SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota has been closed since the start of the pandemic. The city opened the site up to the public in May 2020 as a nature trail.

Over the years, there have been growing concerns about the future of the 260+ acre site.

“The fear was that we knew that it is such a precious piece of land within the city limits that developers would end up wanting to try to vie for it and it would be really tempting for the city to try to sell off a piece of it. We wanted to make sure it got conserved as soon as possible,” said city resident Nancy Millholland.

During a commission meeting Monday, city officials closed the door to that possibility in a unanimous vote. The site of Bobby Jones Golf Club will be conserved in perpetuity.

What the city commissioners agreed to was placing a conservation easement on the property. That easement will limit the use of recreation, parkland, and green space permanently.

Mayor Erik Arroyo called Monday’s decision ‘monumental’.

“It is the first time that we will be conserving public land in perpetuity in the City of Sarasota. It is the first time we are placing a conservation easement on public land. This is over 200 acres that will essentially be the Central Park of the city. It is the largest landmass that is public within city limits.

Mayor Arroyo pointed out concerns about developments further east and how the site at Bobby Jones Golf Club may be able to help.

“We are finding that the development that is going out east is impacting us here because the water flows this way. Bobby Jones filters billions of gallons of water every single year before it goes into the bay. It affects our drinking water, it affects the watershed, our quality of life and this just made sense,” said the mayor. “We have been discussing a partnership with the Conservation Foundation for years. Now they will hold us accountable and they will ensure that we use this land for its intended purposes,” he continued.

President of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast Christine P. Johnson called the decision by city commissioners a historic moment.

“I just want to take a moment to say thank you to the city commissioners, thank you to the city staff and thank you to the army of people in this community who took the time to write, call, email, meet with the city commissioners and voice their concern for this. Without that army of community support, I don’t know if this could have gotten done so we are very grateful,” said Johnson.

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is now in charge of ensuring the 260+ acre site is never developed and it’s protected in the values of the conservation easement agreement in perpetuity.

“It is monumental for a municipality like the City of Sarasota to give up some of their rights to develop this property. They recognize how important it is not only two people and recreation, but as well to the environment, for our water quality, for our water storage as sea levels rise. This property has so many benefits for people and nature,” said Johnson.

As for the future of the site, there will be some changes. The golf course will be downsized from 45 holes to 27 holes.

The historic 18-hole Donald Ross golf course will be restored and open to the public as early as November this year. There will also be a new 9-hole adjustable course and clubhouse constructed along with a driving range. The 9-hole course is slated to be finished by January 2023.

The smaller golf course will allow space for a 150-acre nature park. There are also plans to utilize the site to improve water quality. Wetlands will be created to filter stormwater as it flows through the property and into Sarasota Bay.

“This is something that really sets a precedent within the City Of Sarasota to say that we care about conservation and we want to see this happen more,” said Milholland.