What It Could Be

On City Politics


Part 2 or 3

The seeds of Bobby Jones' future are abundant in an oak hammock I can picture between the eighth and ninth holes of the Colonel John Gillespie Executive Course and the ravine that cuts its fourth hole horizontally. Taxpayers don't need to subsidize a golf course, spending an estimated $21.5 million to perform renovations on top of expenses like the $576,000 bailout the complex will need this fiscal year to crawl out of the red. To save this critical public space—its 300-plus acres make up about half the city's green space—we ought to make it wild again.

Growth that externalizes costs in the form of sprawl and environmental degradation has made many cynical. To imagine a new future for this land in central Sarasota, which the course's website claims "sits on 325 contiguous acres of virgin meadowland," is to momentarily cast away the malaise many of us feel when we realize how far the distance between us and the rest of nature has grown, even as many move here with the good intention to feel closer to the elements. Salt life? That's an ideal to be fought for, not merely consumed.

Two years ago, the county commission amended the comprehensive plan so that a forested wetland three miles northeast of the 17th Street boundary of Bobby Jones could be destroyed and replaced with a grocery store and gas station. Ironically, $158,750 was recently withdrawn from public accounts to address drainage issues at the flood-prone golf complex, a sum that would be zeroed out over time if we restored some of its area to wetlands, which store and slowly release floodwater. Wetlands—or a stormwater management system, lest we allow our passion for nature to rage uncontrollably—are one of the best protections we have against natural disasters like hurricanes and algal blooms, and are marvels of the ebb and flow of life. Although the 4.5 acres of wetlands that were at University Parkway and Honore Avenue are gone forever, we now have a precious opportunity to recover a semblance of what was lost there and elsewhere.

To atone for an excess of shortsighted schemes to transform what is left of local ecology into stucco and pavement, including the erstwhile greenery of other golf courses that have sprouted tract homes, I propose that we preserve nine of the Donald Ross-designed holes in accordance with the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf—honoring the club's historical legacy and the wishes of those who want to maintain a public course, which I am glad I had access to—and preserve the remainder of the area as a refuge of reflection and education for people and a key habitat of nonhuman life in central Sarasota between the Gulf and bay and the Myakka ecosystem. 

Ryan Thompson studied environmental history at UF and lives in north Florida. He can be contacted at rylthom@gmail.com.

Read Part 1 in the Dec. 11 edition of SRQ Daily

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Other Articles in On City Politics

Dec 22, 2018Lisl Liang

What It Could Be

Dec 11, 2018Ryan Thompson

Bobby Jones Home to Memories