See the golf course where Phil Mickelson posted a score of 144

February 10, 2020

This is the third in our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world. Got a muni story that needs telling? Send tips to Dylan Dethier or to [email protected].

Nearly a half-century before Phil Mickelson contended on Sunday at Pebble Beach, one of the country’s most expensive public golf courses, he’d carefully ration his quarters at Presidio Hills Golf Course.

“My mom would pack a lunch and drop me off there in the morning with five dollars,” Mickelson wrote in his book, One Magical Sunday. “It would cost $4.50 to play all day and that left me with just enough money to buy two soft drinks — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.”

Safe to say the days of buying a soda with a quarter are long gone. But for nearly 90 years, Presidio Hills has served as a welcoming course to all manner of golfers. The man in charge of building the course in 1932, George Marston, made it clear to architect Billy Bell that even though the holes would be short (the longest, No. 5, clocks in at 94 yards) they’d hardly be straightforward. Trouble would be part of the appeal: holes would be designed to mimic challenging recovery shots, as if golfers had misplayed a tee shot and were now left to solve a riddle.

The first time Mickelson played 18, at the age of 3, he posted a score of 144 on the par-54 layout. By age 7, he birdied No. 18 to break 70.

Presidio Hills hosted some of the best junior golfers in the world from 1968-2002 in the 10-and-under flight of the Junior World Golf Championships. Mickelson won his first title there in 1980. Lorena Ochoa won in 1990, ’91 and ’92. The first time Tiger Woods played in the event, at age 6, he signed the wrong scorecard and was disqualified. No matter; he would go on to take home titles in 1984 and ’85. The course was one of many places where he and Mickelson’s Southern California childhoods overlapped.

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods stares down a putt at Presidio Hills.
San Diego Union-Tribune

The history of the course and its property is a fascinating one. Long before Mickelson, Billy Casper learned to play here, and Craig Stadler, and Pat Perez, too. The clubhouse, historical landmark Le Casa de Carrillo, is particularly remarkable: the 1810 former family home is the oldest standalone dwelling in San Diego.

These days, there are question marks about the future of the course. In 2018, the city rejected a proposal to inject donated money into the course. Instead, light greens fees continue to trickle in, contributing bit by bit to the strained maintenance budget, according to 10 News.

The clever design of Presidio Hills has suffered from a lack of maintenance budget in recent years.

Mickelson belongs to The Bridges now, an exclusive private club in Rancho Santa Fe. But at least until a few years ago, he would bring his kids by Presidio Hills from time to time, to walk and play the same property he frequented as a kid.

There have always been lessons taught at Presidio Hills, lessons about golf and about more than that. The course’s original scorecard included this cheeky plea: “Lord give me grace to make a score so low that even I, when talking of it afterwards, may never need to lie.”

“My parents used to drop me off there every day around eight in the morning and pick me up around six or seven that night,” Mickelson says. “I loved it, I just loved it.”

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