City says more park, less golf

Editor & Publisher

In the face of declining usage and increasing deficits at the Bobby Jones Public Golf Course, the Sarasota City Commission voted 3-2 to reduce the amenity to 27 holes. As a counterpoint, the City will convert the remaining 130 acres of the 293-acre parcel into public parkland. 

The vote marks the culmination of more than five years of public debate following year after year of the golf course operating in a deficit. Last summer, the City voted to downsize the 45-hole course and has since considered options before settling on the 27-hold plan, which commits the most acreage to environmental and recreational use.

Golfers at last week’s commission meeting said that reducing the number of holes would end up raising fees and hinder the historic golf course operation.

The golf course was opened in an 18-hole configuration in 1926 and was designed by Donald Ross. A year later the City changed the name from Sarasota Municipal Golf Course to Bobby Jones Golf Club and over the ensuing decades expanded the operation.

The plan to preserve the 130 acres is being spearheaded by The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which will be negotiating with City staff over the coming weeks on the plan to place a conservation easement over the property to preclude development on the site.

The commission voted unanimously to direct staff in the effort of negotiating the conservation easement. That vote came after the 3-2 vote to cut the course to 27 holes and create the 130 acre park. Commissioners Hagen Brody, Liz Alpert and Shelli Freeland Eddie supported the course reduction, while Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw dissented.

The total cost to renovate the existing and remaining 27 holes and to implement the park is an estimated $21.4 million. Future ideas include pickleball, tennis and lawn bowling courts but they are not included in the cost estimate.

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