 77 nine days ago. He suffered a quadruple bogey on the par-4 fifth hole.
“You need to have a good attitude,” Fox said. “I’ve been working on my attitude and mental game a lot more the past few years since I turned a senior. That as much as anything has helped my game.
“You need to know your game. What you can do and what you can’t do. Staying in the moment, those type of things help you with any victory.”
Fox, who has lived in Sarasota the past 20 years, was playing in his 17th City of Sarasota tournament. It was his first victory.
“This is a pretty big win,” Fox said. “I’ve had some big wins in my career. I just try to keep the same thought process the entire 18 holes.”
Fox birdied three of the course’s four par-5′s on Sunday. His key shot of the day was saving par with a clutch six-foot putt on No. 17.
“You’ve got to stay in shape, and I work on my flexibility a lot,” Fox said. “That is what helps me to keep hitting the ball long. After playing competitive golf for 45 years, maybe I’m finally getting the hang of it.”
Ryan Jaso shot a final-round 74 to finish the tournament with a 5-over 293 to win the first flight on Sunday. Brandon Johnson was second, three shots behind Jaso after shooting a 74.
Jiri Curzydlo’s tournament total was 303, winning the second flight by three strokes over Tim Judy and Nicolas Schwenger.
Mike Miller shot an even-par 72 on Sunday to win the third flight at 313, four strokes better than Rob Manoogian.
Tyler Redmond ran away with the fourth flight, finishing with a total of 329. It was 10 strokes better than Toby Snelson, Nick Exarhou and Ted Roberts.
BOBBY JONES IMPROVEMENTS COULD EXPAND PRACTICE SPACE
THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 2017
During the Bobby Jones Golf Club master planning process, a golf architect has located space to build a larger training facility.
BY DAVID CONWAY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR
The driving range at Bobby Jones Golf Club is so short that staff encourages some golfers not to use their driver.
It’s not even technically called a driving range — it’s a “practice range,” Bobby Jones General Manager Sue Martin said.
The practice facilities at the city-owned golf course have been a target of criticism. Even City Manager Tom Barwin was surprised by the conditions when he visited the range with his sons.
“I thought one of them was going to hit me with their stick,” Barwin said.
As the city works with a master planner to develop a new vision for Bobby Jones, improving and expanding the practice options has become a priority. On Tuesday, golf architect Richard Mandell presented an update on that master planning process at a City Commission workshop.
Mandell has honed in on the nine-hole Gillespie Executive Course, the one segment located west of Circus Boulevard, as a location for training facilities. He presented three options for reshaping that segment of the property. All three options include a larger driving range — 270 yards long instead of 235 — putting and chipping greens, and a short nine-hole course.
The three options mainly differ in the scope of that course:
- Option 1 would create a standard par-3 course.
- Option 2 would create a shorter pitch-and-putt course.
- Option 3 would create an adjustable par-3 course.
The adjustable course would allow staff to create different configurations for the course on different days. Mandell said this type of adjustable course is not unheard of in golf design, but he hasn’t heard of a facility like Bobby Jones using the concept.
“It’s not often utilized,” Mandell said. “I have no idea why that is.”
He said the idea would help Bobby Jones stand out as it competes for customers with other local golf facilities. Members of the City Commission — although professed non-golfers — were excited by the potential marketability of the adjustable practice course.
“I don’t play a lot of golf, but if I did, it would be appealing to me,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said.
Mandell said the adjustable course would come with more maintenance, because there would be more fairway space.
The planning process for Bobby Jones is still ongoing. The city approved a $115,000 contract with Mandell in January, with a deadline to complete a plan by May.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 2017
I was very pleased with the time I spent with Richard and the progress report he gave displayed his great talent and could create a very special piece to the overall restoration of the Club.
As he focuses now on the main 36 holes expect designs that will be enjoyable to play yet challenging, give you several options for length, be aesthetically pleasing, respectful of the natural surroundings and very practical for maintenance purposes and dealing with the awful storm water issues they now have. With Bobby Jones's connection to Phillippi Creek and the local fisheries an exciting piece to this will be natural systems that filter the water that dumps in to the creeks and will ultimately enhance the quality of our waterways.
Dan M. Smith, Chairman, Bobby Jones Golf Course Study Committee, Sarasota and Treasurer and Trustee, Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, Inc.
Bobby Jones architect calls for ‘adjustable’ course
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2017
Proposal is part of a redesign of the 90-year-old Sarasota course.
BY ELIZABETH DJINIS, STAFF WRITER
SARASOTA - Sarasota could become one of the first cities to have an adjustable municipal golf course, should the initial designs of the city’s golf architect come to fruition.
At a City Commission workshop Tuesday night, architect Richard Mandell updated the group on his progress since being hired in early January for $115,000 to draw up plans to redesign the 90- year-old Bobby Jones Golf Club. In his presentation, Mandell focused primarily on the changes he would make to the Gillespie Course, the property’s nine-hole course. There, he proposed a new learning center, a building for newcomers to the sport and experienced players alike to learn new aspects of the game, the driving range and additional parking, with one notable addition: a nine- hole golf course that Bobby Jones staffers could adjust depending on the day or type of player.
“People have done adjustable golf courses before in the world, but I don’t think it’s ever been used as a practice facility in such a prime piece of property,” Mandell told the commission. “This is something that would really make the city of Sarasota stand out as a golf facility that rivals anything.”
While the commission does not vote on any decisions at workshops, most of the board seemed pleased with Mandell’s early results. Commissioner Suzanne Atwell asked whether this strategy had been tested before.
“I wouldn’t call it a new concept, but it’s a rare concept,” Mandell said. “This is rare but it’s not infeasible, and it’s something that, for all golfers, you’re going to capture their attention.”
Before his designs, Mandell conducted a series of golf course walkthroughs with interested parties and heard from almost 75 people regarding their thoughts on the course. The feedback he received ranged from a desire for better fairways to restoring the course to the original plans of 1920s designer Donald Ross.
The course’s assistant general manager, Christian Martin, sat in the chambers as Mandell showed the commission his initial plans. Martin had been consulted throughout the process and noted previously that one of his key priorities was an improved practice facility. As the presentation finished, Martin was practically beaming.
“We’re really excited — you can feel the excitement in the air,” Martin said. “Bobby Jones needs a rebranding.”
Mayor Willie Shaw noted that the adjustable golf course would be an asset to new and old golfers, another way to both introduce people to and keep people interested in a game that has been dwindling in popularity in recent years.
“I think that the Gillespie addition brings new energy to the conversation and going forward with this renovated Bobby Jones,” Shaw said. “I always say, we got what nobody else has, and that is Bobby Jones.”
Fix bobby jones
letter to the editor
SaturDAY, MArch 4, 2017
Fix Bobby Jones
Award-winning golf-course architect Richard Mandell is working on a long-awaited master plan for Bobby Jones Golf Club. I spent some time with Richard and I am very pleased with his approach.
This historic and cherished municipal club desperately needs a major overhaul to restore its past prominence. Unfortunately this facility has been overlooked for years and the time has come to make the investment that will create a thriving center for golf activities in a community suffering a decline in its reputation as a top golf destination.
A 2015 City Commission-appointed committee studied material that clearly demonstrated the path to success is a capital improvement plan that will overhaul the courses, establish a golf training center and build a new modern and more functional clubhouse. The financial data supports the plan.
There was some support for what I believe is the best move, to restore the original Donald Ross course making it more playable and more interesting and to give a strong nod to a glorious history that most golfers don't know about. With 36 holes we have the opportunity to pair it with a modern design to give players a wonderful experience of playing two unique layouts.
A question lingers in the minds of local golfers about Bobby's future. Because of this sentiment I believe that, if the city means business, it owes a strong statement of commitment to all who have waited so long. We want our cradle of golf back!
Dan M. Smith, Chairman, Bobby Jones Golf Course Study Committee, Sarasota and Treasurer and Trustee, Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, Inc.
AWARD-WINNING GOLF ARCHITECT TALK HIS PLAN for BOBBY JONES
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2017
PROSE AND KOHN: RYAN KOHN.
BY RYAN KOHN, SPORTS REPORTER
If you have been out to Bobby Jones Golf Club lately, you’ve probably noticed that things could do with an upgrade, both on the club’s 45 total holes and in the clubhouse.
Well, your prayers have been answered, and something of a holy figure in the golf architecture world is the one answering them.
Richard Mandell has been hired to completely re-do the course. Mandell’s courses have won Golf Inc.’s Municipal Renovation of the Year award two years in a row, and won a similar award from Golf Magazine in 2014.
Legendary designer Donald Ross laid out the original 18 holes in 1925. For anyone worried about what Mandell might turn the course into, fear not.
"I don't want to turn it into anything,” Mandell said. “I want to return it to its peak of greatness. Part of that is rebuilding the infrastructure of the site so that it’s more functional, and improving conditions, and recapturing some of the great strategic charm of the golf course. Bunker locations, hazards that challenge golfers more than penalize golfers.
“In the world of golf, people have lost their way as it relates to fun and strategy and focused more on aesthetics. I want the place to look great, and that is part of my vision, but I don’t want it to just be a place to get great views. Form follows function. It has to serve a purpose of creating an activity. We don’t want to create something that is an art piece at all, really. We want something that is about playing golf.”
Mandell identified two main areas where the course needs improving the most: The fairway grass, and drainage. He seemed excited at the prospect of that last issue, though. There are lots of ways to get creative with drainage, including habitats for wildlife and storm water retention for surrounding communities, Mandell said.
It’s not just the course itself that is getting a makeover. The entire clubhouse is getting built from scratch. Michael Bryant, a subcontractor on Mandell’s team who works mainly as a clubhouse architect, will be assisting with that job. Bryant previously worked on The Lodge at Country Club East in Lakewood Ranch, which was awarded the Golden Fork second prize by Golf Inc. in the “new, private” category.
At a morning Feb. 7 meeting with Mandell and Bryant, golfers gave their opinions on what they would like to see in the new clubhouse. While none of the ideas are official (and will not be for at least a few months), it is clear that people want Bobby Jones to be more of a community center than it has been in the past. Even if you don’t play golf at all, you should be able to head to the center once or twice a month and find something fun to do, whether that be grabbing dinner, taking a class in a classroom or dancing at a party.
There is also a fervor for showing off the course’s history and place in Sarasota golf’s heart.
“The locals feel that this is the center of Sarasota golf,” Mandell said. “There has been talk long before I showed up that maybe this could be the spot for a Sarasota golf Hall of Fame. I think it’s a great idea. I think the history should permeate throughout the building, but I also think there should be some sort of permanent display.”
Mandell won’t have the final word on that decision, but his opinion carries a lot of weight. There is certainly Bobby Jones history worth telling, not just of the player, but of the course — Even George Herman “Babe” Ruth teed off there, after all.
The master plan process, or the renovation business plan process, as Mandell calls it, has a notice to proceed deadline of May 1. That’s the date when the full master plan and its hard numbers will be revealed to city officials.
Until then, Mandell and Bryant will stay hard at work on implementing all the changes the public wants to see while revitalizing the spirit that made Bobby Jones so special. Get excited, golf fans.
GOLF ARCHITECT ADDRESSES BOBBY JONES PRIORITIES
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2017
Golfers and management are looking for better fairways and a new practice facility.
BY ELIZABETH DJINIS, STAFF WRITER
As the city's newly hired golf architect considers a master plan for the Bobby Jones Golf Club, he's faced with two key priorities based on feedback from golfers and the complex's management: better fairways and a new practice facility.
In a series of tours recently, architect Richard Mandell led golfers around parts of the 45-hole municipal facility, asking for feedback on the general environment and architecture as well as specific holes. From these six tours and meetings with various staff, Mandell said one thing was resoundingly clear.
"Without a doubt, the quality of the fairways and the surfaces of the fairways, as far as smoothness and grass, was No. 1, along with drainage," Mandell said. "And everybody noted how the course is pretty unplayable in the summer because of drainage."
Hired by the city in early January for $115,000 to create a new master plan this spring for Sarasota's historic 90-year-old golf complex, Mandell is very early in the planning process. He said he is collecting his notes and getting a sense of his limitations with the course. Then he will begin drafting a preliminary design. Either way, it is clear that he's interested in a proposal for a better practice facility, which may mean better golf for everyone in Sarasota.
Mandell will present his final report this spring. The City Commission will then consider how to move forward and at what potential cost.
Reviewing the holes
On a bright afternoon, at least 10 people, mostly men and many dressed in the golfer's uniform of a polo shirt and khakis, traversed nine holes of the American Course with Mandell, noting what they liked and disliked about each hole.
In a meeting before the tour, many of the golfers noted their love of the course, with one even saying, "One of the reasons I moved to Sarasota was because I enjoyed playing here so much."
But most agreed that the course has suffered since its heyday, deteriorating to the point that one man said he would be embarrassed to bring his friends. While many of the golfers pushed for the improved fairways, the complex's assistant general manager, Christian Martin, said there's one major initiative on his mind: getting a better practice facility.
"That would be a place where people get introduced to the game," Martin said. "Right now, we don't have a world-class short game, but it's something we've aspired to."
Although much of Mandell's tour focused on the course, he said later that the practice facility would certainly be under his purview and is definitely something he is considering, especially given the complex's current facility.
"The facility that Bobby Jones has commensurate with the 45 holes is just poor," Mandell said of the course's current practice facility. "It's too poor and the number of golfers that have been through there and that will go through there cannot be accommodated by the 12 or 15 stations they have on that driving range facility. They need something; plus it's an eyesore. To have a world-class practice facility would really be a good boost to the city economically as well."
One of the reasons golf courses have declined in recent years is because of the dwindling popularity of the game.
But Bobby Jones managers hope an improved practice facility would bring more would-be golfers out to the course, allowing for a whole new set of custumers to populate the property.
Mandell said this has become somewhat of a national trend.
"Practice is big in golf right now, because of time constraints more than anything," he said. "People don't have the time to play 18 holes, but they have the time to hit a bucket of balls."
Mandell said the course should be an asset that attracts people to the game.
"That's what Bobby Jones golf course is all about," Mandell said. "It should be a place where juniors can come and learn the game and a place for them to spend time and play the game.
"It's a city park, and they look at it as a city park with golf on it."
A LETTER TO THE CITY OF SARASOTA FROM THE DONALD ROSS SOCIETY
SOURCE: THE COST OF UPGRADING SARASOTA'S GOLF COURSE COULD GO INTO THE MILLIONS
WedneSDAY, JANUARY 4, 2017
WWSB My SUNCOAST ABC CHANNEL 7 NEWS
BY RAY COLLINS
SARASOTA - Golf course consultant Richard Mandell will have a busy 12 weeks. The City of Sarasota is paying him $115,000 to draw up suggestions to improve the Bobby Jones Golf Complex. He realizes when you work on a course that dates back to the 1920's, chances are there may be some issues.
"Left and right of many holes there are ditches that no one worried about in the '30s and '40s. It was wet in the summer because nobody played here. That's different now. When you're running 100,000 [golfers] through here [per year], you have to think drainage, drainage, drainage," Mandell said.
Despite the complex hosting a 100,000 rounds a year, a source close to the complex says it hasn't turned a profit since 2008. Complex General Manager Sue Martin is quick to point out the course doesn't use tax dollars but rather user fees.
"We are still covering our own costs because we've had a fund-balance or a savings account. So we've not needed taxpayers money," Martin pointed out.
However many believe major improvements to the complex will run into the millions of dollars, and at this point, it's not clear where that money would come from. Some go as as far as to question why the city is in the golf course business at all, especially with other pressing needs in the city.
"I understand their point of view, [but] they have to look at it as a recreational facility, and it's not just a business of running a golf course, it's a quality of life issue. But there's always going to be people who suggest we sell off all different auditoriums, or any of the amenities we offer," Martin said.
We asked the City Hall Spokesperson, Jan Thornburg if she could help us find anybody in city government who we could interview about whether there has been discussion about the City getting out of the golf course business, but she deferred questions back to the person running the golf complex.
GOLF COMPLEX MASTER PLAN
BOBBY JONES GETS AN ARCHITECT
CITY APPROVES HIRE TO BREATHE LIFE INTO 90-YEAR-OLD FACILITY.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2017
BY ZACK MURDOCK
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which recommended projects the city funded last year. The city spent almost $240,000 to re-grass the greens on the American course at the municipal complex.
SARASOTA - Golf course architect Richard Mandell has been hired to create a new master plan this spring for Sarasota's municipal Bobby Jones Golf Course complex.
The project is more than two years in the making as the city, parks leaders and avid golfers have worked to draw up new plans for the course that has struggled through declining popularity and aging infrastructure.
Now Mandell - based in Pinehurst, North Carolina - will spend the next 12 weeks trying to breathe new life into the course through a series of recommendations, wish lists and competing agendas for the historic 90-year-old complex.
The City Commission unanimously approved his hiring Tuesday afternoon for $115,000.
"There are a lot of ideas already to work off of, and we'll do our first course walk-through tomorrow morning," Mandell said after the meeting. "Everyone's trying to work toward making the course the best it can be, so it's all going to come together."
Mandell's plan will include short, mid- and long-term projects and goals for the course and will incorporate recommendations from the citizens' ad hoc committee that suggested the master plan be created in the first place.
That ad hoc committee was formed in late 2014 to study the complex's current and future needs. It recommended last year a spate of improvements estimated to cost $14.5 million, including the renovation of the British and American courses, construction of a new clubhouse and a new master plan for the complex.
The city paid to re-grass the greens on the American course last year and reviewed requests for proposals for the master plan throughout the fall.
Some parks leaders have objected to the plan, though.
Shawn Glen Pierson is the founder of the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club and has repeatedly asked the commission to reconsider its master plan process since early last summer.
He instead wants the course restored using the original plans drafted by legendary course designer Donald Ross in the 1920s, arguing that playing historic course designs would attract more avid golfers who appreciate the history of Ross courses, which are all across the country.
Pierson also serves as the Bobby Jones representative on the city's Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection board, known as PREP. The group voted unanimously in July to ask the city, to no avail, to withdraw its request for proposals for the master planner amid questions about how it was drafted and whether city administrators were trying to interfere with what plans would ultimately be made. City leaders denied that suggestion.
Mandell has discussed the master plan process with Pierson and will consider those ideas for the final report, which will set out what kind of improvements could be made in certain price ranges. They and other stakeholders will walk the course and discuss potential recommendations throughout the process.
Mandell will present his final report later this spring. The City Commission will then consider how to move forward and at what potential cost.
BOBBY JONES' GREENS PROBLEM
THE DETERIORATING COURSE HAS PUT STAFF IN A ROUGH SPOT AS THE CITY SEEKS TO DIP INTO AN EARMARKED FUND TO PAY FOR NEW GREENS AT BOBBY JONES.
THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 2016
CLASH ON THE COURSE: bobby jones improvements raise questions about funding
CITIZENS AND CITY OFFICIALS AGREE THAT BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB IS IN NEED OF SERIOUS UPGRADES. THEY JUST HAVE A DIFFERENT IDEA OF THE BEST COURSE TO TAKE.
BY DAVID CONWAY, NEWS EDITOR
The city of Sarasota is preparing to search for a master planner to help guide the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club after a citizen committee suggested the course needs as much as $14.5 million in improvements.
In the meantime, city staff is responsible for managing and operating a public golf complex that needs as much as $14.5 million in improvements.
These two notions - that Bobby Jones is in dire need of substantial upgrades and that the city must also keep it open on a day-to-day basis - are a source of tension. This was highlighted at the June 6 City Commission meeting, when staff asked to free up money reserved for the replacement of the facility’s aging clubhouse.
When Sarasota voters agreed to renew the 1-cent infrastructure sales tax in 2007, the city included $1.5 million to replace the Bobby Jones clubhouse on the list of projects it intended to complete with that money. Now, staff wants to reallocate some of those funds, which had already been reduced to $1.1 million.
In the hole
As the number of rounds played annually at Bobby Jones has continued to decrease, so too has the public golf course’s reserve fund. Here's how the money available for the facility has declined during the past five years:
About $300,000 would go toward installing new greens on the American course. Additional money would be allocated toward the master planning effort, a cost estimated anywhere between $25,000 and $100,000.
Sue Martin, general manager of Bobby Jones Golf Club, said the current conditions of the course — both physical and fiscal — are forcing the city to prioritize its needs.
“Golfers will stop coming if you don’t have a good golf course,” Martin said. “They won’t necessarily stop coming only because we have a dated clubhouse.”
Although the commission voted 4-1 to approve staff’s request to reallocate the clubhouse funding, the move didn’t come without questions. Bobby Jones Assistant General Manager Christian Martin said replacing the American greens is in keeping with the recommendations of the Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee, a citizen board that spent 10 months studying the needs of the facility.
Dan Smith, the chairman of the study committee, disagreed with Martin’s assessment. He thought investing in greens was a short-sighted move, because the course could be overhauled in the not-so-distant future.
“Our recommendations called for a complete rebuilding of the golf course, which means the tees, greens and everything would get bulldozed,” Smith said. “Regrassing them now, to me, would be similar to putting carpet in a building you’re going to knock down anyway.”
Martin contested Smith’s assertion. She said that even if the course’s drainage and irrigation systems were replaced, the new grass should remain usable.
There are additional questions about the lifespan of the greens. Staff asserted the new grass could last between eight and 12 years, but when the city undertook a similar effort to replace the British course greens last year, Martin described it as a “short-term (three to five years) solution.”
Surveying the course
George Martin is the secretary of Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club, a nonprofit group that is advocating for significant upgrades to the public facility. Although he opposes the use of clubhouse funds to replace the American greens, he understands that the city is in a bind because of the deteriorating course.
What really troubles him, he said, is that there seems to be no consideration of why the city needed to dip into a capital reserve to pay for what he considered fairly standard maintenance.
“You can say, ‘We gotta put some money in, or else nobody will go there for the next two years, and that would be stupid,’” Martin said. “But it’s very dangerous to keep doing it without saying, ‘How the hell did we get to this point?’ And nobody seems to be doing that.”
Although Bobby Jones staff used to keep a distinct operating and capital budget, dwindling reserves ended that practice in 2015. In preliminary budget documents for fiscal year 2017, the city projects a negative fund balance for the Bobby Jones Golf Complex.
There’s a belief — among both city officials and the public - that Bobby Jones can become a positive asset again. Those critical of the decision to reallocate the clubhouse money think the city is committing one of the last pots of money available to a model that isn’t working.
“I think what’s happening today is just a symptom of this larger problem we’ve been dealing with at Bobby Jones for a long time,” said Jay Logan, another member of the Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee. “It’s a business that is failing and that’s in dire need of large capital improvements and better management.”
The city hopes to complete a request for proposals for a master planner for the course by early July. Even when that search formally begins, City Manager Tom Barwin estimates the master planning process could take two to three years.
With a 10-month study of the course recommending a comprehensive overhaul, critics of the city’s approach are distressed by what they see as a lack of urgency. Considering the position the facility is currently in, the need for a new paradigm at Bobby Jones should be obvious, they say.
“Every move the city makes is in defense of the status quo - which is the last thing we need,” said Shawn Pierson, the founder of Friends of Bobby Jones.
Pierson and other citizen advocates for the course remain hopeful the city is committed to significant investments. In the wake of the decision to spend the clubhouse money, they’re pushing to make a reinvigorated Bobby Jones a higher priority for officials.
“Repairs aren’t going to get it done,” Smith said. “If you build a building on a crumbling foundation, it’s eventually going to topple over.”
MOTE DIPS NET INTO CANAL FISH SURVEY
TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2016
BY THOMAS BECNEL
SARASOTA - In a canal that runs between Circus Boulevard and the Bobby Jones Golf Club, Mote Marine Laboratory researchers pulled up a seine net and peered in to see what they’d found.
“Well, we got a bass,” said Dr. Nate Brennan on Tuesday morning. “We caught a largemouth — two largemouth bass. Who’d have guessed, huh?"
Mote researchers are conducting the first scientific survey of fish in the canals of Sarasota. The question is how these drainage ditches, which were built for flood control, might be enhanced to benefit fisheries and add to the natural beauty of Sarasota County.
“That’s the value of this,” said Dr. James Locascio, manager of the Fisheries Habitat Ecology Program at Mote. “What is the value of these ecosystems and what can we do to enhance that value?"
Recommendations for the canal system could include everything from building small pools to adding marshy plants and shade trees.
The canal survey, funded by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, began a month ago and will take another month to complete.
There are more than 100 miles of canals that drain into Phillippi Creek and Sarasota Bay. Tidal waters are an important habitat for sport fish such as snook.
Canals run through popular parks and preserves such as the Celery Fields and Red Bug Slough. For the public, they’re already an amenity.
“People walk along and they say, ‘Oh, I saw an otter’ or ‘I saw a blue crab — isn’t that amazing?’ ” said John Ryan, environmental manager for Sarasota County’s Stormwater Environmental Utility. “I hear that all the time."
On Tuesday, at the Main B Canal, Mote researchers demonstrated devices that measure water temperature, salinity and oxygen levels.
Their seine nets pulled in bass, green sunfish and mosquito fish, along with clams, mussels, grass shrimp and a host of other native and exotic species.
“I’m looking for a crayfish, but I don’t see any,” Brennan said. “This is a fun project. We always find something new.”
CITY TO PROCEED WITH BOBBY JONES RENOVATION
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2016
BY EMILY LE COZ
The city will proceed with plans to renovate the Bobby Jones Golf Course as recommended by a citizen-led committee that had studied the municipal complex for nearly a year.
Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted the committee’s full recommendations, which they had first received in a report the committee had submitted last November.
City commissioners formed the group in late 2014 amid concerns about the facility’s “tired” infrastructure and waning popularity. They directed members to study the current status and operation of Bobby Jones and devise a master plan for its long-term future.
Among the group’s recommendations are to hire a master planning firm with experience in professional golf course architecture to consult on the following improvements: the renovation of the British and American courses, the creation of a player-development center and construction a new clubhouse.
The commission also voted to start the process of hiring the master planning firm.
In all, the report calls for $14.5 million in capital improvements. The renovation of both golf courses represents the biggest cost, estimated at $3.75 million each — $7.5 million combined.
It will cost an additional $3.5 million to construct a new clubhouse, which the committee recommends be relocated from the footprint of the original course and placed somewhere else on the property. And a new player development center is estimated at $1.5 million, with contingency costs coming in at $1.75 million.
“Bobby Jones needs attention after years of neglect,” committee member Norman Dumaine told commissioners during the public comment period.
Dumaine was joined by other study committee members, many of whom hinted at rumors the city might sell the golf course by reminding commissioners what a jewel they believe the property to be.
“It is the largest land asset that the city owns,” said committee vice chairman Rich Kyllonen.
City Manager Tom Barwin acknowledged the uniqueness of the grounds, which occupies more than 300 acres near the city’s northeastern boundaries. He said he wants to make sure the municipality retains ownership of the land in perpetuity.
Because the current commission can’t prevent future commissions from selling the property, Barwin said, the city must find an alternative way to keep the golf course public for years to come.
Commissioners directed staff to look into the matter.
FOX NAMES AZINGER AS LEAD GOLF ANALYST
THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2016
[Sarasota High School alumnus] Paul Azinger has been selected as the lead golf analyst for Fox Sports as it enters the second year of televising the U.S. Open and other USGA championships. Azinger will replace [World Golf Hall of Fame member and former World No. 1] Greg Norman. Fox signed as 12-year deal with the USGA that started last year, and the first big test was the US Open at Chambers Bay. Among the criticism of the broadcast was Norman going flat during the decisive moment when Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet on the last hole for Jordan Spieth to win his second straight major. Azinger is a former PGA champion - he beat Norman, of all people, in a playoff at [Donald Ross designed] Inverness in 1993 - who led the Americans to a rare Ryder Cup victory at Valhalla in 2008. It was the only Ryder Cup the U.S. has won since 1999. Azinger, a Manatee County resident, has made his mark as an analyst for his candor and blunt observations. Azinger, who won 11 times on the PGA Tour, will work with lead announcer Joe Buck at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, along with other USGA events such as the U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur.
PANEL PITCHES $14.5 MILLION OVERHAUL FOR BOBBY JONES GOLF COURSE
MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2015
By EMILY LE COZ
Time is critical for a series of sweeping improvements recommended for the Bobby Jones Golf Course, according to a city-appointed study committee that presented its report Monday at City Hall.
The group pitched $14.5 million in capital improvements to the municipal facility described as “tired” by the National Golf Foundation after a review of the grounds last year.
“We are highly recommending that you move quickly on this,” said Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee leader Dan Smith during the presentation. “If we felt we could fix this with just some minor repairs, we wouldn't be here today. It's way beyond time.”
City commissioners formed the citizen-led group late last year amid concerns about the facility. They directed members to study the current status and operation of Bobby Jones and devise a master plan for its long-term future.
Members took the mission to heart, holding 30 meetings, listening to 20 experts and studying thousands of pages of research, said Susan Dodd, assistant to the city's finance director.
Among their recommendations are that the city should hire a master planning firm with experience in professional golf course architecture to consult on the following improvements: the renovation of the British and American courses, the creation of a player-development center and the construction a new clubhouse.
The group also suggested the facility raise its fees by $7.50 per round of golf to generate more revenue and that it implement a professional marketing plan.
Commissioners will mull the proposal over the holiday season and could decide how to proceed sometime in January. They generally praised the group's work and voiced support for improving the golf club.
“We are not competing with others; others are competing with us,” said Mayor Willie Shaw. “We are Bobby Jones."
But they also peppered Smith with questions during the two-hour meeting. Commissioners asked how the committee arrived at its recommendations and cost estimates, if it had buy-in from the golf community and why it appeared to deviate from the National Golf Foundation's 2014 report, which had suggested a less comprehensive improvement plan.
“The NGF report really missed the big picture that the physical plant has deteriorated so quickly that you've lost 30 percent of your business over a 10-year period,” Smith said.
Annual rounds at the complex dropped from a high of 143,066 rounds in 2007 to less than 102,000 last year, statistics show. The faltering economy spurred some of the decline, as did golf's waning popularity over the years.
“I look at the numbers, and I see the drop in play,” Smith said. “I drive by there, and I see the parking lot is not as full as it once was.”
Bobby Jones could recapture some of its glory — and its earnings — if the city proceeds with the recommended improvements, Smith said. If not, it will continue its slow decline.
Among the most controversial aspects of the plan is the redesign of the two 18-hole golf courses to “capture the spirit” of the original architect, Donald Ross. Some citizens and committee members had warned against returning the courses to the nearly 90-year-old designs, while others supported the move.
“The question of whether it should be Donald Ross or Donald Duck or anybody is one that should not be answered now,” said former study committee member Clarence Rogers. “It's something the master planner will get to after all of the facts have been unearthed.”
The renovation of both golf courses represents the biggest cost, estimated at $3.75 million each – or $7.5 million combined.
“Building a golf course is building a golf course,” Smith said. “We know a big part of the cost is going to be irrigation” and drainage.
It will cost an additional $3.5 million to construct a new clubhouse, which the committee recommends be relocated from the footprint of the original course. A new player development center is estimated at $1.5 million, with contingency costs coming in at $1.75 million.
The group predicts the facility will lose $250,000 during improvements because of closures.
The committee also identified several funding sources, including the optional local sales tax, a revenue bond and a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell raised concerns about creating more bond indebtedness for the city, saying taxpayers are ultimately liable for the repayment.
Not pursuing the bond will be worse, countered study committee member Jay Logan.
“If you take the trend of where the business is going at moment, we'll be running a deficit that will equate to the bond debt service,” Logan said. “Doing the bond and reconstructing the golf course should be something that happens.”
BOBBY JONES REPORT SCHEDULED FOR MONDAY
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2015
BY EMILY LE COZ
SARASOTA — The Bobby Jones Golf Course Study Committee will recommend $14.5 million in capital improvements to the municipal facility, according to a long-awaited report scheduled for presentation at a special City Commission meeting Monday.
City commissioners formed the citizen-led group late last year, directing members to study the current status and operation of the golf course and devise a master plan for its long-term future.
Among its recommendations are that the city should hire a professional golf course architect or master planning firm to reconstruct the British and American courses, create a player-development center and build a new clubhouse.
The renovation of both golf courses would cost $7.5 million combined and the two new buildings would cost a total of $5 million, the group estimated in its report.
The committee also identified several funding sources, including the revenue from the optional local sales tax, a bond and a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
It also recommended raising the fees by an average of $7.50 per round of golf to generate an additional $750,000. Fees to play an 18-hole round there currently range from $19 to $47, depending on the season.
The city has considered improvements at Bobby Jones before. It hired National Golf Foundation Consulting in 2008, and again in 2014, to study the golf club, built in 1926 off the northeast corner of Fruitville and Beneva roads in Sarasota.
A LETTER FROM PAUL AZINGER
what does the future hold for BOBBY JONES golf club?
JULY 29, 2015
Amid privatization talks, the committee tasked with mapping out a plan for the long-term viability of Bobby Jones is keeping all its options on the table.
BY DAVID CONWAY, NEWS EDITOR
Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell may not be an avid golfer, but that hasn’t stopped her from teeing off on the status quo at Bobby Jones Golf Course.
At a July 13 budget meeting, Atwell read a strongly worded message regarding the future of the city-owned golf course. The Bobby Jones Golf Club Study Committee, tasked with researching a path to better management for the course, plans to complete its research toward the end of the year, but Atwell wants to see more immediate results.
She also wants to be clear with her expectations for the course, which she thinks must earn a profit to justify its operation by the city.
“City taxpayers should not subsidize the golfing costs of a clientele, most of whom are not city residents, and where many local golf courses are available to non-members,” Atwell said.
For years, Bobby Jones has drawn criticism for its increased maintenance and capital costs and lack of corresponding rise in revenue. The commission officially formed the golf club study committee in February, assigning seven area residents with the task of researching the best practices for the municipal course, possibly in advance of a formal master planning process.
When budget talks began this summer, Atwell was frustrated with what she saw as unrealistic revenue projections for the course — and the lack of substantive progress from the study committee as the city made its financial plans for the next year. Atwell stressed that she is a big fan of the course and wants to see it succeed, but also wants to make sure it’s operating in the black, either on its own or by a partnership with another entity.
If, by the beginning of 2016, the city has developed no clear plan for the future of Bobby Jones, Atwell suggested a private vendor could be the best option for managing the operations of the club.
“I want the advisory committee to come up with some very creative, responsible decisions that are not on the backs of the taxpayers,” Atwell said.
In addition to the missive from Atwell, the board has been working without its original chairman following John Bondur’s resignation in April. Still, the group is confident that it’s proceeding in the right direction, and plans to consider all options available.
Clarence Rogers, the new chairman of the committee, said it was too early to comment on Atwell’s comments regarding the best management structure for the course. Still, in the five months the committee has been operational, the group has heard first-hand accounts that municipal courses can still run efficiently.
“We've certainly received information from folks who have testified from other venues that it certainly is and has been the case in other places,” Rogers said. “We know it can be done.”
In addition to the capital and infrastructure improvements the course has needed for years, Bobby Jones is also suffering from an increased amount of competition from other local courses. With some public courses offering lower rates than the municipal club — and well-equipped private courses opening up their facilities to the public to generate more revenue — Bobby Jones needs to create its own niche in the market.
“The business of golf these days is very tough,” Rogers said. “You have to consider all aspects of competition. That's reflected in the pricing and the amenities and so on.”
At the golf club study committee’s July 23 meeting, the board began a dialogue with one potential partner to help reshape the future of Bobby Jones: Visit Sarasota County. Virginia Haley, the tourism group’s president, agreed that despite the popularity of recreational golf in the region, the municipal course needed to first develop its own distinct identify before tourism funding and marketing could enter the equation.
“I think you have to create that unique proposition,” Haley said.
PROPOSED CITY BUDGET KEEPS TAX RATE FLAT
TUESDAY, JULY 14, 2015
BY ZAC ANDERSON
SARASOTA — Boosting city commissioner’s salaries, privatizing the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club and deferring payments on a troubled new lift station were among the financial issues discussed Monday at a Sarasota City Commission budget workshop.
…[Vice Mayor Suzanne] Atwell was much less pleased with the budget proposed for Bobby Jones, which she slammed for continuing to run deficits. In a prepared statement Atwell noted that the golf course has relied on taxpayers to cover deficits totaling $1.3 million over the last six years.
“City taxpayers should not subsidize the golfing costs” for Bobby Jones patrons, Atwell wrote.
If a viable plan for balancing Bobby Jones budget does not materialize by Jan. 1, Atwell said the city “should consider leasing the facilities to a private operator."
Other commissioners expressed concerns about Bobby Jones but there was no formal action taken Monday.
SPECIAL CITY COMMISSION MEETING
MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015
CITY OF SARASOTA
Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell's prepared comments:
“Over the past six years, the Bobby Jones Golf course has run deficits totaling $1.3 Million dollars, $400,000 last year alone, as a result of declining numbers of rounds with resulting revenue losses coupled with expenditure increases. We’re in a course this year for another deficit, optimistically projected at about $100,000.
“During these years, the staff has projected unrealistically high revenue estimates, same for golf rounds and cart rentals, which are not realized, and hence the deficits. This is the real ball game here.
“We have a situation here right now in which the Friends of Bobby Jones [Golf Club] has lost confidence in the staff’s financial management, and where the Friends do not appear to be working well with the advisory committee appointed by us.
“What I fear is that we now are getting a dysfunctional situation in which Bobby Jones may be spiraling out of control, with as yet no plan for dealing with the vast capital needs. Year after year, the City Commission has kicked the can down the road (I take a lot of responsibility for that) while not insisting until the appointment of the advisory committee with the need for long-range planning, including how to pay for it.
“I give staff credit for keeping this going. And, and I understand it. I was part of it for all these years. But it’s not sustainable anymore.
“I think a good starting principle which should guide the planning and implementation is that city taxpayers should not subsidize the golfing costs of a clientele, most of whom are not City residents, and where many local golf courses are available to non-members, albeit at prices somewhat higher than those at Bobby Jones.
“So what to do? This is just my thinking, my forecast.
“[No. 1:] Ask the advisory committee for an interim report within a month. I don’t want to wait ‘til December…if it’s possible. It’s just my view. And that report should include but not [be] limited to how to pay for capital requirements.
“[No. 2:] The advisory committee should be asked to work with the Friends of Bobby Jones [Golf Club] on these reports.
“[No. 3:] Reduce the staff estimates of revenue for $2.85 Mil to $2.6 Million which is still, still higher than just under $2 Million last year and probably optimistic staff estimate for this year for $2.6. Perhaps Mr. Lege could refine these estimates. My quarrel at this point is not with expenditures but with revenue.
“The result of the above would be a deficit of about $150,000 assuming staff recommendations for expenditures.
“No. 4: The Friends of Bobby Jones [Golf Club] perhaps should be asked to cover the deficit, whatever it turns out to be, in the interests of a Public Private Partnership.
“No. 5: If there’s no viable plan that we can see by January 1, 2016, the City Manager and all of us should consider perhaps leasing the facility to a private operator under conditions that would allow for profitability.
“These are my concerns.”
City Commissioners' additional comments:
“One final recommendation is that we look into what it would cost from a staff funding perspective to help assist with the funding of a master plan for the Bobby Jones Golf course. We’ve been talking about it for years, and that’s been a recommendation that’s come from both the advisory side and the Friends side, and looking at how much that might cost even as a portion of an investment going forw