ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Outside the Tiger Woods Learning Center, visitors arewelcomed with a message etched in concrete and another time.
“Tiger,” it says, “thank you for being an adult role model.”
Inside, past a huge bronze sculpture of Woods and his father in the lobby,eager fifth-graders wielding scalpels and tweezers are busy dissecting squid. Inanother classroom, they’re studying marine science.
Every week brings busloads of kids to the sparkling, new center just a fewgood Tiger tee shots from Disneyland. The center’s mission is to help them thinkabout how different classes—which tilt toward math, science and technology—can lead to a career they’d like.
For the time being, it’s business as usual at the 35,000-square foot center,set next to a municipal golf course in a working-class neighborhood. The falloutfrom the scandal that brought down the school’s benefactor hasn’t intruded, sofar, at a place where Woods always believed he did his best work.
Greg McLaughlin, head of the Tiger Woods Foundation, says the center hasenough financial support to carry on while Woods is on hiatus from golf.
The future is a bit more unsettled, if only because everything about Woodsright now is unsettled. But if McLaughlin is worried, he doesn’t show it.
“We feel pretty confident we’re in a good place right now,” he said. “Wehave a pretty strong financial position which is a tribute to our fundraisingefforts, and I think that will sustain us during Tiger’s indefinite leave.”
While every new day seems to bring a new sighting of Woods and paparazziscramble to get pictures of him and his family, things are decidedly more quietat 1 Tiger Woods Way, where life inside his learning center goes on just as ithas the last few years.
Fifth-graders arrive every morning by bus for their weeklong stay. They seemmore interested in trying to build a rocket or filming a video than they do inthe personal life of the man who made the place possible.
“They haven’t made any comment about it at all,” school director KatherineBihr said.
Woods always seemed destined to become a towering figure in sports, from thetime he appeared on national television as a 2-year-old with a cut-down golfclub to the time he became the first African-American to win the Masters. Withplenty of guidance from his father, Earl, he was equally determined to create alegacy away from the golf course.
Father and son created the Tiger Woods Foundation when he turned pro in1996, and for years it was a constant reminder to Woods that he was making adifference in the lives of kids who wouldn’t know the difference between a9-iron and a putter.
Woods, by most accounts, hasn’t reached out to many people since going intoseclusion. But one of the calls he did make was to assure the foundation he wasnot on a permanent leave of absence.
“He specifically wanted to talk about the foundation and his dedication andcommitment to the kids we served,” McLaughlin said. “I conveyed that to allthe staff and board members.”
Just as important were the calls from donors and sponsors. Like Tiger, theyweren’t bailing, either.
“To the contrary, we’re actually pleased all of our partners are extremelysupportive of our work,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t speculate what might happenin the future, but our partners know the quality of our work.”
How long the Tiger Woods Foundation can continue to fund the learning centerand its other programs at current levels may depend on how long it takes Woodsto rehabilitate his image. Though the foundation has millions in the bank, itsfortunes largely revolve around that of the golfer who started it 14 years ago.
In addition, the foundation likely will have to spend millions on a secondlearning center in Washington that still doesn’t have a site more than two yearsafter it was announced.
Until now, much of the foundation’s money came from events Woods isconnected with, including his own tournament every December near Los Angeles.Chevron signed on as the title sponsor in 2008, declaring it a partnership bornof “shared ideals and commitments.”
The foundation also runs the AT&T National, hosted by Woods in Washington inthe summer. Woods may or may not be playing in the tournament, but the delicatesubject of hosting it was resolved, at least temporarily, when he agreed to laylow this year.
Though AT&T dumped its commercial sponsorship of Woods in the wake of thescandal, the corporation is contracted for the tournament through 2014.
The other two events the foundation relies on for income are the Tiger Jam,an annual concert in Las Vegas, and the food-centric Block Party in SouthernCalifornia. The Tiger Jam, which raises about $1 million a year, would seem tobe most in jeopardy because it is largely dependent on both its host and thewillingness of star music acts to appear with him for the benefit.
“It’s our intent to have a 13th Tiger Jam in 2010,” McLaughlin said.“We’re still working on trying to find a date that would work. It’s alwaysdriven by finding an artist able to perform.”
Though the tournaments and events generate plenty of money, they’re notexactly cash cows for the Woods foundation. According to IRS forms filed for thefiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, they took in $36.2 million but cost $32.7million to produce.
And while Woods has talked of reaching millions of children with his charityefforts, his foundation is relatively small compared with others. Amongsports-related charities alone, the Tiger Woods Foundation ranked 15th on a listcompiled by the nonprofit Foundation Center, just ahead of Henry Aaron’s ChasingThe Dream Foundation.
McLaughlin says the foundation and its related entities have assets of about$99 million. Last year, $4.7 million was spent to run the learning center and$2.8 million was distributed as scholarships and grants to different charitiesand organizations. Figures filed on IRS 990 returns are somewhat lower for ayear earlier, listing assets of $75 million and spending of about $6 million.
The foundation was hit that year by big losses in the stock market,something not unique to Woods’ charity. But the market has rebounded and the twotournaments should provide a steady stream of income at least for the nearfuture. The foundation, meanwhile, still has considerable liquid assets and,even if donations dried up, Woods himself has deep pockets.
Even before Woods became embroiled in a sex scandal, not everyone shared theview that he was doing all he could to help disadvantaged children. Hall of Famerunning back Jim Brown contended last year that Woods “gets away with teachingkids to play golf, and that’s his contribution” to society.
But almost every fifth-grader in Anaheim goes through the learning center,and most have never picked up a golf club. And while the driving range isprominent, the focus is more on science and careers than drivers.
The head of the Anaheim City School District says he’s grateful for thecenter, saying the 20,000 or so kids it has touched in its short existence faroutweighs anything Woods may have done in his personal life.
“Having a resource like the Tiger Woods Learning Center is justincredible,” superintendent Jose Banda said. “It comes down to money,especially with budgets the way they are. The stuff they have is state of theart and expensive stuff.”
On a recent morning, the driving range out the back door was empty. Duringbreaks, the fifth-graders are likelier to be kicking a soccer ball than hittinggolf balls.
This class is mostly Hispanic, and nearly all are from low-income families.Ask if they know who Tiger Woods is, and they’re quick with a response.
“He’s a professional golfer,” one says.
Ask what else they know about Woods and you get little more than a shrug ora smile. If they’ve heard whispers from their parents or watched things on TV,they don’t let on.
McLaughlin, who has known Woods since he offered him an exemption into theLos Angeles Open as a teenager, admits he was initially blindsided by the wholescandal.
“I wasn’t aware of any of the indiscretions that became known, but I cantell you Tiger is a good person and someone I’ve known a long time,” McLaughlinsaid. “What I’ve seen over 20 years seeing his commitment to kids and thefoundation is undeniable.”
Not only will Woods’ charities survive and thrive, McLaughlin maintains, buthis legacy will someday change. He’s convinced there is a higher calling forWoods, one that will someday outweigh his current troubles.
“When his obituary is written, it will say here’s an individual who made atremendous contribution to society,” he said. “When that time comes peoplewill realize what he’s done for millions of kids. You have to think thatultimately this will be a big part of how people view him in life.”