Sara Bay Restored to Ross Glory
TAMPA, Fla. – In Sarasota, Florida, there is a 1926 Donald Ross design that has stood the test of time for nearly a century. Sara Bay Country Club underwent a 2018 renovation that helped reclaim some of the Ross features that were lost, while also positioning the club for success into its second century.
Whitefield Estates Country Club (now Sara Bay Country Club) was the vision of Atlanta businessman, Perry Adair and opened in 1926. Adair was able to secure three golfing legends to help bring his vision to a reality. He brought on famed golf course architect, Donald Ross, to design the course, while Adair’s personal friend, Robert "Bobby" Jones joined as the sales manager for the real estate development and community that was built around the club. Finally, Adair added "The Silver Scot", Tommy Armour, to his team as the club’s first head golf professional.
The Sarasota club made its first splash onto the tournament golf scene in 1926 with a match between Jones, the world's best amateur at the time, and Walter Hagen, an 11-time major winner and the top professional at the time. The club would go on to host matches with top professional golfers and celebrities, including Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen and Babe Ruth.
The club was able to withstand the financial hardships of World War II and remained one of the premier golf and social clubs on Florida's West Coast through the 1940s and 1950s. After going through multiple name changes (1938 to North Shore Country Club, then 1940 to Sarasota Bay Country Club), it was eventually renamed Sara Bay Country Club in 1964, to reflect its proximity to the Sarasota Bay, and became an independent private club.
Through its history, the club has hosted numerous championships, including: Senior PGA Championship (1940-1941), LPGA Sarasota Open (1952-1954), Florida State Amateur Championship (1957, 1995), Florida Open (2012), LPGA Symetra Tour (2012-2017), U.S. Open Qualifying (2013, 2019) and numerous Florida Junior Tour Events.
The goal of the restoration that began in April 2018 was to bring back some of the Ross features that had been lost over time. Architect Kris Spence and his team of Jim Harbin and Steve Coe, along with the members and staff, set out to restore the underlying Ross contours, while removing 12 inches of excess organic material and rootzone.
"A trademark of Ross greens is his wide variety of surface contours making each hole unique," Spence said. "His greens should have multiple hole locations in close proximity to the edges, in corner sections and near where the greens fall away into bunkers and down fill pad edges. This critical aspect of his green surfaces has been restored.”
The team reduced crowning and excessive slope in the centers of greens that had built up over the years and lowered the centers of nearly all greens 12 to 14 inches in the project.
General Manager Paul Barone assisted on keeping the project on time and on budget, while Superintendent Bob Gwodz and his staff were able to reopen the club on October 6 for play, seven months after it began.
"Since the course re-opened for play, our members have been enthusiastically praising the enhanced aesthetics and playability of the course", Dennis Bundy, director of membership, said.
Sara Bay will continue to be a friend of both the amateur and professional game, as well as put on its countless member competitions. The 92-year-old club also hosts the Joe Turnesa Memorial Scholarship Tournament, an annual event that benefits members of the Greater Sarasota Junior Golf Association, and has provided over 40 college scholarships to date. Sara Bay further supports Junior Golf by hosting the Annual Donald Ross High School Invitational every year since 1992.
The club will welcome U.S. Open Championship Local Qualifying in May 2019 and will host the Mid-Amateur Stroke Play Championship in October 2019.