Heres a recipe we havent seen before. Take the following key ingredients: one Nike GV jet, four cities in 48 hours, three PGA TOUR stars - Tiger Woods, David Duval and Jason Gore, a number of key Nike Golf executives, five print journalists, one television reporter (me) and the launch of two new Nike drivers. Mix thoroughly. The result? Nikes Whistle Stop Tour (WST); a media junket extravaganza that, even by Nike standards, is unprecedented.
The assignment given to me by Golf Channel ' create a reporters first person video journal of the trip. Roll tape as much as possible. When in doubt shoot first, beg for forgiveness later. And, oh yeah, interview Tiger Woods. This was going to be fun.
So whos on this plane besides me, anyway? Glad you asked. Nike was represented by Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf; Cindy Davis, domestic general manager; and Beth Gast, Nike Golfs public relations directorthe Whistle Stop Tour was her brainchild. One guy wasnt so lucky with bad weather. Tom Stites, head of club creation for Nike, had been on a hunting trip in Canada and got snowed in. As things stood hed be meeting us in Scottsdale.
From the press there was Mark Soltau from Golf Digest. Marks an interesting chap in that he is also the main content administrator for Tiger Woods official Web site. They met when Mark was a Bay area sports journalist and Tiger was at Stanford. Other Whistle Stop media passengers included Gene Yasuda from Golfweek, Bill Saporito from Time Magazine, and John Garrity from Sports Illustrated. I had a cameraman with me ' MaGoo (Mike McGarry) ' as well a producer, Hegs (Matthew Hegarty).
Now, lets talk about this jet. Too cool for words, but Ill give it a try. James Bond never had it this good. Plush is an understatement. Beautiful burled wood, fit and finish like a Rolls Royce and then some. Wonderfully comfortable living room style seating for 12; you could squeeze 14 if you had to. Galley and bathroom aft, all arranged for ultimate efficiency, service and comfort. The ride was smooth and quiet. No need to raise your voice on this aircraft. What a way to travel. I want one.
Allison, our flight attendant, served a nice breakfast while we all chatted away amiably, had another cup of coffee, read the paper, etc. My producer Hegs seemed right at home, I must say. Kind of looked like Richie Rich sitting there in his sport coat, legs crossed, reading the paper, drinking his coffeelike he owned the joint. Good for Hegs.
About 35 minutes out from touchdown in Los Angeles the conversation quieted. Little notebooks appeared... pads of paper, scraps of paper and the like came out. Everyone was making notes. The journalists, I presume, were thinking about what we would ask Tiger; the Nike execs about what they would say and do in each of their respective roles -- being buttoned up, being professionally prepared and ready to go; it is seriously important when dealing with the No. 1 athlete on the planet. No one wanted to drop the ball on this deal.
A gust of wind hit the GV at what looked to me to be about 200 feet above the runway. I later saw on video how the plane rocked and shifted in air before the wings leveled out again just prior to touchdown. No worries, wheels down, and we made it to Los Angeles. Hawthorne Airport, actually, just across the street from LAX. Captain Blair reported nice weather on the ground as we taxied to the opposite end of the runway and parked at the airports admin building.
Everything happens much quicker where private jet travel is concerned. As soon as the plane came to a stop the door was opened, the stairs folded down and within moments we were all deplaning as the ever smiling Captain Blair bid us good luck.
Fifty feet or so up the nose of the jet were gathered some 40 television cameras and still photographers. Obviously, they must have thought Tiger was on this plane. I was the last passenger off. They didnt look too impressed.
We were hurried in to waiting vans and SUVs ' all shiny and black ' it reminded me of a Secret Service detail. Kind of menacing, really. A caravan of these vehicles made way on a service road to the other end of the runway and stopped in front of an open hanger. It was all readied for Tigers press conference.
No attention to detail was left unattended. There was upbeat music playing, people were milling about, TV cameras were setting up in a long line against the back wall of the hanger. Still photographers roamed about looking for the best vantage point and print journalists readied their pads and tape recorders as they took their seats in front of the stage.
There was an energy in the air. Most distinct, in fact. The kind of electricity you feel in anticipation of something (or someone) unique and special happening. I had previously felt the Tiger factor at the Players Championship a year or two before. On a Tuesday, as Tiger was finishing his practice round, hundreds upon hundreds of spectators gathered near the practice green in anticipation of Tiger making his way off 18 green on his way to the clubhouse. It was like a rock concert had broken out at a golf tournament. People screaming, Tiger, Tigerhere, please sign thisoh, Tiger, pleaseover here, over here. Little kids yelling their heads off and people actually chanting, Ti-ger, Ti-ger, Ti-ger! You had to see it to believe it.
Well, you know how the media is, acting cool and all. No where near that level of exuberance. However, the same electricity was in the air. It was unmistakable. Im not afraid to admit it; I was jazzed up. I mean, I wasnt jumping around yelling Tiger or anything dumb like that, but, my eyes were wide open. I realized this wasnt the kind of thing that happened every day. It was a unique event and everyone knew it was unique. No matter how cool they acted.
As everyone took their seats, a rousing, pounding music video began to play on a huge screen behind the stage. Images of all the Nike Golf tour staff players dashed before our eyesgreat shots, fist pumps, huge smiles, steely-eyed stares. If this didnt get your heart pumping nothing would. The official Nike Whistle Stop Tour was about to begin.