CALGARY-As Phil Mickelson explained plans for Mickelson National, which is still a couple of years away from completion, last week, he did what many of us love to do, touching on a kid moment that made the game so special to him back home in San Diego.
“One of my favourite moments was spending time with my father after school. He’d pick me up, we’d go play golf. We would get stuck on the golf course in dark. We’d have to hike back through the dark,” he recalled.
“We’d have to hike down a canyon and back up in the pitch black, but we would play until dark,” he said, adding that shorter routes would be available once Mickelson National opened, so parents and kids to get in a few holes before the sun set, which makes sense with it being part of housing development.
Part of that plan is to make it so parents and kids or anybody else can play the first and 10th holes in reverse to get back to the clubhouse.
“By creating these routes where you can play two-hole, five-hole, six-hole, seven-hole routings and get back to the clubhouse, not just though nine or 18 (holes), it gives players a chance to come out later in the evening with their kids and play a few holes before dark and get back to the clubhouse,” he said.
As Mickelson explained the concept, a flashback struck from over 18 years ago when Lorie Kane was beginning to make her mark on the LPGA Tour. Her dad Jack, who worked at Brudenell River in Prince Edward Island told a story that almost previewed Mickelson’s thoughts in 2015.
When the golf course wasn’t too busy, he and manager Harry Simmonds would sneak away for a game of “up one, down 18,” a quickie two-hole contest that didn’t take them too far from the clubhouse, so no harm, no foul as they played for Cokes. Lorie would also join in.
Just days later, Greg Norman was quoted in this story as saying it’s time for golf to get its “crap together,” in enticing the next generation to the game.
While Mickelson didn’t mention dress codes, music and other topics that the Shark touched on, he was clearly focused on kids, high handicappers, women and families, all demographics needed to sustain the game going forward.
His namesake course, backed by the Windmill Golf Group, is touted as a future site of the RBC Canadian Open and other high-profile events, perhaps a future Presidents Cup and while that understandably came up with Mickelson, it was far from the main topic of conversation.
“The expressed purpose is to create a family development that all players enjoy, that introduces the game to young kids, that’s enjoyable for players of all ages and skill levels, but also in the back of our minds, the opportunity to host and showcase a PGA Tour event where it can be challenging for the tour player and also enjoyable for the spectators,” he said.
At this point, that may seem like getting the party leaders in the current federal election to agree on something. Mickelson, however, says it can be done.
“It’s really not a juggling act. All it is is just putting a little bit of thought and effort. When you put a little bit of thought and effort, you can make a golf course playable for the average player and challenging for the tour player,” he said.
“The way you do that is by creating contained ground areas for the average player to move the ball up along the ground on to the greens, or up to the edge of the greens,” he said.
“Once you get to the greens, you can have more deflections involved, going off on the sides, challenging chipping areas, challenging pin positions, which make the player who plays the ball through the air, the tour player, challenged to fly the ball on to the green,” said Mickelson.
A couple of the world’s best-known golf courses illustrate his point, he says, including the one we turn to for the unofficial start to the golf season in Canada.
It’s important to remember that Augusta National is not only used for the Masters, but also has members and guests who use it the rest of the years.
“A great golf course is Augusta National because we go out there, it’s challenging for the good player. The greens are very difficult, but the average guy always find his ball, never loses his ball, always has a shot, always has a chance to putt the ball onto the green,” said Mickelson.
“Every player that I’ve ever played with from all different levels enjoys playing Augusta National,” he says, adding that other high-profile courses are more limited when it comes to who should be playing them.
“I loved playing Whistling Straits at the PGA (Championship). I really enjoyed it. I think it’s a wonderful site for a major championship. However, every player that plays that golf course is not able to finish all 18 holes,” he said, adding that many will pick up and move on if caught in one of the hazards there.
“I want players to enjoy the experience. I want them to have more of the Augusta experience of enjoying the round, always having a shot, finding his ball, being able to advance it and it being very playable,” said Mickelson.
Of course, don’t expect to see a multitude of kids on Augusta on any given day throughout the year, a situation that will be completely different at Mickelson National if he and his design has any effect on it.
As Norman pointed out, it’s time for golf to quit relying so heavily on baby boomers, a stand that Mickelson takes through his design.
“I think that junior golf is a very big part of the game of golf. This is a family development. We want families, we want kids, we want older players and women to play this game and to enjoy this golf course,” said Mickelson.
“In the grading process here, on each hole, we will have a leveled tee box for the kids. On par threes, they’ll be roughly 50 yards short of the green, roughly. On the par fours, it will be roughly 100 and on the par fives, roughly 150 yards,” he added.
“Downhill, we’ll make it a little bit longer. If it’s uphill, we’ll make it a little bit shorter, but we’ll have a designated area, an actual tee box, leveled out somewhere in the fairway to give the kid a run-up shot into the green,” he said.
“This will also give the parent an opportunity to play the hole on a par four, hit his tee shot, hit his second shot and get up to the kid’s tee ball to where he can start his hole, so it doesn’t hold up play, but it gives the kid a chance to really keep score,” said Mickelson.
For years, golf was fixated on the tour and it’s effects on golf courses. At one point, officials from various associations even said classic courses were being outdated by the distance players were getting through improved equipment technology and for other reasons.
If they were being outdated, somebody forgot to tell the average players who pay green fees and memberships.
“The first thing is to make it enjoyable for the average guy,” said Mickelson.
“So many players, the majority of all golfers, do not have the physical ability to fly the ball over a hazard and get it to stop on the green,” he added.
“People enjoy links golf so much because you can run balls up on to the green and that was a mainstay or an important thing on every hole here, to have the ground contain the ball and help get it up to the green, as opposed to deflecting it off into trouble, giving it a run-up shot into every single green,” said Mickelson.
“To make it challenging for the tour player, once we get the ball to the green, then we’ll create difficulties around the green, the tough pins, the difficult half of the green that we can hide pins and make it challenging for the top players,” said Mickelson, adding that he’s also focused on creating an experience for spectators.
“We were given a blank canvas and as long as we put in 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, an enjoyable experience for the spectators to come out and watch,” he said.