Last Updated on Monday, 13 October 2014 12:12
Monday, 13 October 2014 10:52
by Gord Montgomery
The Mickelson National Golf Club, now under construction near Calgary, will be a one-of-a-kind facility in that area, and perhaps even in all of Alberta, says the man in charge of the operation, Barry Ehlert.
In a phone interview, Ehlert, who heads up the Windmill Golf Group, said the idea of a high-end golf course in that part of the province is what is missing from the sport’s landscape at present.
“As candid as I can be, I don’t think there’s a course like this that exists,” he began of what’s available for people looking for an exclusive club membership.
“I’ve travelled all over the U.S. and seen some very high-end, exclusive facilities and this doesn’t exist in the Calgary area. Not even close. So when we said 'what is the niche in the market' - we believed that’s what it is.”
This is a project that actually began a number of years ago but due to the downturn in the economy was put on ice when it had Johnny Miller’s name attached.
When the same idea was resurrected in the recent past, a bigger and more popular name was brought forward as Lefty came on-board. As for bringing the multi-major winning PGA TOUR player into the fold, Ehlert said the backers decided right from the get-go they wanted a big name tied into this effort and of course Mickelson is one of the biggest in the game today.
“Regarding Phil in particular, we said we wanted to be associated with the biggest brand we could have and we think he brings something very unique to the table,” Ehlert continued about signing the mega-star to a contractual deal to design what will be a private layout when done.
“Obviously he’s got the design eye and understands what makes golf good. He’s was kind of the first person we reached out to and it took a long time to make sure everybody was comfortable with the direction we were going and that his organization and our organization would be a fit, but over time it all came together and looks like it will be a good situation for both of us.”
As for the man himself, Mickelson said in a post on the Windmill Golf Group’s homepage he’s looking forward to the project that will feature rolling hills and mountain views from its fairways and greens. As well, it will be a lengthy journey for players teeing it up from the tips at a spot it is hoped will one day be home to a PGA TOUR event.
“I could not be more excited about the partnership we’ve formed for my first signature golf course in Canada,” said Mickelson in that online post. “The Calgary area has a huge number of golf fans and players and we plan to create an outstanding golf course – one that’s both fun for amateurs and challenging enough to host the world’s best players in a PGA TOUR event.”
On a schematic posted online, the new track looks to be a beast, measuring out from the tips at almost 8,000 yards.
A taste of the holes that will help the designer reach that distance are the fourth, a 630-yard monster that doglegs right and has water all the way down that side of the fairway, and then two holes later, a behemoth par 4 of over 500 yards that comes up the other side of the massive water feature.
And if that’s not enough to make your scorecard’s numbers head in the wrong direction, the two par 5s on the backside of this track are also rather intimidating — measuring out at 640 yards and then 650 on holes 12 and 15.
To top everything off, the final journey on this deluxe course is a par 4 that is 550 yards from top to bottom, with water guarding the left side of its fairway from about the halfway mark in.
While they now have the Mickelson brand tied to the new course, Ehlert said it wasn’t an easy task landing this big of a name. It took a lot of time and effort to come to terms with the well-known franchise but the Mickelson name will pay off in the long run, he suggested.
“It definitely took time because he only wants to do 20 (course designs) in his entire life. He’s done a couple in China and he’s doing Torrey Pines North … a lot of it was getting to know him and him getting to know us and making sure our mission and what we want to actually accomplish are aligned perfectly.”
Ehlert agreed that while sticking a big name like Mickelson’s onto a new golf course is one thing, seeing the project through to completion is quite another.
When asked about past failures of courses in Western Canada that had big names behind them, such as The Ponderosa, among others, in Peachland, B.C., that had the Greg Norman name all over it but is now dormant, Ehlert said this undertaking is different and thus won’t follow in those same ill-fated footsteps.
“I think the projects you mentioned, those weren’t golf people,” he began. “Those were development opportunities or first-time golf owners or something like that who didn’t have any idea of what they were doing. It would be like me going into the oil and gas business in Calgary; I’d have no clue what I was doing.
“To me, it’s about the organization. This will be project number eight that we own and operate. And it won’t be the first high-end golf course either.
I own the Wilderness Club in Montana which is in the top-100 golf courses in the United States. It’s a Faldo-designed facility so we know what it takes to get these projects off the ground and we know it doesn’t happen overnight.”
While Ehlert wouldn’t say where the funding for this newest golf gem is coming from, including the fee for Mickelson’s input, he did say “it comes from different sources and a lot of it is internal.”
In regard to the PGA star’s input on the layout, Ehlert said Mickelson would be a hands-on kind of guy.
image courtesy pmd
The Mickelson Design Team: (L-R) Mike Angus, Mickelson And Rick Smith
“Oh, he’ll sign off on everything that goes through and he’ll approve every hole as they’re built. He’ll be on-site and at the end of the day any and all decisions will reside with him because, you know, at the end of the day it’s his name associated with the project and he has to be comfortable with it.”
In speaking to the expected construction timeline, Ehlert said the hopes are to have members swinging their sticks on the new Mickelson National Golf Club of Canada’s turf sometime in 2017. Right now the work is all underground “so you won’t see any buggies running around out there yet, but any day now we’ll be moving onto the course.”
As to this new track being private, Ehlert said there had been plenty of discussion about it perhaps opening its doors as an upscale public facility, but that was decided against.
“When it comes down to it, like I said a few minutes ago, the niche in Calgary is for a high-end, private ...and I think it will be more than high end. It will be very exclusive. We’re selling memberships now; taking registrations, ” as an unfilled niche in the Calgary golf market, and perhaps even the provincial market, begins to be filled by one of the world’s best known names in the golf game today.
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is a retired sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past six years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta although he likes to roam when given the chance.
By Gord Montgomery
Gord Montgomery is a retired sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He is now in his ninth year of writing for Inside Golf. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also on Twitter at @gordinsidegolf and on Instagram at @gordinsidegolf2.
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