Gillespie 9 Preview

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This is a preview post for the Gillespie 9, the short course that is part of the Bobby Jones Golf Club here in Sarasota, Florida.

Gillespie 9 is planning to open on May 31st, Friday.  I had a chance to spend some time with Richard Mandell, the project architect and John Sparrow the General Manager at Bobby Jones Golf Club

I’ll post an update after I’ve played Gillespie 9 a few times. 


Richard Mandell – Golf Course Architect

Mandell showed me the entire 25 acres and the 9 greens and told me the only thing left from the original Gillespie Executive Course is the trees.  

This is a new golf course with completely new routing.  Mandell admitted he leaned towards innovative, unique, clever, and original (add any other adjective you like here.)

Mandell explained that executive golf courses built in the 1960s and 1970s were an afterthought. Few, if any, golf design principles were included, so short courses or executive courses got a bad rap. They were a ‘waste of time’, glorified Miniature golf, and only for beginners—not true golf courses.  

And that is how I remember the Gillespie executive golf course.  A field with flags on it.

Short Courses – Augusta National

A lot has changed in the world of golf, and the same goes for Short Courses. Nearly every new golf project now includes a short course designed by high-profile golf architects. The idea is to offer a bit more golf played faster, more relaxed, and more fun.  

The pinnacle is Augusta National and their Par 3 course, which began play in 1958. The Par 3 tournament held during the Masters week has become a fun family affair. As is typical, Augusta National is way ahead of the golf world.

Like Bobby Jones Golf Club across the street, the operative word at Gillespie 9 is ‘FUN.’  Mandell used the same principles and design elements that he put into Bobby Jones Golf Club with more freedom to ‘Find the Fun.’

Mandell wrote a book about golf course design, his fourth book.  Principles of Golf Architecture is a collection of his design principles and historical golf course design philosophies.  

Gillespie 9 Short Course at Bobby Jones GC

At Gillespie 9, the limiting factors to what Mandell could do were budget and the expense of maintaining the golf course.  Otherwise, he had a free pass to create. 

The green shapes and sizes vary, with tiers and ridges and everything else you would expect to see on a proper golf course’s greens.  

Gillespie 9 Golf Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida

Gillespie 9 is not a championship track, so the putting greens will not be super-fast.  Slower green speeds allowed Mandell to experiment with the contours.  

The old Gillespie Executive Course had round flat greens all about the same size.

Large waste areas around the greens and throughout the course add a rustic, natural look and will require far less effort to maintain than sand traps.  

The tees and fairways will be cut to the same length, again to facilitate maintenance while affording more options for tee placements.  Versatile.

Things get interesting when Mandell starts discussing options for Gillespie 9. There are 33 different possible holes on the property and at least 5 different course layouts.  Really versatile.

Adjustable Golf Course – Gillespie 9

Gillespie 9 Golf Course Scorecard

Admittedly, I was confused. How do you know what holes to play, I asked. Mandell patiently explained that there would be one route per day, which might remain for a week, but the routing could be dramatically different the next week and again the following week.  

Gillespie 9 Golf Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club

I was overthinking the concept.  There are so many tees at golf courses these days I forgot you could (and should) have a single tee for each hole.  

As an example, the 5th hole might be 120 yards over a waste area in one week.  The next week, the tee moves, and now the hole plays 58 yards approaching the green from a different angle.  Or maybe another spot for the tee is used and the hole is shorter or longer.  

Fun Golf

Gillespie 9 Golf Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club photo

Mix up the pin placements, and you have seemingly infinite possibilities.  This IS fun.  

The idea is for the Gillespie 9 to challenge beginners or occasional golfers as much as serious golfers. 

“There are very few forced carry shots, so the beginner can get to the putting surface and everybody can putt.” Mandell declared.  The challenge for better golfers will be the small targets on the green complexes and the undulations.  

Mandell called Gillespie 9 ‘Adjustable.’  I say the golf course is ‘Thoughtful’ with so much consideration given to who plays it and how they experience each hole. 

The Gillespie 9 is a proper golf course.

Mandel developed his first short course, the Blue Heron GC, in Maryland some 20 years ago. He has a variety of other projects in the works, which can be found on his website

John Sparrow – Troon Golf

John Sparrow, the General Manager told me there is nothing quite like the Gillespie 9 in the surrounding area.  He mentioned The Cradle at Pinehurst, but they have mats on each tee.  Gillespie 9 is all grass.  

Winter Park 9, outside of Orlando is another municipal short course, though they have par 4s and par 5s.  WP9, as it is widely known, has been a massive success since it was renovated and redesigned in 2016.  

Sparrow works for Troon, the management company the City of Sarasota hired to operate both golf courses. Troon manages more than 500 golf courses around the world, and nothing like the Gillespie 9 exists in its portfolio.  

The idea is for juniors or new golfers to play the Gillespie 9 in 90 minutes. Better players can hone their short game at Gillespie 9, perhaps after a session at the Bobby Jones Golf Club practice range or after a round on the Ross Course.

Sparrow continued “The Gillespie 9 is an ideal environment for bachelor parties, groups, or other events. Also, perfect for evening leagues or weekend tournaments.”  

The walking rate for the Gillespie 9 is $30 and they are working on a reduced rate for golfers playing the Ross Course at Bobby Jones GC. As summer approaches, the rates are coming down so check the website for details.

And for the Gillespie Grand Opening on Friday, May 31st they are planning a Night Golf event. A 9pm shotgun start with glow balls and glow sticks along with prizes and drink packages. Sounds like…wait for it, yes, more Fun!

Night Golf at Gillespie 9 Golf Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida

The Gillespie Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club

You can expect more offers on the Bobby Jones Mobile App or on their Facebook page

What an improvement over the previous Gillespie Executive Course.  Richard Mandell has delivered another innovative golf experience for Sarasota.  Thank you, Richard.

My hope is the Gillespie 9 will be operated in a fashion that allows Mandell’s creative vision to be realized. In the hands of John Sparrow and Troon, I believe (and hope) it will.  

To be continued.


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