Mickelson National Golf Club | Mickelson’s Grand Plans in Calgary
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Mickelson’s Grand Plans in Calgary

Posted: 15 Sep 2015 Sam Schultz News

Phil Mickelson last played Oakville, Ont.,’s Glen Abbey GC in 2004. It was the same week he signed with Callaway and officially opened, what was then, Callaway’s Canadian headquarters in nearby Concord.

Just over a decade later the five-time major champion is renewing acquaintances with Canada by beginning the process of placing his signature on Canada’s golfing landscape, the same way Jack Nicklaus did when he was commissioned by the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now Golf Canada) to design Glen Abbey back in 1975.

Mickelson will do so by applying similar kinds of synergies to Calgary’s Mickelson National Golf Club that the Golden Bear used in the creation of Canada’s first permanent home for its national open championship 40 years ago. That includes a spectator type viewing experience that might well set a new standard. Glen Abbey continues to be recognized even today as one of the best spectator courses in the world.

“We were given a blank canvas here,” Mickelson said, “and as long as we put in the thought and effort to come at it from all different angles I think we’re going to create something that will be enjoyable for the average guy to play, challenging for the tour player and, in addition to that, enjoyable for spectators who come out and watch.”

Last Thursday Mickelson flew to Calgary to roll out his vision for Alberta’s newest major golf development. He did so first to media, then to about 70 members who have already shelled out $40,000 to join the course that’s being co-developed by Windmill Golf Group and Phil Mickelson Design (PMD) and is still three years away from officially opening. Mickelson and Windmill managing partner Barry Ehlert believe an RBC Canadian Open at Mickelson National is possible as early as 2021 or 2022. Also mentioned a couple of times by the luminaries was the potential for a Presidents Cup.

“We don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” said Ehlert, who, like Mickelson, is adamant about wanting a national open in the province of Alberta. “We want to get the golf course built then we’ll have to make tweaks and changes and play some kind of test event. It will be a minimum of two to three years after we open.”

Like Nicklaus did with the Abbey, Mickelson and his lead associate Rick Smith will build a course that will challenge the best players in the world while engaging average players with a user-friendly, bucket-list type experience. At the same time, Mickelson National GC will become the centrepiece of an upscale 1,800-acre community called Harmony. When complete it will have a population of about 10,000 people. Nicklausbuilt Glen Abbey with the full knowledge there would be a residential component on part of its perimeter.

“It’s just a little bit of thought and effort,” Mickelson explained when I asked if it was delicate balancing act to build a course that needs to meet the requirements for a PGA Tour event as well as all types of golfers. “When you put that in you can make a golf course challenging for the tour player and playable for the average player. You do that by creating contained ground areas for those average players so they can move the ball up along the ground to the greens. Once you get to the greens though you can employ more deflection off to the sides, challenging chipping areas, challenging pin positions for the tour player who flies the ball through the air.”

Asked if Mickelson National can be compared with any other courses he’s either played or designed Mickelson shook his head.

“There’s nothing we’ve done out here that copies holes per say but there are pieces of courses Rick and I have shared together, talked about together or played together throughout the world. We’ve tried to put those characteristics into each hole,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson National will be the proverbial big ballpark. It is being constructed on 240 acres with 80 million cubic yards of earth being moved to create textures and pitch that will blend seamlessly with the accompanying terrain and Rocky Mountains backdrop. It will come in at just over 7,800 yards and play as a par 72. A provision to stretch the 18 holes out to 8,000 yards to counteract the region’s thinner air for a tour event is likely.

“The site is very bold,” said Smith, “but it’s going to be extremely playable. We’re integrating some very unique things into this design. Each hole has its own character. Every hole is different; every green complex is different. Phil and me are very sensitive to how the common golfer plays, very sensitive to the beginner and how they play, to the senior player, sensitive to the gals who should be hitting the same iron shots the guys are hitting, not just the same yardage but the same shot type. We’re sensitive to that one word —fun. This is going to be fun.”

It seems nothing has been left to chance. Mickelson and Smith will use Mike Oliphant and Oliphant Design Companies team of world-class shapers for the construction phase of the project. Having just finished up at Cape Breton, N.S.’s Cabot Cliffs, they are now immersed in Mickelson National. Mike Angus, director of golf design and development for Phil Mickelson Design, is also heavily involved in the engineering aspects of the new facility.

“We’re working with really, really talented people who see and share the vision we have here,” Smith said.

There are no plans to make this look like a stadium course in any way. It’s actually just the opposite. Mickelson and Smith will take advantage of multiple areas of fescue and shrubbery seeking a very natural contrast and backdrop for the golf course while giving it a very distinct links flavour in terms of playability.

“When the tournaments come we’ll cut down the fescue and make it smoother and have little bumps and ridges for people to sit and enjoy the action,” Mickelson said. “There are areas where you will be able to see multiple holes at once.”

I can attest. Following lunch a couple of us were escorted out to the site by Kevin Thistle, now the VP of business development for Mickelson National where Oliphant’s crew and up to 70 scrapers are already commencing with the build. Standing near the 11th tee box, for example, allows full viewing to five holes including the ninth and 18th. Similar type areas will be utilized around the course. One very cool component will be a corridor that brings together multiple par 3s, including the third, eighth and 17th holes.

“When we have this kind of golf course that’s on this kind of scale it will lose some of the intimacy and feel,” said Mickelson during the press conference. “In the middle of the course we tried to create meeting points, tee box areas where you will be able to converse with other players. So it makes it feel smaller, and a more intimate course and setting. What it also does is it gives you a chance to have three-, four- and five-hole routes or loops.”

Plans are also being implemented to play the first and 18th holes in reverse. Another well considered initiative for the course and the development is family. To do that Mickelson and Smith will create a set of entry-level junior golf tees.

“In the grading process of each hole we’re levelling tee boxes for the kids, roughly 50 yards on Par 3s, 100 yards on Par 4s and 150 yards on par 5s,” Smith explained. “This is a family development. We want families; we want kids, older folks, men and women. Mickelson National Golf Club is going to appeal to everyone.”

In Part II of this blog I’ll have thoughts from Mickelson’s manager and business partner Steve Loy on the branding opportunity Mickelson National presents, more from Mickelson and Smith on their philosophy of design and from Ehlert on the business aspects of Mickelson National Golf Club going forward.

Original article written by Rick Young for Score Golf.