Donald Ross only built two golf courses in this region of Florida and this one is a real gem worth seeking out. Donald Ross once said, “A course that continually offers problems – one with fight in it, if you please – is the one that keeps players keen for the game.” Like a tough little terrier Sara Bay has some fight in her. The original course was restored and updated over the last two decades by Brian Silva an expert on Ross designs who gave it a lovely new polish with full respect for the original design.
Created in 1926 as the centerpiece of the Whitfield Estates one of Florida’s first golf course communities, Ross gave it all the design features that Ross courses are known for. The greens throughout have the full measure of the distinctive precipice design that we know from Pinehurst #2. The fall offs on most greens are on at least three sides which puts an enormous premium on a player’s decisive intent when pitching and chipping.
Mature growth trees give the holes tactical framing throughout. Fairway bunkers are done in constellations-but always on one side of the fairway-generally the premium drive location is just off the bunkers. Greenside bunkering is very selective but severe-the long holes have free access in front-the shorter ones have hurdles, but in all cases there is a tactical way to play around them if you choose. The greens are very difficult by virtue of the crowning, but what makes it even more challenging is that the surfaces are awesome pure-probably 11 on the stimpmeter on a daily basis. Grain direction on every green is crucial because it will determine the relative speed and direction of every putt. One thing to note is that the two par fives on both sides are in the last three holes so your best scoring opportunities are late in each side.
The club itself has a quiet humility about it. There is no glitz here at all. The clubhouse is understated except for the extraordinary vintage pictures in the lobby of Jones, Hagan, Zaharias, Tommy Armour, and others. The course itself is very simple in it’s presentation. Short yardage driving range-nothing more than a 160 club-makes for lots of finesse practice time. Pitching area is a cart ride away off the first hole. No hole identification markers other than the yardage plate on each tee-so you have to pay attention to the course map to know where you are going. Everyone from the pro to the starter is a low key understated type who just has a confidence in the quality of this place and why people ought to play it.
This is a private club so you will need to arrange to play it through your club professional. If you are in the Sarasota areas it is well worth the effort to seek this out-it is a great walk and a distinctive Ross experience. Playing these greens will be an afternoon to remember all to itself.
(All images from http://www.sarabaycc.org)
Architect: Donald Ross (1926)
Brian Silva (restored 1991/2006)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 72 7021 73.8 136
White 72 6414 71.0 125