(Photo by Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
The Florida city hired architect Richard Mandell to develop an ambitious plan to restore and renovate the historic, 45-hole golf complex after years of neglect. But a business plan prepared by the National Golf Foundation showed that even after the renovations, annual losses of as much as $1 million could continue.
The release of a business plan prepared by the National Golf Foundation (NGF) for the city of Sarasota, Fla.’s Bobby Jones Golf Complex shows that even after pricey renovations, the course’s revenues wouldn’t be up to par, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.
Sarasota’s City Commission hired golf course architect Richard Mandell in 2017 to develop a plan to restore and renovate the historic golf course after years of neglect, the Herald-Tribune reported. His plan, which was presented to residents through public forums (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/sarasotas-bobby-jones-gc-holds-public-forums),included renovations of all 45 holes of the golf course, an extensive golf development center at the complex’s Gillespie course, and a new clubhouse totaling an estimated $16.7 million.
But the golf complex that once made the city money hasn’t for the last decade, and isn’t projected to do so anytime soon, the Herald-Tribune reported. The city has been subsidizing the course through its largely property tax-funded general fund, to the tune of $425,000 in 2018 and a projected $650,000 in 2019.
The NGF’s business plan predicts a loss of just more than $1 million in the first year of opening after the renovations would be completed, the Herald-Tribune reported. The expected losses would then diminish slightly over time, but even by 2028, projected losses are at $830,900.
Still, supporters of following through on the renovations view the golf course as a site rich with history and tradition that should be preserved, the Herald-Tribune reported. The complex, which was personally dedicated in 1927 by Bobby Jones, has hosted a number of men and women’s golf events, attracting visitors from all around the world.
It is also a public course, which means membership isn’t required to play. Instead, players pay an average of $28 per round, the Herald-Tribune reported.
In a Bobby Jones Committee meeting on May 29, the Herald-Tribune reported, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin said that golf, while not played by everyone, is still an important piece of the community.
“We have tennis courts, but not everybody plays tennis,” Barwin said. “We have swimming pools, but not everybody goes swimming. We have playgrounds, but not everybody has kids.
“Golf is just one of those things—it’s embedded in our history and the fabric of our community,” he added.
Multiple members of the committee added that the Bobby Jones Golf Complex is “so much more than just a golf course,” citing wildlife and other activities in the complex like pickleball, the Herald-Tribune reported.
“Bobby Jones Golf Club is an enormous reflection of the social and economic development of Sarasota, uniquely intertwined with the community since before its physical manifestation beginning in 1925,” said Shawn Pierson, president of the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club. “Sarasota was key to the development of golf, and golf key to the development of Sarasota, as early as 1886.”
But opponents of the plan find it hard to argue with the numbers, the Herald-Tribune reported.
Bobby Jones staff reported that city residents made up just 9% of the rounds played at the course in 2017, while 33% were county residents, 15% were remaining Florida residents, and 43% were non-Florida residents.
In 2017, 79,228 rounds were played at the course, the Herald-Tribune reported, but in 2018, that number dropped to 66,698.
In an e-mail to the Herald-Tribune, former Sarasota City Commission candidate Martin Hyde referred to the plan as a “bait and switch” upon seeing the NGF’s financial projections.
“This is NOT what was stated when the commission voted to move forward,” Hyde wrote. “At that time, it was asserted that it could break even.”
At a commission meeting last December, the Herald-Tribune reported, it was stated that in order for the course to break even, the city would have to go from charging $28 per round to $50, and from 69,000 rounds played to 100,000. Alternatively, 139,773 rounds played at $35 per round—a little more than double the rounds played last year—would also work.
During that meeting, Commissioner Hagen Brody advocated for a less-expensive alternative that would keep 27 holes rather than 45 and preserve the rest of the park as green, open space.
“To me, the math, it’s pretty simple and it does not work for that size of a renovation,” Brody said. “If we can bring it down to 27 holes and take the rest of the course and put it in our public parks, I just think it’s much, much more feasible to reach that number.”
While Brody cited less expensive golf courses in the area, the Herald-Tribune reported, Mandell argued that people would gladly pay more for a newly renovated course.
“You’re going to have something here in Sarasota that is very rare anywhere else, and people pay a lot of money to play golf courses, a lot more than that from out of state,” Mandell said. “When we get done with this, it will rival anything as far as infrastructure and design goes.”
Another concern is that by the time the course might break even, it will need upgrades again, the Herald-Tribune reported. But Mandell countered this at the Bobby Jones committee meeting.
“We won’t make the same mistakes that were made in the past drainage-wise and we’ll be able to maintain consistently,” he said. “If we all do our job, it shouldn’t look tired and old at all after 20 years.”
Pierson stressed that it is important for city leadership and citizens to understand the plan still has room for improvements and community input, the Herald-Tribune reported.
“We’re at the stage of a still-undetermined scope of work and a developing plan,” he said. “We all desire to arrive at a process and a plan that we can all agree celebrates and strengthens our history and our values, and leaves no stone unturned to be the best it can be.”