Richard Mandell to restore Ross features at Bobby Jones GC

  • Bobby Jones GC

    Richard Mandell will renovate all 45 holes at Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida

  • Bobby Jones GC

    The original Donald Ross plan from 1925

  • Bobby Jones GC

    An aerial photograph from 1926 shows the front nine of Ross’s design

  • Bobby Jones GC

    One of Mandell’s proposed concepts for the Gillespie Development Center

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Golf course architect Richard Mandell is to renovate all 45 holes at Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida.


In December 2018, the Sarasota City Commission voted four-to-one to move forward with a US$16.7 million renovation, which will include replacing the irrigation system, adding a clubhouse, creating a golf development centre, rebuilding all greens and expanding the driving range.


“The Bobby Jones facility is in such disrepair that our plans call for rebuilding everything on the site,” said Mandell.


The facility comprises two eighteens – the 6,000-yard American course and 6,700-yard British course – and a nine-hole course comprising six par threes and three par fours. The original eighteen holes on the site (which are now the back nines of the two main courses) were designed by Donald Ross in 1925. The other nines on the main courses were designed by Robert Bruce Harris in 1952 and local architect Roy Anderson in 1965. Ron Garl renovated the American course in 1987.


In recent years, rounds played at the facility have declined as golf course conditions have deteriorated.


In a golf course renovation business plan report written following a series of visits to the facility in 2017, Mandell proposes to revitalise as many Donald Ross features from the original 1925 plan as possible. Ross's original plan and many detailed drawings will serve as his road map to returning those 18 holes as Ross originally designed. With the exception of two green complexes, Mandell will be able to restore all of the other greens in place.


Mandell aims to restore the variety and visual interest of the Ross holes to attract golfers to return time and again. “It is when the same boring style is conveyed thirty-six times in a row that a golf course – or 2 – ceases to be interesting on a day to day basis or ceases to be a destination for golfers seeking a special experience away from home,” said Mandell. “Bobby Jones Golf Club should be that exact experience and the Ross spirit will only enhance that even further. A Ross approach will attract new golfers and retain the locals’ interest on a daily basis as well.


“The primary area where changes should be made is in the widths of each fairway,” said Mandell. “In keeping with those ideals as well as recapturing the spirit of Donald Ross, the city should adopt widening the fairway lines to recapture optional playing angles from both sides of the fairways.”


Mandell also highlighted: “Wide fairways with open approaches are perfect features to introduce young golfers to the game without the concern of lost balls or the inability to negotiate forced carries.”


Mandell stated that all fairways and rough areas should be regraded to eliminate potholes and imperfections. “All tee complexes need to be completely rebuilt and enlarged to provide function for better tee shot distance equity and maximise usable tee surface area,” he said. “Regrade all tee complex surrounds to improve drainage and allow for safe maintenance practices.


“All greens complexes must be rebuilt to improve growing conditions and internal drainage, incorporate proper slopes for modern green speeds and grass types, and be more receptive to mis-hit approach shots.


“All sand bunkers shall be rehabilitated to improve drainage and sand quality, minimise washes, improve visual appearance, and fit better into their surrounds.


“Each of these elements, if recaptured in the spirit of Donald Ross, are tailor-made for the golfer just learning the game – as well as the seasoned-veteran who wants a fair challenge.”


The renovation is also an opportunity to contribute to flood control and water quality improvement for the community, according to Mandell. “Infrastructure work should not be just limited to the golf course, but canal expansions, the creation of detention areas for runoff, littoral shelves to increase the flora and wildlife, fish ladders to promote the spawn of snook and other fish, park areas, and walkways. These are all features of the property that can be developed for Sarasota residents as part of a revitalization of the property beyond golf.”


Mandell’s plans include working in conjunction with Sarasota County Public Utilities Stormwater officials and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to expand canals – from 7.98 acres to 15.21 acres – for flood control and water quality improvements.


He also aims to increase the floodplain capacity for runoff entering the site from the north. These plans intend to increase: pond storage by 0.95 acres; canals by 7.23 acres; and dry hollow storage by 11.50 acres. The proposed total net increase in floodplain capacity is 19.68 acres.


Mandell’s plans also include the redevelopment of the Gillespie course into the Gillespie Development Center – with an adjustable nine-hole short course, driving range, Himalayas putting green and target greens, and a short game area.


According to city documents, renovations could begin in spring 2020.