Bobby Jones Golf Club renovations should be completed in summer or early fall of 2023

SWFWMD permitting issue cited biggest reason for delay

The restoration of the 1920s-era Donald Ross holes at the City of Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Club should be completed in the summer or early fall of 2023, the architect overseeing the process told the City Commission this week.

After the City Commission in early January approved an array of contracts for the golf club improvements and a new Nature Park on the grounds, Richard Mandell, whose eponymous firm is located in Pinehurst, N.C., and Sue Martin, general manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, anticipated that the golf course would reopen in November.

As noted in the Scope of Work and Specifications for the project — which dates to 2016 — “The original 18 holes [of the Bobby Jones Golf Club] were designed in 1925 by the famed Golf Course Architect Donald Ross.” Those are being revived, as Mandell has pointed out in previous presentations to the commissioners.

During his and Martin’s Dec. 5 update, Commissioner Erik Arroyo asked them whether he and his colleagues could do anything to speed up the work.

Mandell replied that he just needs the city permitting process to be “as streamlined as possible,” and City Manager Marlon Brown and Deputy City Manager Patrick Robinson are assisting with that, Mandell added.

“Right now,” Mandell said, “all the difficult parts of this project are behind us.” Those included the earth moving and drainage work. The grassing of the courses has begun, he also noted.

The contractor is Q.G.S. Development of Plant City.

“We’re putting in a lot of drainage,” Martin pointed out. The plans call for stormwater to flow to what is known as Canal B on the property, Martin added.

The major goal, Mandell emphasized, “is to make sure that the golf course drains.”

As the creation of the new wetlands portion of the property has been underway, Mandell explained, dirt has been transferred to the golf course, to build up the fairways to get them out of the floodplain.

He noted that the five holes along Fruitville Road were mostly in the 25-year floodplain. Since those holes have been elevated, he continued, he does not anticipate the future necessity of closing down the golf club for four or five days at a time because of flooding.

Mandell did explain that the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) “slowed us down.”

The permit application that he needed SWFWMD to approve “sat on someone’s desk [at the District office] for about six to eight weeks,” Mandell noted. “We had to call, call, call.”

It was not until May, Mandell pointed out, that the moving of dirt could begin at the golf club.

“The weather also just killed us,” he said. “It’s not optimal to necessarily … do golf course construction in the summer,” because of the rainfall typical at that time of year. Nonetheless, he acknowledged, such construction usually takes place in the summer in Florida, because of lack of demand for golfers to use the facilities.

Further, he said, the installation of temporary drainage systems slowed down the work on the course.

“Now that the rainy season’s gone,” he added, the work should speed up.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for information about the SWFWMD permitting situation, Susanna Martinez Tarokh, the District’s public information officer, provided the following explanation:

“The District received Permit No. 1893.003 [for the] Bobby Jones Golf Course Renovation & Environmental Park on October 15, 2020 and it was issued April 1, 2022.

“District staff sent a Request for Additional Information (RAI) letter on November 12, 2020. Subsequent to that date, we received multiple partial responses and multiple requests for time extensions to provide a complete response.

“The District received the complete RAI response on June 10, 2021, and the District sent a Clarification of Information letter on July 9, 2021.

“There were environmental, floodplain, contamination, and ownership issues (city, county, developer) that had to be addressed. These items were brought to closure with the final submittal received February 17, 2022. The permit was issued April 1, 2022,” Martinez Tarokh wrote.

“Additionally, Permit No. 1893.004, Bobby Jones Golf Course Renovations Phase 2, was received September 22, 2022 and issued October 29, 2022,” she pointed out.

Working to keep costs down

During the Dec. 5 discussion, Mandell also noted that the project is $253,000 under budget. “One of my many jobs is value engineering” — trying to keep costs down, he told the commissioners.

One decision that has helped lower the overall expense, he explained, has been a shift to the use of “shell screenings,” instead of poured concrete, for the new cart paths. “I was never really a fan of concrete cart paths,” Mandell added.

Using the shell screenings, he continued, is producing savings between $500,000 and $600,000. Moreover, he noted, the shell “provides more pervious surface on-site,” meaning stormwater filters through the material and into the ground. Concrete is impervious.

“Golf with shell screenings is always better,” Mandell said, and it has more of what he described as the “Old Florida feel.”

Although he has been able to save money as the work has proceeded, Mandell pointed out, he nonetheless has had to deal with price increases as a result of inflation, especially in regard to fuel and piping. “Everything really went up in a ridiculous way,” especially in the first quarter of the year, he said.

One other means he has employed to save money, Mandell continued, has been keeping old irrigation heads that are still usable.

While Mandell added that he was not going to promise the commissioners that he would be able to stay under budget on the golf course work, “I don’t foresee anything happening” at this point that would increase expenses.

The Nature Park update

In presenting PowerPoint slides to the commissioners, Martin of Parks and Recreation also pointed out aspects of the new Nature Park that will be created in areas where golf course holes previously existed.

“It’s not quite in development yet,” she said of the park.

Nonetheless, Mandell noted, “It’s just a beautiful setting.”

Slides showed wildlife and birds on the property.

Then Martin used another slide to illustrate how The Legacy Trail, which originates in North Port and extends to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota will be connected to former cart paths on the property. Then those paths will lead to Sarasota County Government’s renovated and expanded 17th Street Regional Park, which will be located northeast of Bobby Jones Golf Club.

“We’re calling it the Sunshine Trail,” she said of the portion of the biking/pedestrian connector from The Legacy Trail.

“We tried to utilize as many of the existing golf course paths as possible, to be converted to nature trails,” Mandell added. “There are many different routes that can be taken.”

At that point of the discussion, Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey, offered an update on the nonprofit’s collaboration with the city on the preservation of the 261 acres of Bobby Jones Golf Club.

As outlined in an April report from the Foundation, “The Property is primarily undeveloped open space, which … provides for the scenic enjoyment of the general public passing by on Circus [Boulevard], Fruitville [Road], and 17th [Street] …”

Further, the document says, “The Property possesses significant water resources that contribute to the health of Phillippi Creek, Sarasota Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.”

The document also explains that on Feb. 18, 2020, the City Commission “approved a plan for the re-design of the historic golf course, the restoration of the wetlands and natural features, stormwater management and the permanent protection and preservation of the entire Bobby Jones Golf Club Property as an open space and recreational area, to be commonly referred to upon completion as the Bobby Jones Golf Club & Nature Park.”

A total of 124.5 acres was set aside for the park, leaving 184 for the golf course, which will have not only the 18 regular holes but also nine adjustable holes, a driving range and a warm-up/practice area, as the report notes.

The conservation easement the commissioners approved was recorded on Aug. 5, Johnson told the commissioners on Dec. 5. “It is in place in perpetuity …”

Then she explained that the Foundation would like to be able to help raise funds to assist in covering the expense of the “Visionary Master Plan” for the golf club and Nature Park.

When Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch asked what Johnson needed from the board members, Johnson noted that the Foundation provided city staff preliminary terms for a fundraising agreement several months ago. “We would like to continue to work on that [agreement],” Johnson said.

When the park opens, Johnson continued, “There are some pieces that I know the public wants,” though the city does not have the funding for that work.

Jerry Fogle, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, then told the commissioners that the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota should have a draft of the conceptual design for the park completed by the end of this week. He anticipated that the final design would be ready in March 2023. A breakdown of costs will accompany it, Fogle noted.

When Commissioner Debbie Trice asked when the completed park would be ready for the public, Fogle replied that the project will be undertaken in phases. The first step is the connectivity, he added, so walkers, joggers and bicyclists will be able to come onto the property and continue throughout the 130-acre park. “We will have wayfinding signs,” he told her.

Trice thanked him for that, as she said she found the layout confusing when she took a recent tour of the site.

Completion of the park is “probably years out,” Fogle said.

If the fundraising agreement with the Conservation Foundation could be finalized before the conceptual plan is ready in March, Johnson pointed out, the Foundation might be able to help with the expenses for all of those trail connections.

After the discussion, former County Commissioner Charles Hines, who is director of the Florida Gulf Coast Trail for the Trust for Public Land, talked about his work in trying to fill gaps in that trail, which runs from Tampa to Naples.

The Trust, he pointed out, is fully supportive of the city’s efforts in regard to creating a connection from The Legacy Trail to the county’s 17th Street Regional Park, as that is a significant part of the link between the Legacy Trail and Manatee County.

He offered the Trust’s help as the commissioners and city staff work on their project, noting that the Trust would like to see the Bobby Jones Golf Club pathways in place as soon as possible.

Mayor Kyle Battie thanked him for his comments.