Mickelson Opens McDowell Mountain Golf Club
By John Davis, GWAA
From the Arizona Golf Authority AZGA Golf News Desk
Mickelson announced this week that he and his manager Steve Loy, the CEO of Gaylord Sports Management, have formed the M Club and become the owners of McDowell Mountain Golf Club, a daily-fee course formerly known as Sanctuary Golf Club that recently underwent a major renovation.
It is one of four golf properties that have been purchased by the pair as part of the M Club (M as in Mickelson) master plan, which ultimately will offer full access to about 10 courses – public and private – at rates far less than golfers would normally pay for multiple memberships.
“In this day and age, it really doesn’t make any sense financially for golfers to pay membership fees at five or six golf clubs in order to have a variety of playing experiences,” Mickelson said. “We need to change that in a way so that golfers can have a private club experience at an affordable price.”
The concept, Loy said, is one that Mickelson came up with two years ago when the economy sagged and golf participation suffered with it. Along with McDowell Mountain Ranch, they now own Palm Valley Golf Club (with two courses) in Goodyear and the Rim Club and Chaparral Pines, which were built as private clubs, in Payson. They are negotiating to acquire several more courses in Arizona, including Blackstone Country Club in Peoria. Golf insiders say Quintero Golf Club near Lake Pleasant also is on the shopping list.
Plans call for the M Club to launch Nov. 1 with members paying an initiation fee of $5,000 and monthly dues of $605 to belong to all of the courses in the stable. All will be in Arizona, primarily in the metro Phoenix area and the club concierge will operate at Gaylord’s offices in Scottsdale.
“We’re convinced this is a winning play to increase options for private club members and give public golfers a private club experience,” Mickelson said. “From a selfish standpoint, I see this as a way to help grow the game and that’s important to me because the game has given me so much.”
The goal of the McDowell Mountain Ranch project was to make it a more family-oriented club that was a better fit with the overall development at the base of the McDowell Mountain Preserve. Randy Heckenkemper, who was the original designer, also handled the renovation.
Heckenkemper widened the playing corridors, added some waste bunkers, reshaped several fairways, reworked bunkering, added new tees on several holes and “flipped” the two nines to create a more dramatic finish.
More than 20,000 cubic yards of reshaping was done throughout the course, a half-million square feet of decomposed granite was added to desert areas to create more forgiveness on errant shots, and almost four miles of new hand-stacked rock walls added more aesthetic appeal.
“This is really the first time that we’ve ever had owners who emphasized the playability factors,’’ said Heckenkemper, who designed Sanctuary in 1999.
The new design offers 80 acres of turf, compared with 72 acres on the original layout, but Heckenkemper pointed out that adding the waste bunkers actually provides more than 90 acres of playing surface. The renovation project was completed in just 100 days.
Mickelson said that, although the changes improved playability for the average golfer, they also added challenges for the low-handicapper. The new tees added 460 yards from the tips, where the course now plays at 7,072 yards.
“We wanted to create an experience for all players that provides an enjoyable round of golf regardless of abilities,” Mickelson said. “We wanted to present demanding shots for the better players but give the average player more shot options. We reduced the number of forced carries and provided opportunities to run shots up to many of the greens.”
Mickelson noted that it was important to make the course integral with the McDowell Mountain community. More than 1,000 residents attended a “soft” rollout of the new course on Oct. 10 and more than 250 VIPs and media members showed up for the grand opening one day later, including Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.
“This is the type of project we encourage and are proud to be part of as it helps to revitalize and regenerate enthusiasm in Scottsdale,” Lane said. “We worked hard to ensure that all required approvals were handled quickly and efficiently to ensure the process was smooth. The focus on family golf is consistent with the Scottsdale experience and product.”
The city and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation own the property where the course sets, making Loy and Mickelson “leased owners.” Other plans for the course include adding a Rick Smith Teaching Academy and a Callaway Golf Fitting Center.
“We had a vision for McDowell Mountain to make it enjoyable for families, where parents and kids would learn the game, get fit for clubs and enjoy a playable golf course,” said Mickelson, who has won 39 PGA Tour titles, including four majors and two Phoenix Opens.
“There are more than 4,000 homes surrounding McDowell Mountain Golf Club and we want this facility to be a place where kids are welcome, along with their parents. The changes made will make the course fun and playable for the average golfer and if they have fun, they will come back. But it won’t be a pushover for the better player. If I want to come out and play from the back tees, I will need to play well to shoot a number.”
Loy, who was Mickelson’s coach at Arizona State University, gave him credit for the M Club concept, and Mickelson in turn gave Loy kudos for putting all facets of the project together and making them work.
This might not be an ideal time to buy properties in a struggling industry, but their partnership has been able to purchase them for about one-third of their original cost.
“I don’t know if it’s the stupidity talking or the money walking,’’ Loy cracked. “But we’re very proud of the product we’re putting together. The whole emphasis is having fun and making golf affordable, especially for families. (McDowell Mountain Ranch) will be the best value course in Scottsdale.”
For golfers who are not M Club members, the green fee will range from $69 to $135, depending on the season. Golfers also can join a Player’s Club, which essentially cuts the green fee in half. An introductory rate of $119 for that program is in effect until Nov. 15.
OB Sports manages all four courses currently in the M Club and Chris Johnson remains as general manager of McDowell Mountain Ranch in a position similar to the one he held at Sanctuary.
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