He established the Tiger Woods Foundation when he turned pro in 1996, with hopes of empowering kids through programs that supported education, health and welfare.
But the mission statement often got lost amid the hype over his achievements.
Woods has held junior golf clinics, where he dazzled kids with an array of shots. The foundation has a golf tournament to raise money -- the Target World Challenge -- but all anyone remembers is the world-class field of 16 players at Sherwood Country Club.
Woods also stages an annual fund-raising concert in Las Vegas (Tiger Jam), with headliners like Prince, Jessica Alba and Ray Romano.
But what was the foundation about?
'We needed something physically tangible,' Woods said. 'And we came up with the learning center.'
Provided the weather cooperates, the Tiger Woods Learning Center is expected to open this fall on the former driving range at H.G. 'Dad' Miller Golf Course. It will be a 35,000-square-foot building on 14 acres, with seven classrooms, a computer lab and a 250-seat auditorium.
Golf is not too far away.
The project involves rerouting the back nine at Dad Miller and building a new driving range. Outside the learning center will be a large practice area, with an 18-hole putting course at the back end of the property.
Just don't get the idea this will be the West Coast version of the David Leadbetter Academy.
'This is not about golf,' Woods said. 'If they so choose, they can hit balls, and we'll have an instructor there. But that's not the main purpose. We're not here to produce great golfers. We're trying to produce great citizens.'
Woods thinks he can make a more lasting impression through his foundation than anything he does inside the ropes, hard to imagine since his popularity with kids is a result of his performance -- the youngest Masters champion at age 21, the career Grand Slam at 24, and the only player to hold all four professional majors at the same time.
'Once I quit golf, I'm going to devote myself to the foundation,' he said. 'I can last a lot longer doing that than playing golf. Look at it this way. Do you look at Arthur Ashe as a pioneer in tennis, or an amazing humanitarian? It's hard to distinguish between the two. He had such a big impact on the humanitarian level that it superseded what he did on the tennis court. Golf gives me a broader platform because our sport is so global.'
It starts at home, on a piece of land next to a public golf course he played as a kid.
Woods has hired Katherine Bihr, a former middle school principal, as executive director to develop the curriculum.
The learning center will have a day program for grades 4-6 that lasts four weeks, and an after-school program for grades 7-12 that can last up to three months. These kids primarily will come from Orange County. It also will have summer camps for children across the country.
'This is Tiger's project. It was his idea,' said Earl Woods, his father and chairman of the foundation. 'He gave the instructions to have it done, he gave the parameters of how he wanted it. He wants this to be a pilot project for similar facilities across the country.'
The idea grew out of the 'Start Something' program Woods' father created, which was launched in a partnership with Target Stores five years ago to help children ages 8-17 identify their goals and figure out how to achieve them. It already has enrolled 2 million kids from schools and youth programs in all 50 states.
'The best thing we've done so far is the 'Start Something' program, and we wanted to build upon that idea,' Woods said. 'I've done clinics all across the country, but you feel like you're in a three-ring circus -- here today, gone tomorrow. This is going to last longer than any clinic I do. It's something they can take away the rest of their lives. And that's more than I can teach them by hitting any shot.'
The relationship between Woods and Target is unlike more prominent sponsors, such as Nike or Buick. He does not wear or carry the Minneapolis-based chain's logo, nor is he directly paid an endorsement fee from Target.
'What we do with Target has nothing to do with me shooting low scores,' Woods said.
Their partnership began in 1999 with the Target House in Memphis, Tenn., a home for parents and families of children being treated for cancer at St. Jude's. From that came the 'Start Something' program, and Target became title sponsor of Woods' golf tournament in 2002.
'We have a shared commitment to help young people, and it has blossomed in such an amazing way,' said Laysha Ward, vice president of community relations at Target. 'Tiger has been a dynamite partner. He's been willing to lend his time, and his inspiration is critical.'
Woods' foundation works exclusively with children.
Even when it donated $100,000 to tsunami relief efforts in Asia, officials made sure the money went to children who had been orphaned by the catastrophe, or programs that provided foster care and education for children in hospitals throughout Thailand.
'Some people go down the path of cancer research, some go down the path of whatever,' Woods said. 'My whole deal is education. Just look at how I grew up. My parents stressed education over everything else. If I didn't do my homework, I couldn't practice. If I didn't keep my grades up, I couldn't play in tournaments.
'It was natural for me to gravitate toward that.'
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