UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – This 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay will feature many things golf fans should love: Breathtaking views. Fescue grasses. The world’s greatest players. What it won’t offer, by all appearances, is a premium fan experience. Trudging up and down those sandy slopes is grueling, and because of the abundance of roped-off areas, tracking individual golfers around the property will be impossible.
Unless you buy one of Phil Mickelson’s periscopes.
You read that correctly. On a late-day run to Chambers’ merchandise tent, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar product called Sportscope. After a quick inspection of the packaging revealed the manufacturer to be “Mickelson Group, Inc,” based in San Diego, I immediately placed a call to the GOLF.com Investigative Unit. In less than an hour, our team of intrepid sleuths scored me a meeting with the founder of the company: 79-year-old Phil Mickelson Sr. The first mystery to solve: Why isn’t Junior’s face on the box?
“Phil wanted to be involved in the company, but he’s not,” Senior said, while seated on a golf cart outside Chambers Bay's souvenir shop. “I thought this should fly all on it’s own. I didn’t want him to endorse it.”
It would be an understatement to say that his son’s face could exponentially add some buzz—and sales dollars—to Sportscope, which has been around since the late ‘90s but has received hardly any media attention. Phil Sr. said that making huge profits was never a primary focus. In fact, this week he donated 500 scopes to the tournament’s volunteers.
“We sell them at a break-even price, plus a little bit of profit,” he said. “We’ve never advertised. Golf has been really good to our family, and I wanted to do something to give back to the game.”
Senior is a spitting image of his famous son but, at 5-foot-10, has a much slighter build. He first got into the periscope business in 1997, when he was gifted one as a tool to help him peek over taller spectators at tournaments. Today nearly 35,000 Sportscopes have been sold, and the two models run $54.50 and $79.50 a pop. (This week at Chambers the less powerful model is on sale for $48.) He dropped one of his periscopes into my lap, and I can verify that they are indeed light, simple to operate and effective. With 250 acres of sprawling dunescape all around us, Chambers Bay might be the perfect venue for Sportscopes. The pricier model has four- to nine-times-adjustable magnification.
“It’s something you have to see and experience to appreciate,” he said proudly.
Mickelson said the PGA Tour used to allow old box-and-mirror periscopes at events, but the units where cheap and clunky, and they were often dumped by fans as litter. The Tour banned them. But it only took one meeting with Tour brass for Phil Sr. to strike a licensing deal. The periscopes have been sold at about a dozen events per season ever since.
Despite all the success, Senior has plans to soon get out of the business. “I want to retire at 80, and I turn 80 next month,” he said. He has a few candidates to take over the operation, but Junior isn't one of them.
As we wrapped up, the GOLF.com Investigation Unit was able to solve one more mystery: the origin of Phil’s height:
“He gets it from his grandfather on his mother’s side,” Senior said with a trademark Mickelson grin.