The fabled match between the world’s best amateur, Bobby Jones, and the best professional is part of the history of Sara Bay Country Club.
Founded in 1926, under the original name of Whitfield Estates Country Club, this exclusive club was the centerpiece of Sarasota social activities. The membership included the most distinguished families in the city.
The plan for Whitfield Estates was conceived in 1924 by L.B. Whitfield of Atlanta, GA. The original plan called for a housing development, an 18 hole golf course, hotel, yacht basin, and man-made islands in the bay. In early 1925, Donald Ross was retained as the golf course architect.
Mr. Ross, Bobby Jones, Walter Hatcher (an associate of Ross), and E.H. Price (of Whitfield Estates) walked the property and chose the present site for the layout of the golf course. The home sites were then plotted and Adair Realty was retained as the exclusive selling agent of the property. To ensure the success of the venture, Mr. Adair recruited his personal friend, Robert ‘Bobby’ Jones, to be the assistant sales manager for the real estate surrounding the club.
On February 28, 1926, shortly after its opening, the club was the site of the fabled match between the world’s best amateur, Bobby Jones, and the best professional, Walter Hagen. For the record, Jones recalls in his autobiography that it was the worst “drubbing” he suffered in his career, but went on to say he regarded “Whitfield Estates course as one of the best in America.”
Bobby Jones and Tommy Armour, the club’s first head golf professional, also participated in a series of 7 match play events with fellow golf professionals, 4 of which were played at Whitfield Estates Country Club. Jones and Armour went undefeated, 7-0, in those matches.
The club’s most optimistic plans, however, were interrupted by the worldwide Great Depression. In 1938, the club was renamed North Shore Country Club. The 1940s was a time of change for the club. In April 1940, North Shore Country Club was renamed Sarasota Bay Country Club, reflecting its proximity to Sarasota Bay. In 1940 and 1941 the course, along with Bobby Jones Municipal, was the site of the Senior PGA Championships won by Otto Hackbarth and Jackie Burke, Sr., respectively.
As the entire country was recovering from WWII, Sarasota Bay Country Club was striving to regain its stature as the premier golf and social club on Florida’s west coast. The Club was fortunate to have Bert Montressor assume the responsibilities of the club manager. Bert promoted the renaissance of the Club, and his marketing efforts resulted in a resurgence of membership to the level of the club’s early days.
In 1952, 1953, and 1954, the club was again selected to host a professional golf tournament – the LPGA’s Sarasota Open. Participants included Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Betsy Rawls, and Marlene and Alice Bauer, who lived along the club’s 18th hole. In 1964, the club’s name was shortened to Sara Bay Country Club, as it’s known today. During the ’70s and ’80s, the club was privileged to have Joe Turnesa, winner of 15 PGA events, as a resident teaching pro.
Sara Bay Country Club continues to be chosen for many Florida Golf Association events as well as being a US Open qualifying site. It recently hosted the LPGA Symetra Tour event from 2012 through 2017.
Most recently, in 2018, led by Spence Golf, Inc., the original blueprints were consulted to restore bunkers and greens to Donald Ross’ original intent. Today the newly restored Sara Bay golf course offers all golfers a classic golf experience on a beautiful, historic course.