The plan started in 2014 when Arizona State University signed a 30-year agreement to manage Papago Golf Course in Phoenix and make it the future home for its golf teams; the plan came to fruition on Thursday, November 1, 2018 with the official opening of the Thunderbirds Golf Complex at Papago, the new state-of-the-art practice facility and new home of ASU Sun Devil Golf — whose design and funding was spearheaded by ASU alum, Phil Mickelson.
The new home of Sun Devil Golf is made possible through ASU’s partnership with The Thunderbirds, Arizona Golf Community Foundation, the City of Phoenix and Phil Mickelson Design.
Located approximately 4.5 miles northwest of the ASU campus (Tempe), Papago Golf Course (Phoenix) replaces Karsten Golf Course, the school’s on-campus home course since 1989. The Karsten Golf Course is being closed and redeveloped to help pay for athletic capital projects such as the renovation of Sun Devil Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena, the construction of a new multi-purpose hockey arena, and the renovation or development of new facilities for swimming, track and tennis.
Papago Golf Course, with its reputation for scenic desert views, has a long-standing history with Arizona State University as the course that was the home for a number of local standout Sun Devil golf student-athletes, including Billy Mayfair, the late Heather Farr and current Sun Devil Women’s Golf Head Coach Missy Farr-Kaye.
The Thunderbirds Golf Complex is the private practice portion of Papago Golf Course reserved solely for the use by Sun Devil men’s and women’s golf team members. The Thunderbirds Golf Complex, designed by Douglas Fredrickson Architects and built by Rummel Contruction Inc., is a 6,750-square foot facility of indoor air-conditioned space and 3,000 square feet of exterior covered space.
The interior features a grand entry lobby, national championship displays, locker rooms for both men’s and women’s teams, steam room and fitness gym, study lounge, team lounge, indoor-to-outdoor air-conditioned trackman hitting bay, and golf putting lab. Gaining special mention is the putting platform whose special features include hydraulically powered corner lifts capable adjusting the speed and / or break of the practice putt; an overhead computer generated laser light illuminates the break of the putt. One other feature of the putting platform is a SAM stroke analyzer for measuring and analyzing individual putting strokes.
The outdoor portion features a 3,000-square-foot covered outdoor team patio looking toward the six-acre range hitting area with 21 target greens and 7 fairway bunkers; the range’s teeing area is 22,000-square-feet of natural turf and 5,600 square feet of synthetic turf tee area, consisting of three types of hitting surfaces. The dual ground conditions of natural and synthetic carry over to the outdoor putting area.
There are three 15-foot x 15-foot square synthetic turf putting surfaces at 2%, 3% and 4% slope each; these innovative squares are called “Phil Mickelson practice putting pads”. Additionally, three natural grass putting greens, each measuring 10,000 square feet, contain dedicated areas of 1%, 2%, 3% and 4% slopes.
To practice shots that ‘stray’, four practice bunkers totaling 3,600 square feet and a rough area provide the opportunity to practice every possible golf shot needed for high-level competition. Perhaps the pinnacle of the outdoor practice area truly illustrates the genius of Phil Mickelson’s short game wizardry. Phil designed this innovative wedge grid: three synthetic turf teeing areas, each 5 yards apart, hit out toward eight synthetic turf target greens, each 15 yards apart, enabling Sun Devil golfers to fine tune each of their wedge distances to any 5-yard increment between 40 and 145 yards.
“Seeing this project come to fruition is extremely exciting for Sun Devil Golf and the Arizona golf community,” said Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson. “This premier facility will allow our golf programs to build on their strong tradition of winning while training at one of the most impressive facilities in the country. It is evident so many intricate details were considered in order to create innovative practice areas and creatively maximize our footprint at this iconic setting.”
Sun Devil men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond commented, “This facility is the product of the generosity, creativity, vision and hard work of so many people. We all have big hopes and expectations for our golf programs in the coming decades and we all aspire to many championships. This incredible facility will attract the very best talent in the world for many reasons, such as providing the tools to help develop their skills more efficiently.
Phil Mickelson Design and the coaches have thought of every possible shot and skill required to be a world-class player and put it into the ground and into the entire facility, creating a training environment unlike any in the world. This facility is the next piece to compliment Sun Devil Golf’s storied past, creating a surge of momentum for our golf programs into a very bright and sunny future.”
The Thunderbirds Golf Complex is now a reality and source of pride for the entire Sun Devil golf family — a practice facility designed specifically for elite golfers by an elite golfer.