The Bobby Jones Golf Club is a 45-hole municipal facility in Sarasota, FL, named after the legendary Bobby Jones, Jr., who personally dedicated the facility on Sunday, February 13, 1927. The original 18 holes were designed by famed course architect Donald Ross and these holes now make up the back nine of the two championship courses, The British and The American. In 1977 The John H. Gillespie Executive Course was opened and is a great venue for junior golfers or players that are just looking to get out, stretch their legs and have some fun.
The naming of the courses – and each nine for that matter –pays homage to its namesake and the miraculous feat he accomplished in 1930 – winning golf’s Grand Slam. In honor of these championships the British Course front nine is named for his British Amateur victory at St. Andrews and the back nine for his Open Championship success at Hoylake. The American Course honors Jones’ championships in the U.S. Amateur at Merion and the U.S. Open at Interlachen. To this day, Jones is the only golfer to have won all of these major championships in the same year.
Over the years, many great PGA golfers have played these two courses including the likes of Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Paul Azinger and Gene Sarazen. Azinger’s round of 62 on the British Course in 1980 is still the course record. Past LPGA greats Patty Berg, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Louise Suggs made Bobby Jones a regular stop in the mid 1950’s.
These days, there are two PGA Professionals on staff at Bobby Jones, including Christian Martin, the Southwestern Chapter of the North Florida PGA 2011 Teacher of the Year, and Assistant PGA Golf Professional, Daniel Bailey. These guys can fix any problem you have, whether it’s getting more distance out of your driver or making more putts.
The American Course plays 6,032 yards to a par of 71 and carries a course rating of 69.6 with a slope of 119. It’s very popular among women and seniors and combines gently rolling fairways and terrain with sparkling lakes and a stream that meanders throughout the layout. Although only four tee boxes show up on the scorecard, a set of “hybrid” tees have been added and is very popular among the men’s leagues at Bobby Jones. To use the hybrid tees, just play from the yardage circled in red on the scorecard on each hole. There are also square green tee markers on each tee box to help out. According to my calculations, the hybrid tees play 5,543 yards. With all of these yardages to choose from, the American Course has a yardage that can accommodate golfers of all skill levels and abilities.
Just because of its short length, don’t let the American Course lull you into thinking it’s a pushover. Remember that meandering stream I mentioned? It comes into play on a minimum of 5 holes; more if you spray it. Take number 9 for example, a par 5 that plays a mere 460 from the back tees. The stream comes into play here and to drive it, you would need to carry it at least 290 yards, so for most, that’s not an option. Should you hit a good drive and decide to go for the green in two, it will require a pinpoint approach shot; anything right is likely to find the water and left will find trees. In the words of Head Professional Christian Martin, “you can make 3 here, but you can just as easily make 7.”
Number 11 is the only hole on the American course that requires a substantial amount of carry over water from the back tees. The fairway narrows in the landing area of your layup shot. Long ball hitters that are tempted to go for the green it two face some very penal pot bunkers short of the green in the middle of the fairway as do others who hit approach shots short. The green is small with more sand right.
Number 14 is one of the longer par 4s on the American Course at 379 yards. It’s a slight dogleg left, so a draw off the tee will go a long way in doing well. Anything too far left and you’re either OB or in the woods; right and there’s a good chance you’re wet. The approach shot is to a small, postage stamp green with water right and sand left. It’s another hole that you may want to leave the driver in the bag.
The British Course plays a little over 6850 yards from the back tees, making it a lot longer than its American counterpart; it’s also a lot more wide open. From the back tees, the course rating is 72.1 and the slope is 123. The British Course is an old school golf course with small dome-shaped greens, a Donald Ross trademark. Many large live oaks, pine stands and palm trees give shape to and define the long straight fairways. Water comes into play on several holes and in places that long ball hitters need to be aware of. The British Course also features a set of hybrid tees playing 5,971 yards. Over the years Head Professional Christian Martin and the grounds crew have changed a few holes around, adding length on a few holes by stretching out the back tees, while shortening a few holes for the seniors and women. Martin and his staff also oversaw the redevelopment of all of the greens on the British Course, and redid them with Diamond Zoysia, a grass that stands up to just about anything Mother Nature can throw at it. To me, it’s one of the best grasses out there; to golf courses, it requires less maintenance.
The par 3, number 4 hole is one of the holes Martin added some length to, making it now play about 174 yards. Your tee shot requires good distance control with sand on either side of the green just waiting to catch errant shots. Even if you’re playing the hybrid tees, you’ll play from back here.
Number 13 was also stretched out. Originally, it was a short par 5, playing around 480 yards. After listening to players talk about how the course needed to be lengthened, Martin and his staff moved the blue tees back and the hole now plays 545 yards, although the original length is still played from the White tees. This extra length gives the hole a totally different look and requires three well struck shots to reach the green.
Number 18 is a good finishing hole. Out of bounds abounds – the driving range that runs adjacent to the hole is out of bounds as is anything long and left of the green. Be sure to take enough club on your approach shot as bunkers on either side of the front of the green await short shots. A two putt is no sure thing here as the slope of the green is the most interesting on the course.
Gillespie Executive Course
This par 30 executive course plays 1,716 yards for men and 1,457 for the ladies. It consists of three par 4s and six par 3s and is very popular with kids and seniors. It’s a great place for seasoned players to sharpen their skills with the scoring clubs (140 yards and in). The practice green is also the place where Martin gives his short game lessons. He’s carved out a nice little area to practice chip shots. The small, elevated greens make accuracy a priority. There’s also a large ravine that bisects the course and actually protects several of the green approaches. In other words, no bump-and-run!
Last Word: Although they are built on the same parcel of land, the British and American courses are very different. The American is more of a shotmaker’s course while long ball hitters will favor the British. If you want to hit some challenging golf shots and test every club in your bag, play the American course. If you need to work on your driver, then the British course is your best bet. A number of holes on the American Course take driver out of your hand off the tee.
In the near future, I think you’ll see big changes at The Bobby Jones Golf Club. I can foresee them building a new clubhouse and working out of a trailer for a year or so while a new one is built. The golf courses themselves are in good condition and a great value for the price.
According to a recent article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a city-appointed study committee recommended $14.5 million in capital improvements, including a do-over of both courses, a new clubhouse and a player development/teaching center. The task force also suggested that greens fees be increased by an average of $7.50 a round, a small price for golfers to pay for such big improvements.
Both regulation courses at the Bobby Jones Golf club offer golfers of all levels and abilities a fair test of golf. Granted, they may not be the toughest courses around, but no one here is looking to win the US Open either. What Bobby Jones offers is a well-kept municipal course, with a very friendly staff and reasonable rates. The food at the snack bar is good and the beer is cold. If you’re showing up to play for the first time, there are a number of hospitable groups for both men and women and someone’s bound to invite you to play. For more information, visit them online at www.BobbyJonesGolfClub.com or give them a call at (941) 365-GOLF (4653).