Johnson: Lefty envisions Mickelson National as a PGA Tour track and one all can enjoy – Calgary Herald

Way back then, he could stroll around this town, any town you can name for that matter, without being gawked at or pestered.

Certainly without having to face the mini-mob toting voice recorders and pointing cameras that awaited him Thursday morning at the Hamptons.

“I was 14 or 15 and played the Junior Americas Cup,” Phil Mickelson was reminiscing. “It was a little junior event where four people from San Diego and other parts of the western United States would either go down to Mexico or up to Canada to play.

“We ended up playing at Calgary Country Club. It was my first exposure to team golf. I loved it. It was my first exposure to Canada. I thought it was spectacular, beautiful.

“I’ve been to other parts of Canada. And it’s really surreal, the green and the blues of the water, the whitecapped mountains are such surreal colours that we don’t see where I’m from.

“I’ve always loved the golf, I’ve loved Banff Springs, the area.

“To be able to build a golf course in such a beautiful setting is a special opportunity for us.”

With the first local appearance of man whose name it bears, with him actually on-site, rolling up his sleeves, the Mickelson National Golf Club project in conjunction with Windmill Golf seems somehow more immediate, more feasible, more … real.

Lefty, if case you’re wondering, isn’t interested in creating a layout solely to accommodate guys named Tiger or Rory, Jason or Bubba or Justin. Oh, he wants them to be tested, surely, but the aim is also for Joe the 16-handicapper from Springbank or Sid the Sunday duffer to be able to get around without dark post-round thoughts of slinking home, sunken-shouldered, and burying his clubs in some nearby field.

“I feel like golf participation — certainly where I live — is suffering because of, I believe, the over-difficult golf courses that have been created,” said Mickelson, who toured the facility this week. “Where you have to fly balls over hazards to get ’em stopped. Players just don’t have the ability to do that, so they stop playing.

“I want people walking off this golf course saying ‘That was a lot of fun.’ Yet I’m not going to have balls funnel onto greens or big, massive hillsides that just kick balls onto the green.

“I’ll give you an example. A great golf course is Augusta National. Because we go out, very challenging for a good player, the greens are very difficult. But the average guy always finds his ball, never loses his ball, always has a shot, always has a chance to putt the ball onto the green.

“Every player that I’ve played with, all different levels, enjoys playing Augusta National.

“Now I loved playing Whistling Straits at the PGA. I really enjoyed it. A wonderful setup for a major championship. However, every player that plays that golf course is not able to finish all 18 holes. They get down to a pit that’s so deep they can’t get out of it. They end up taking four or five swipes, pick up and go to the next hole.

“I don’t want players to have that experience. I want them to have more of the Augusta experience.”

He doesn’t see that tricky marriage as being an impossible challenge. Far from it.

“It’s really,” stressed Mickelson, “not a juggling act. All it is is just putting in a little bit of thought and effort. You can make golf course playable for the average player and challenging for the Tour player. The way you do that is by creating contained ground areas for the average player to move the ball up along the ground onto the greens or up to the edge of the greens.

“But once you get to the greens you can have more deflection involved off on the sides, challenging chipping areas, challenging pin positions, which makes the player who plays the ball through the air — the Tour player — challenging to fly the ball onto the green.”

The five-time Major winner and his team expect the course itself to be playable in two years, fully ready to roll out in three. The blueprint includes an indoor golf facility in the basement of the clubhouse, housing a practice facility, driving range with nets, putting green, simulator bays and coffee shop that’d keep golf zealots content through the western Canadian winter months.

But the track itself, the variety of it, the broad-based target appeal, is what he and his partners are most pumped about.

And the idea of Phil Mickelson teeing ‘er up in a prestige tournament — say, a Canadian Open — on a Phil Mickelson-designed layout certainly appeals to the man. Much like Jack Nicklaus has played over the years at Muirfield Village.

“It’s one of the greatest honours, from a design standpoint, to have a major golf event held at your golf course,” said Mickelson. “That would be a huge honour for us, a validation of what it was we were trying to create so many years prior to the actual event.

“Right now we’re in the designing, planning and construction phases.

“We don’t take it for granted. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of great courses and opportunities for it, but we think when we get done, putting in a little bit of thought, a little bit of effort and knowledge and experience we think we’re going to be able to.”

The earliest the design group can foresee hosting a major professional tournament is two or three years after the course is fully operational, say, 2019 or 2020. That’d take Phil Mickelson to his 49th or 50th birthday, over three decades removed from his first visit here, to Calgary Country Club, as a junior from San Diego boggled by the scenery.

“Let’s just stay in the near future for now,” he pleaded good-naturedly.

Then, smiling lightly, with the sort of competitive appetite that has won him 42 PGA titles through a lavishly-decorated Hall of Fame career:

“But I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Original Article written by George Johnson of the Calgary Herald can be found here.

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