Review: Mickelson National Golf Club
Reading Time: 13 minutes One of North America’s most anticipated golf courses, read my thoughts on the full 18 hole golf course of this beautiful Calgary golf course.
- Springbank, Alberta
- Private (some holes available for preview play until 2019)
- Phil Mickelson (opening 2020)
It’s not often that Western Canada gets a brand new golf course, let alone one of the magnitude of Mickelson National. Announced in 2015, the idea of the project was to bring a big ballpark golf course to the city of Calgary that had the capability big tournaments. While it delivers on that front, it’s also a fantastic golf course, but it didn’t come without its own hurdles to jump.
Phil Mickelson’s design firm moved 2.5 million cubic meters of dirt BEFORE they started shaping golf holes to transform this barren, prairie farm land into rolling hills. The purist in my questioned it prior; the nerd in me now sees the vision.
Add to the fact that the weather in Southern Alberta has been strange in the past couple years and you have an interesting golf project.
But Mickelson National works, and it works well, and once it fully opens most people will see it as one of the better golf courses in Western Canada. To be frank, it’s damn good, blowing my expectations away.
The golf course starts out with a mid length par 4, playing around 450 yards once the final tips are in. It’s worth noting, this is a 8000 yard golf course, so 450 is absolutely “mid-length.”
That massive bunker down the right side is about 330 over, and it’s some 100 yards. The bunker on the left side is closer to 370, so that’s a good aiming line.
Other than the difficult first tee shot, the approach is fairly simple with a short iron. The green complexes are quite good here, and probably the best part of the golf course.
The 2nd was one of my favorite holes on the property. A longer par 4 at around 480 yards, this hole moves a little to the left and down after getting the ball in play. As you can see, there’s lots of room on this golf course already, but it still demands accuracy. The left bunker plays about 290 to and 310 over, while the right bunker is 330 to and 345 over.
The work here with the bulldozer to turn the flat, barren farm land into rolling hills is very evident on the approach to the second.
There is a little bit of water left of this green complex, but it really shouldn’t come in play.
The third is a dicey little par 3. This is the first introduction to the unfinished nature of the golf course. The bunkering here is a different color and obviously a different sand than the white. It’s more of a brown, natural feel. It obviously doesn’t pop as much and doesn’t play as nice because it’s not the finished product, but I think it looks a little less artificial and I wish the proper sand color to match the palette of the golf course would’ve been part of the design process.
The 3rd is a 220-ish par 3 to a very difficult green.
That back tongue would be so hard with 4 iron or more in your hand.
At the fourth we get our first taste of some of the long par 5’s at Mickelson National. On the card, it’s close to 620 yards, but playing downhill it’s actually gettable in two. The landing area itself acts as a huge kicker slope that you could hit a very long tee shot here. The only thing: get it over the bunker that’s 280 yards or so.The bunker behind the first bunker is not in play, so get up here and hit a big one.
As you work down to the green, there’s a pond up the left side, with some bunkering as well. A fun fact it this green is almost identical to Pebble Beach’s hole 2 in its square footage.
One of Mickelson National’s defining features is the green complexes, and on the 4th the green actually saddles into the middle, with the front right being the highest part. Most of the greens here allow the ground ball, and is actually the defining feature here on this faux links/prairie hybrid golf course.
The 5th is probably the worst hole here, only because the man-made lake is the defining feature. While streams and ponds are a part of Mickelson National, none feel as out of place as the 400 yard (or so) par 4, 5th.
I could see the argument that hugging the left side gives you a better angle into the green as you don’t have to negotiate around the front right bunker and the stream that cuts in front and up the right side of the green (as well as looping around back), but I think for players to be scared enough of that creek and the bunker to try and keep the tee shot left the green complex would have to be quite intense, or the hole would have to be longer so people aren’t hitting wedge in.
The 6th transitions back to a long par 4, moving down the hill at a stout 500 yards. Multiple bunkers look in play off the tee, but to get to the left side of the hole it’s about 270 yards, and to fly all the bunkering it’s just a bit over 300. Most of the carry numbers here are quite huge as it’s built for the PGA Tour.
But where Mickelson National hits its stride is on the long par 4’s, like the 6th here, where even with a long iron in hand you have a lot of options. You can land it short, but you have to be precise. Fly it to the hole and be good, or take your chances right and hope you get the bounce you need to send it towards the green.
A look at the green complex from behind at the 6th:
The 7th is just an all-world drivable par 4 at 315 yards. The size of this golf hole is massive, with copious bunkers staring you in the face.
Laying up right is the easy part, although I do worry about if all the balls will end up in the same spot (I was told they’ve redone a lot of shaping after they came out and hit shots and didn’t like where balls ended up), but down on the right it gives you a very awkward approach up the hill to a perched green complex.
If you still decide to layup, left is better, although it’s 215 yards to fly the bunkering, which would mean 100 yards is out. You’ll have a slightly downhill pitch to an open green, but a harder layup.
And of course if you want to go for it, you can (and I would think lots will). It’s 285 carry over all the bunkering in the fairway, and left will bounce down and should be perfect. This would be my vote for the best hole here.
Hole 8 gives you a bit of relief from the long holes with a short par 3, maxing out at about 175. At Calgary elevation, most will be hitting 8 to wedge, especially with a favorable wind.
Nothing too crazy on the 8th, just a nice switch up from some of the past long holes that defines the front nine. I love the shaping here, though, as it’s clearly quite inspired. Long-left is absolute death, so avoid that. Otherwise, this will be a birdie hole for most.
The 9th ends the front with a birdie opportunity. A par 5 playing closer to 630 yards, this tee shot lets you unwind. It’s about 250 to the bunker in the middle, with a 330 carry over, it’ll be in play for almost everyone. The upper fairway on the left gives you a great view down and let’s the bigger hitter get home in two, and the lower, right fairway is the safer tee shot. A bunker way out there is 370 off the tee, so unless it’s fairly downwind it’ll never be in play–only looks in play. Note in the picture below: that big bunker that looks on the left is actually dead centre in the fairway.
The hole then tumbles down to a nice green complex with a few bunkers one should avoid.
Anything over that bunker on the left should tumble down towards the green, either getting on or being very close. This is ideal for those who like to hit the power fade off the left.
The green complex is huge here, as well. With wedge it’s best to keep it near the hole!
The 10th is already one of the public’s favorite holes, and is a great mid-length par 4. On the card, 420 or so seems fairly benign (it’s a very, very common yardage in Southern Alberta), but this is an all-timer.
The left bunker is 315 yards into it, while the right bunker is 330. For most, those numbers don’t matter; it’s the middle bunker almost everyone will have to negotiate. At about 260 to, and 320 carry right in the middle of the fairway, it’s exactly where you’d want to hit it.
I would think the smart player hits it up the left, giving the best angle into the pushed up, falling off on all angles green complex, while the player whose uncomfortable on the tee will bail out right of the centre bunker because it’s a little more wide.
Missing this green is less than ideal, especially on the right. The kidney shaped green bends around the bunker on the right, and short grass run off areas wrap around the entire green complex.
The 11th is the longest hole on the course, playing 670 yards or so from the back teeing area. I suspect there will be a farther back tee box a hair over 700 if they ever need it.
The huge bunker you see isn’t in play at 215 carry. The bunker left and right however, are in play, being 310 to and 245 to, respectively.
The strategy of this hole relies entirely on the bunker short of the green. At about 70 yards to the middle and 15 paces short of the front edge, it dictates how you’ll play this hole. Because of the nature of Mickelson National, when it fully opens it’ll be quite firm and I imagine a lot of bigger hitters could get here in two with a wind not into (like I had!).
The green is interesting too, with lots of pin-able spots.
The 12th is one of my favorite holes here, without a doubt. Anyone who I’ve spoke to about architecture knows I love a good template, and it’s always fun to see modern adaptations of them. The 510 yard par 4, 12th at Mickelson National, throws a curveball at you. The tee shot is a “grip it and rip it” hole, being fairly wide open. But the landing area is slightly uphill, so most people will have a long iron in.
The more right you go the most you’ll have to use the slope short left of the green, which brings me to the template: redan.
For those who don’t know, a redan is a right to left angled green sloping towards the back, fronted by two huge bunkers on the front left side of the green. In order to be a redan, it has to have a kicker slope short right that bounds the ball towards the green, and it has to slope towards the back edge of the green. The 12th is a reverse redan, going the opposite way.
The creek on the right and pond long is a questionable choice for me, but after playing it once, I would never fire at a pin here. Best to let the slope of the hole bring the ball towards the pin. Anyone who has more than 6 iron in here and fires at a pin is a masochist in my eyes.
The 13th is the second of three long par 4’s in a row. Another 510 yard par 4, it plays straight downhill, with a bunker complex that isn’t in play that catches your eye.
After a very simple tee shot, you’re faced with one of the hardest shots into a green here. The entire front, right and long side of the green falls away, and a massive bunker complex is on the left. This is certainly a do-or-die long iron in.
You can see how hard the back left shelf would be from behind the green. A Sunday pin for sure!
The 14th is the third of three long par 4’s in a row, this time being a little shorter at about 465. It plays downhill, yet again, so hit a good one. It’s 280 to the bunker on the right, and 330 past. Keeping it left off the tee lets the ball tumble back to the centre and hit a longer one.
A hazard on the right side of the green is the main defence here, while a front left pin is pretty dicey.
After the long stretch of holes, you’re greeted with a shreddable finishing stretch starting with the 205 yard par 3, 15th. The RBC Canadian Open has started this new trend called “the rink,” an amphitheatre-like stadium around a par 3 akin to the 16th at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course. This is without a doubt that hole when/if this hosts a RBC Canadian Open.
What’ll make this hole quite difficult is the green complex, which has a lot of movement and internal contouring.
The 16th then is a drivable par 4 at about 315 yards, slightly downhill.
I feel like this hole is a little vanilla. There’s not enough width here to make it interesting, and plays quite tight. Left is a creek and the hole kicks towards that, and the green is quite small. It seems like you’d layup here 99% of the time unless you were 2 down or something coming into the finishing stretch.
The wedge in is quite good, however, to a green sloping away from you and towards the left. Hitting the fairway is key to control distance.
And the best part of this hole is the green surrounds, with harsh collection areas right and long, and a two-tiered green running away.
The 17th is what I’d suspect becomes the signature hole, a 200 or so downhill par 3 with views of the mountains and the Alberta prairieland.
This is a very cool hole in my eyes because it’s a very soft rendition of a Biarritz green; the template from Biarritz, France (NLE) that was brought over here by C.B. MacDonald. It features a massive swale in the middle of the green to divide the front and back portions of the green. This has the same elements, it’s just not a 5 foot swale like some holes feature.
The 18th is interesting for me. I can’t tell if I’m a fan or not, to be completely honest. I’m already not a huge par 5 finishing hole guy, and prefer a mid to long length par 4. But at 540 yards, this has some gambling written all over it in classic Phil style. Water flanks all down the left, and at the bunker in the distance is the play as it’ll bounce down and to the left.
The approach starts to feel quite similar to a famous par 5 at that club in Georgia. I won’t name it, but the creek runs against the green with the bunkering up the left is mimicked off that design.
The only difference: there’s not a huge ridge running down the middle of the green. There also isn’t a massive hook lie front the fairway, which would’ve felt artificial if Phil tried to replicate that.
So there you have it: a golf course not even open yet. There’s 10 preview holes open, which are fairly obvious to see. The rest of the holes won’t open until May, 2020 at the earliest, but having hit some shots on most of the property I’ll say that I enjoy Mickelson National a lot. For me, it’s top 5 in the province, behind Jasper, Banff, Calgary, and Blackhawk–all of which are top 35 in the country. When this opens, I fully expect raters to enjoy this golf course and see it top 30 debut.
One of the best golf courses to open in Canada in recent years, and will be a fantastic tournament host for massive organizations for years to come, Mickelson National should be a must play on everyone’s list. Make sure you get out and try the preview holes by clicking the link here.