A city-appointed committee found that “it’s way beyond time” to renovate the 45-hole municipal facility in Sarasota, Fla., recommending that the city hire a master planning firm to renovate the 18-hole British and American courses, create a player-development center, and build a new clubhouse.
A city-appointed study committee pitched $14.5 million in capital improvements to the municipal Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla., that was described as “tired” by the National Golf Foundation after a review of the grounds last year, the Sarasota-based Herald-Tribune reported.
“We are highly recommending that you move quickly on this,” said 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, the Herald-Tribune reported.
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, the Herald-Tribune reported.
“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 Herald-Tribune reported.
“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.”
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 Herald-Tribune reported.
“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 Herald-Tribune reported.
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, the Herald-Tribune reported.
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.”