Phil Mickelson’s first foray into Canadian course design has been well worth the wait, and may be championship worthy
For so many years, Phil Mickelson has been can’t-miss entertainment. On the golf course his world-class short game and go-for-it attitude has produced some of the game’s finest shots — and dizzying heartbreaks. And more recently, away from the course, his social media feeds have been chalk-full of gems.
With the opening of Mickelson National in Calgary, Alberta, now you can add "can’t miss" to his golf courses, too.
The new club is part of a 200-home housing development and is public for now. Plans are for it to eventually become a private course when the development is completed, although you can’t actually see any of the homes from the golf course itself.
However, the golf course (which can be played for CAD$125, cart included), is earning rave reviews. After more than a decade of starts and stops, 13 holes opened in summer 2019 and the full 18 opened on June 1. While there is no clubhouse now, there is a 7,000-square-foot project in progress.
Mickelson National is Canada’s most anticipated new course since the 2016 opening of Cabot Cliffs, the sister course to Cabot Links on the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia. Mickelson, 50, a five-time major championship winner, was on site three times. Design partner Rick Smith spent a good deal more time in Calgary, but he continued to work through Mickelson’s vision.
“My hope is that this golf course is enjoyed by all, provides a great golf experience, becomes a special part of Calgary and continues the tradition of great golf courses in Canada,” Mickelson said. “I am so proud of the golf course and fortunate to work with great land and incredible mountain views. The design is big, bold, visually intimidating and reflective of the beautiful Alberta landscape.”
This is Mickelson’s first foray into course design in Canada. He’s also got projects in the works in Asia and, in 2001, had a hand in designing the Lower Course at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The three-time Masters champion said he tried to design a golf course that was suited to all levels.
“The golf course is a challenge for the good player because of the length, angles of play and the option to play aggressively through the air and forced to carry hazards and bunkers with precision to attack pins,” he said. “However, for the higher handicap golfer such as my Dad, it was important to minimize forced carries and provide a safer route to a wide playable area with an option to play the ball along the ground using the designed fairway contours helping feed the ball toward the green.”
But while the general public has begun to enjoy Mickelson National, what about the best in the world?
Calgary is already home to one of the most celebrated PGA Tour Champions events on the schedule as the Shaw Charity Classic has won that Tour’s top tournament honor three times. Also, the LPGA Tour’s CP Women’s Open is on an east-west Canada rotation — it was last in Calgary in 2016. So what about the RBC Canadian Open?
“I really hope so and I definitely think it can be,” said Barry Ehlert, the managing partner of the Windmill Group, the golf course ownership group of which Mickelson National is the crown jewel.
“I think it’s been well reported that I’ve had aspirations to host big events but really, the last 4-5 years I’ve not pushed that agenda and just pushed the best possible golf course we could and I think we’ve done that.
“Now that the golf course is opened and we are building our clubhouse in its entirety, then it’s up to the people who make those decisions.”
Canada has just been awarded another Presidents Cup — the 2024 at Royal Montreal – and RBC has made intentions clear that it plans to keep the Canadian Open in the Greater Toronto Area for at least the time being.
Mickelson, in an interview with Links Magazine in July, said he considered what having crowds in place around various holes would be like.
“While creating and shaping the bold contours and massive landforms we incorporated elevated hillside areas throughout the course that are ideal for fan access, seating and hospitality to host a LPGA, PGA or Champions Tour event,” he said.
On the scorecard the course plays from just 4,700 yards up to 7,400 yards — and could be stretched to nearly 8,000 yards if necessary — and features two driveable par 4s, which makes total sense for a course designed by Mickelson.
The par 3s are as fine a collection as there is in Western Canada, according to those who have teed it up already. The highlight appears to be No. 17. “Postcard potential,” according to Postmedia Calgary reporter Wes Gilbertson, who says there is long-range views of the Rocky Mountains.
Regardless of what events may come to Mickelson National eventually, one thing is for sure: the course has done a great job to live up to its hype.
“I don’t believe there is a golf course like this in Canada,” Ehlert said. “I’m not going to portray we’re the best, but I know it’s unique. We’ve poured our heart and soul into it. We’ve got a lot in front of us still and we’ve got some steady work ahead of us, but it’s fun for sure.”
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