Grand reopening of Bobby Jones Golf Club, plus new Nature Park, set for Friday, Dec. 15

Event will take place at site of facilities, 1000 Circus Blvd.

This is an aerial view of a portion of Bobby Jones Golf Club. Image from the facility’s website

From 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, Dec. 15, the City of Sarasota will host the grand reopening of the Bobby Jones Golf Club, plus the new Nature Park, staff has announced.
The event will take place at 1000 Circus Blvd., where the restored municipal course and the park are located, a city news release says.

Among the free, family-friendly activities will be the following, the release notes:

  • “Self-guided tours of the 199-acre golf course restored to the original layout as designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross.
  • “Guided and self-guided tours of the 90-acre nature park.
  • “Remarks from local dignitaries committed to enhancing water quality, conservation and recreation.”
  • A ceremonial “first ball tee-off.”

A commemorative keepsake will be presented to the first 450 attendees, the release adds.

“This will be a day to celebrate and remember,” said Mayor Liz Alpert in the release. “Our historic municipal golf course has been restored and is a beautiful amenity for the community. The new wetlands already are cleaning stormwater and attracting wildlife. And, the nature park and trails will be a destination for birders, bicyclists, and walkers,” Alpert continued. “With a conservation easement on the property, it will be protected in perpetuity. There’s no question Bobby Jones will be an urban oasis for those who enjoy green space and being outdoors for generations to come,” she said. 
The golf course

Richard Mandell, whose eponymous golf course architecture firm is located in Pinehurst, N.C., was hired by the Sarasota City Commission several years ago to undertake the restoration of the golf course. As discussions evolved, the City Commission ended up reducing the number of holes to allow for the creation of the Nature Park, but Mandell put his focus on achieving the best restoration possible of the original 18 holes that Donald Ross designed.

During remarks to the commissioners in October 2017, Mandell said that Donald Ross was “arguably one of the top two or three golf course architects of all time.” People will come from all over the world to play a Donald Ross course, Mandell indicated.

During a Jan. 10, 2022 discussion with the city commissioners, Mandell explained that he had used the drawings of the original Donald Ross course to make certain that QGS Development of Plant City — which won the $12.5-million contract to reconstruct the Donald Ross holes — “will be building, faithfully, [a restoration of the famed golf course architect’s design].” Two elements would be different, however, Mandell continued. “There were … very few water bodies in 1926 [when the course opened] and very few trees.”

Richard Mandell. Image from his company website

The city news release about the grand reopening quotes Mandell thus: “Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota is as significant as they come because the land on which Donald Ross created this masterpiece is still intact, allowing us to restore his original plan.” Mandell added, “The reintroduction of strategic mounding throughout the layout Ross planned long ago will be new and different from what many Ross golf aficionados are accustomed to playing. Bobby Jones has exceeded even my expectations as we approach opening day. I’m extremely excited to play the course myself.”

The Donald Ross Society, which is based in Concord, Mass., says on its website, “Donald Ross lives. National championships continue to be played on courses that he designed, and clubs across the United States continually seek to preserve his legacy.”

The Society notes that Ross, who was born in Dornoch, Scotland, in 1872, designed more than 400 U.S. courses.

The Bobby Jones golf complex offers the following along with the Donald Ross holes, the city news release notes:

  • A renewed 9-hole adjustable Gillespie Course that can be played five different ways with 30 hole options. It is expected to open in early 2024.
  • A 25-acre practice facility with a driving range that has 70 hitting stations; a 3.75-acre short game area with three chipping greens and two teardrop target greens; and a 21,000-square-foot putting green.

The golf club also has a temporary clubhouse with food and beverage service, the release points out.

City staff anticipates that it will take approximately two years for the permanent clubhouse to be constructed and open to the public.

These details about the Gillespie Course are provided on the Bobby Jones Golf Club website.

“Mandell introduced ‘tee shot distance equity,’ offering six tee boxes at varying distances to create an enjoyable experience for all players and maximize club selection for all talent levels,” the news release continues. “The golf course yardage extends from 4,583 yards to 6,714 yards.”

“By adding forward tee distances, we’re welcoming a wider range of golfers at different skill levels,” said Sue Martin, the general manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, in the release. She “managed the golf course and shepherded the restoration,” the release explains.

“Traditionally, red tees have been the closest to a hole; then, white and blue tees farther away,” she noted. “Golf is evolving. With three additional tee distances, more options are available for golfers at Bobby Jones to have fun and add variety to their game, whether they’re a novice or lifelong player.”

The release also points out, “For those who want to experience the golf course as Donald Ross originally planned, a special set of ‘Ross tees’ allow golfers to play from the Ross distance of 6,240 yards. The course plays to a par of 71.”
The Ross Course will open for golf at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, the release says. Beginning Saturday, Dec. 2, reservations may be booked online at

The city borrowed $20 million to fund the golf course restoration and new clubhouse.

Bobby Jones Golf Club will turn 100 years old in 2027, the release points out.

“With the installation of new drainage pipes throughout the golf course and improved land grading, the property will drain quickly and efficiently following a rain event,” the release further notes. In years past, prior to the start of the renovations, flooding at times necessitated the closing of sections of the courses.

In November, the release says, the American Society of Golf Course Architects honored Bobby Jones Golf Club and architect Mandell with a 2023 Environmental Excellence Award for improving stormwater retention and drainage, while reducing the risk of flooding. “Bobby Jones is the only golf course in Florida to be recognized this year with the award and one of just eight in the United States,” the release points out.

The Nature Park at Bobby Jones

This is a view of the Nature Park. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“The Nature Park at Bobby Jones encompasses 90 acres on the eastern portion of the property,” the release notes. It features crushed shell and decommissioned golf cart paths that have been “repurposed into walking/bicycling trails around the newly created wetlands teeming with wildlife.”

The 1.57-mile Eagle Trail is the primary path with three offshoots: Prairie Trail (0.4 mile), Hammock Trail (0.12 mile) and Osprey Trail (0.07 mile), the release adds. “Access to the trails is adjacent to the driving range.”

Daily, the nature park will be open to the public from dawn to dusk, without charge, the release points out. “The park will be closed when the golf course is closed.”

The conservation easement

“Following extensive community discussion over five years,” the release explains, “the City Commission in 2022 unanimously approved downsizing Bobby Jones Golf Club” from 45 holes to 27. The non-golf green space, totaling nearly 100 acres, was designated a nature park.

The commissioners also unanimously approved a conservation easement on the property, in partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey. The agreement means the city-owned property “will remain a protected, preserved green space in perpetuity,” the release points out.

“The grand reopening of Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park is truly a joyous moment for our community,” said Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation, in the release. “We worked for years, side-by-side with the City of Sarasota, citizens and community advocacy groups to ensure the permanent protection of this centrally located park,” she continued. “Benefiting people and nature, kids and grown-ups, wildlife and waterways — forever protecting Bobby Jones is a win for our entire community. We are thankful for the city’s foresight and willingness to conserve this special place.”

Water quality

“Covering 307 acres, the Bobby Jones property is the single largest green space” in the city of Sarasota,” the release explains. It is considered a significant floodplain in the Phillippi Creek watershed, as it filters stormwater for 5,800 urban acres that stretch as far north as University Parkway.

“To improve water quality, nearly 20 acres of wetlands were created,” almost 14.5 acres of native grasses were planted and 49,000 nutrient-filtering aquatic plants were installed, including sawgrass, fire flag and pickerel weed, the release notes.

“In addition, a diversion weir was constructed along one of the main Phillippi Creek tributaries to divert water into the newly created wetlands. The water flow is regulated with two control structures in the wetlands, allowing the wetlands to serve as a regional stormwater treatment system. Ultimately, the filtered water flows into Roberts Bay, the intracoastal waters between Sarasota and Siesta Key,” the release adds.

It is estimated that 900 pounds of nitrogen and 300 pounds of phosphorus will be removed from the stormwater each year, the release says.

Researchers have learned that nitrogen is the primary food for the algae that causes red tide, Karenia brevis. Thus, significantly lowering the level of nitrogen in water bodies is seen as a major means of preventing red tide blooms.

In late May 2021, the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) unanimously approved the addition of a Bobby Jones Golf Club water quality project to the District’s 2022 fiscal year Cooperative Funding Initiative grants list. As a result, the city received a grant from the organization totaling $1,511,535.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) provided the city a $487,500 grant, the release points out.

“We’re grateful to the State of Florida for helping to fund the construction of the wetlands to improve our water quality,” said City Manager Marlon Brown in the release. “Thank you to our many partners and supporters, including SWFWMD, FDEP, Sarasota County Government and the Conservation Foundation. This truly has been a significant community effort to restore our historic municipal golf course and create a new urban nature park that will be a community treasure enjoyed by generations,” Brown added.

Golf management

“Daily operations at Bobby Jones will be handled by Indigo Sports LLC, a private management company,” the release continues. Greens fees “will be dynamic,” the release adds, with a 40% reduced rate on the Donald Ross course set for city of Sarasota residents.

“Our commitment to providing an exceptional experience to players of all ages and abilities remains unwavering,” said John Sparrow, Bobby Jones Golf Club general manager, in the release. “This beautiful golf club, practice facility and nature trail will ensure that we can deliver on that promise and more.”

“We appreciate Indigo revisiting the green fees schedule and offering that deep 40% discounted rate for our residents,” added Mayor Alpert in the release. “Bobby Jones is a municipal course and needs to be affordable for our city residents. Depending upon the month and time of day, a resident could pay under $10 to play while walking,” she pointed out. “That’s a very good deal.”

As part of the contractual agreement with the city, the release notes, “Indigo is expected to pursue certification for Bobby Jones in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, with the goal of becoming certified within two years after the reopening.

“During a recent annual bird count,” the release also says, the Sarasota Audubon Society documented 45 unique species on the property.

For more information about Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park and to book online tee time reservations beginning Dec. 2 for the first day of golf on Dec. 16, visit or contact 941-365-GOLF (4653).