PUBLIC WITH A PRIVATE FEEL
Just like Pebble Beach in California and St. Andrews in Scotland, the Bobby Jones Complex is a public golf course facility where visitors are made to feel like members of a private club. And just like Pebble Beach, this 45-hole Sarasota golf facility has a connection to a famous architect.
John Ringling recommended legendary designer Donald Ross for the course, which was finished in 1926. Ross, a transplanted Scot, had already designed both the Bradenton and Sara Bay Country Club courses. At Bobby Jones, the creative master designed a course with holes meandering between oaks and palm trees. Today, the original Ross course is split; one nine-hole layout serves as the American course's back nine, and the other nine-hole layout serves as the British course's inward half.
As is typical with Ross courses, some greens are sloped and require pinpoint-accurate approach shots. You can't hit just the green to ensure an easy birdie putt or two-putt par score. You must hit a small target, ideally a flat spot or an area below the hole, to leave yourself an aggressive uphill putt. When you miss your target, you often end up facing a tough bunker shot, a difficult chip, or a short but challenging pitch from around the green.
But all of the holes at the Bobby Jones Complex are fair, including the nine that comprise the par-30 course across the street. This course is ideal for beginners and features six par-three holes and three par-four holes. Whether you play the American course, featuring short holes, a lot of doglegs, water, and more sloping greens, or the longer British course with its small greens and straight holes, or the short course, the secret is to think before you act, using more of a conservative than aggressive strategy.
There are a lot of good holes at the Bobby Jones Complex, but head golf professional Paul Michaud thinks the first hole at the British is the most challenging, simply because you have to deal with a creek off the tee and often face a blind second shot.
Originally called the Sarasota Municipal Golf Course, the course changed its name in 1927 in honor of Bobby Jones, who played here. Other sports greats who have played the course include Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Babe Zaharias, Babe Ruth, and present PGA Tour player Paul Azinger, who holds the course record of 62 and has the entranceway street, Azinger Way, named after him.
The cost of cart and green fee at either of the "big" courses during April is $40.75 (May 1-Oct. 31: $23.60). The short course is fun to walk, and should you choose to take in the scenery while getting some exercise, the cost is $11.65.
You can also visit to hit balls on the driving range, practice your putting and short game, have lunch, or sip a libation at the bar. For information and tee time bookings, call 365-4653.
If you want to become a true golfer, you must learn "golf-speak."
Blast: To hit a shot over the lip of a bunker, onto the green, by forcefully hitting the sand behind the ball-blasting it.
Clubbing: To give a playing partner advice on which club to hit in a particular course situation.
Dead: A ball hit by a player that finishes inches from the hole.
Dead-stymied: The player is dead-stymied when he or she is unable to make a swing due to surrounding trouble (i.e., tree branches).
Dogleg: A hole that curves left or right (i.e., dogleg left, dogleg right).
Scratch player: The golfer who requires no handicap allowance.
Stroke hole: Hole at which a player applies a handicap stroke designated on the scorecard.
Considering all the hoopla about the members of Augusta National, home of this month's Masters, giving women such a hard time about joining their prestigious club, it seems like time to call attention to a local female golf standout. Lindsey Bergeon, a 16-year-old student at Riverview High School and a member of that school's golf team, is a former winner of the AAU Junior Olympic Golf Title and a course record holder who shot 67 at the very challenging Bradenton Country Club. She seems destined to realize her dream of becoming an LPGA professional.
Bergeon, who started playing at Evie's Family Golf Center on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, now takes lessons from Doug Mochrie at Sarasota's Sunrise Golf Club. Mochrie, who was once married to LPGA player Dottie Pepper, says Lindsey has "that it quality" the tour requires. "There is not one department of Lindsay's shot-making game that is weak," he says. She's long off the tee, too, but if she starts growing she may get even longer off the tee."
If you've ever been embarrassed by unknowingly breaking a rule, take heart. Millions of golfers make the same mistake, because The Rules of Golf, published by the United States Golf Association, is not all that easy to understand. Here's a look at the rule in one common situation, as explained by Mark Russell, PGA Tour rules official and my co-author on the book, Golf Rules Plain & Simple.
Bending or breaking branches (Rule 13-2): If you break or bend the branch of a tree that impedes your swing, you have violated the rule. You are not permitted to bend or break anything growing or fixed if it improves the lie of the ball, your stance, or your area of intended swing. In match play, you automatically lose the hole for breaking this rule. In stroke play, such an infraction means a two-stroke penalty.
The next time you get in such a situation, consider two alternatives: Play the shot in the best way possible in order to make solid contact, such as employing a shorter or flatter swing to avoid the branches. Or you can deem the ball unplayable, penalize yourself one stroke, then drop the ball within two club-lengths of where it lies and no nearer the hole.
NBC announcer and former PGA Tour player Gary Koch lived in Sarasota as a teen-ager, playing Forest Lakes Golf Club.
While working as the senior instruction editor of Golf Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview Koch, who won six times on tour, and find out firsthand how he played the shot every golfer dreams about being able to hit: the controlled draw. The following technique of Koch's is surprisingly simple and one you may want to try and copy.
Aim your feet and body to the right of target, in what is called a "closed" position, at a point where you want the ball to start its flight. Set the clubface down perpendicular to your final target, the area of fairway where you want the ball to land. Now, swing normally and watch the ball curve gently from right to left.
Should you need to break the ice during a tense round of golf, try this joke out for size, or choose some others from Bob Lonigan's amusing The Golf Joke Book.
"So, son, what are you going to do with your life now that you've graduated from college?" asked Benton.
"I've given it some thought, Dad," replied the young man, "and I've decided to play golf every day."
"Are you crazy?" shouted Benton. "Do you think I'd allow any son of mine to spend his life running around a golf course?"
"Of course not, Dad. I was hoping you'd buy me one of those powered golf carts."
Sarasota's John Andrisani, the former senior editor of instruction at Golf Magazine and the author of such books as Think Like Tiger, recently received the United States Golf Teachers Federation Award for outstanding golf instructional writing. Send comments and questions to Jagolf3238@aol.com.