Inside the coolest practice facility in college golf, home of the Arizona State Sun Devils

April 3, 2020
Arizona State golf facility

On an overcast weekday morning in January, eager foursomes line up near the 1st tee at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix. About 100 yards away, even more players blast range balls toward the Papago Buttes. Between them, heading along a path that leads up to a sparkling new building, walks Arizona State senior Olivia Mehaffey, the 20th-ranked women’s amateur in the world.

She disappears through the front doors, later joining a couple of teammates sitting around a massive kitchen island, essentially in the middle of one of the best college golf facilities in the nation: The Thunderbirds Golf Complex, home to the Arizona State men’s and women’s golf teams. It’s a golfer’s paradise — and even Phil Mickelson had a hand in this beauty.

Josh Berhow

The Sun Devils moved into the 7,000-square-foot facility after a lengthy stay at Karsten Golf Course, which closed in 2019. This was due to a 2014 agreement between ASU and the city of Phoenix for the university to manage Papago, a muni that first opened in 1963. The Thunderbirds, the host organization for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, made a large contribution for the golf team’s new facility, and The Thunderbirds Golf Complex was unveiled in November 2018. (Papago has had other important developments in the last several years as well. The course underwent a $5.8 million restoration in 2008, and the newly constructed Lou Grubb Clubhouse and Lou’s Bar & Grill opened in September 2018.)

No small detail was overlooked in the creation of the facility. Players are greeted by a lobby oozing with Sun Devil pride, which includes team photos, NCAA title trophies and more accolades. The interior boasts separate men’s and women’s locker rooms, offices, a fitness center, kitchen, lounge area, study room, indoor hitting bars and golf lab.

Josh Berhow

But the best part? That’s outside. This is Phoenix, after all. A 3,000-square-foot patio wraps around the backside of the building and looks out onto a 22,000-square-foot practice range designed by Mickelson, a Sun Devil alum. Mickelson, while working on the project, said the short-game facility would be “the single greatest short-game facility in the country.” His goal was to prioritize functionality.

There’s 5,600 square feet of teeing area made out of synthetic turf (with three types of hitting surfaces) and a six-acre range with 21 targets and seven fairway bunkers. A four-acre short-game area has five practice greens (30,000 square feet) and four bunkers, and a three-acre fairway was designed to simulate any sort of shot shape players need to replicate. Three synthetic turf practice putting pads — all 15 feet x 15 feet — are sprinkled about and have slopes of 2%, 3% and 4%. On the far end of the property, closest to Papago’s routing, is a 10,000-square-foot practice putting green that’s tiered and has specific areas with 1%, 2%, 3% and 4% slopes.

Josh Berhow

Aligned down the center of the range and framed by the Papago Buttes sits eight targets designed by Mickelson to work on wedge control, with targets ranging from 30 to 145 yards.

After getting a tour of the space from Papago GM Daryl Crawford, I tweeted out a photo of the facility with the joke, “I’d never go to class.” ASU men’s coach Matt Thurmond responded with another, saying “Online classes are a wonderful thing!” Touché. Scroll down for more pictures of the amazing facility.

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

Josh Berhow

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