When Bubba came backBubba Watson returned to Pensacola to revitalize a community
June 22, 2021
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
How Bubba Watson helped the Pensacola community grow
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Bubba Watson stands in an open-air seating area atop Blue Wahoos Stadium on a spring morning. Pensacola Bay is visible just beyond the outfield wall.
“You see the reason we were voted the best view in Double-A baseball,” he says. The seats are empty, but it’s easy to envision 5,000 people enjoying America’s pastime in this waterfront setting.
On a game night, you may see Watson on the video board trying to rally the crowd, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” honoring one of the club’s employees atop a dugout between innings or just enjoying the game with his family in their seats behind home plate ($13 apiece per game). His son, Caleb, plays catcher and intensely studies each team’s backstop.
The Blue Wahoos are about more than baseball. The team’s mission? To improve the quality of life for the people living in Pensacola. The ballpark is walking distance from downtown Pensacola, serving as a catalyst for its revitalization.It’s about helping a community be successful.
Watson became an owner in 2015, shortly before his family moved from the Orlando enclave of Isleworth to Pensacola, not far from the small town of Bagdad, Florida, where he grew up. He and wife Angie were looking for a smaller town to raise their two children, Caleb and Dakota. They also wanted to live somewhere where they could have an impact.
“I wanted a plan,” Watson says. “I didn’t just want to come back to a city and be a person here. I wanted to be a part of the city.”
Watson’s involvement is wide-ranging, from a candy store to a driving range, a car dealership to the Studer Family Children’s Hospital located on 1 Bubba Watson Way. He was an investor in the apartment complex and office building that drew people out of the suburbs and back to the city center. The candy store, Bubba’s Sweet Spot, offers an opportunity to give young people a job as they save money for school. The Pensacola Golf Center is a casual atmosphere where people can learn the game that has given him so much. He and Caleb were there on the opening day of the hospital, helping move babies into the new building.The Studer Family Children’s Hospital is located on 1 Bubba Watson Way. (PGA TOUR)
“Yes, he wants to be a great player but he wants to be a great man,” said Watson’s longtime caddie, Ted Scott. “At the end of the day, would you rather be known for the wins or how you help people? As a Christian man, he recognizes that golf is not the most important thing.”
Watson drove by the dealership, now known as Sandy and Bubba’s Milton Chevrolet, as a teenager on the way to the golf course, eyeing the Corvettes each time he passed by. He remembers Sansing not just from the commercials with circus animals but for his sponsorship of the affordable junior tournaments that gave Watson his first taste of competition.
“It isn’t about money,” Watson says. “It’s about helping a community be successful. The people I partner with in business, they all want to give back. It’s about helping the community that helped raise me and become who I am.”
It was a community that needed help.
As recently as 2010, Historic Palafox Street, one of downtown’s main thoroughfares, was full of boarded-up buildings. The population was on the decline. Watson’s return to northwest Florida sent a strong message about a region that had endured difficult times.
“For five decades, we had been exporting talent. It wasn’t because of affordability. It was a lack of opportunity,” said Quint Studer, the Wahoos’ majority owner. “When Bubba came back, it said, ‘If Bubba can come back, I can too.’”The Pensacola Golf Center is a casual atmosphere where people can learn the game of golf. (PGA TOUR)
Pensacola’s population dropped from 1970 to 2010, with the exodus quickening in the latter two decades. The city had 58,200 residents in 1990. Twenty years later, that number dropped to 52,000. Palafox Street, the main street through downtown, transitioned from the center of Pensacola’s commerce and culture to a “ghost town” as residents flocked to the suburbs.
“Everyone left,” a local architect told the Pensacola News-Journal. “Everything was shuttered.”
The population has been on an uptick since. Today, Pensacola’s population is approximately 53,700, according to WorldPopulationReview.com. In 2008, 27% of survey respondents felt Pensacola was headed in the right direction. That number was 64% last year.
The revitalization started with the renovation of the boarded-up buildings on Palafox. New businesses opened in the historic shopfronts. As they succeeded, others followed. Restaurants, art galleries and a concert hall opened. When the Blue Wahoos’ stadium opened in 2012, the momentum really took off and it hasn’t stopped.
Bubba and his wife, Angie, lived in nearby Pace, Florida, from 2004-07 before moving to Arizona. Orlando was their next stop. Watson admits he had to “sweet-talked my beautiful wife” when he started thinking about a move to Pensacola.
Angie grew up in Toronto and was accustomed to big-city living, however. They visited Pensacola several times, staying downtown to attend Blue Wahoos games and experience downtown’s metamorphosis. She was in, and so the Watsons picked up shop. And now the Watson legacy is continuing in northeast Florida.
“We didn’t have anything growing up, but my mom, to this day she volunteers. My dad was the first person to sign up to be a coach in Little League, to be a leader,” Bubba said. “When I say legacy, it’s the Watson name. My parents instilled it in me.
“I want people to realize who I am for my heart, not my golfing ability.”
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Insight into Bubba Waton's golf center in Pensacola