If Woods is going to build a new life, the folks who have invested their hearts and souls in returning the Honda Classic to its former status as one of the PGA Tour’s elite events would love hearing that he plans to do so with South Florida as his new home.
Woods created yet another buzz in the game this week with news that he’s returned from rehab to the Isleworth community he calls home and that he’s back on the range hitting balls.
What’s happening in Tiger’s home, where he’ll ultimately call home, may be personal matters but they are also relevant developments to the Honda Classic’s future.
The tournament is being rebuilt so formidably Woods looks like he could be the last piece in the event’s renaissance.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the field,” said England’s Paul Casey, runner up at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago. “It’s stacked with the world’s best.”
Four of the top 10 in the world rankings are here. There’s No. 4 Lee Westwood, No. 6 Casey, No. 9 Rory McIlroy and No. 10 Padraig Harrington. There are plenty of other big names. There’s Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, J.B. Holmes, Trevor Immelman and Rickie Fowler.
Corporate sponsors may be distancing themselves from Woods, polls may be showing that his popularity is plummeting, but the Palm Beach residents rebuilding the Honda Classic can’t wait to welcome him to South Florida.
That’s if he still plans to move here after his fall from grace.
The uncertainty of that impacts this event’s future.
Just 26 miles north of PGA National Resort & Spa, Woods is building a palatial estate, a 9,000-square foot mansion on 12 acres of property he purchased for $44.5 million more than four years ago. The construction is reported to be the dream-home aspiration of Elin Woods, Tiger’s wife. The strife in the marriage, uncertainty whether the couple is still even living in the same house, casts doubt on the future of the property.
Still, construction’s continuing, according to local real estate agents who work Jupiter Island. In fact, the Palm Beach Post reported last month that even as Woods was enduring the onslaught of reports of his infidelity, one of his attorneys was signing documents notifying Martin County officials of Woods’ intent to complete construction.
Honda Classic officials have worked hard to rebuild the event with hopes that Woods has noticed what’s happening. Woods is a familiar presence in the area. He’s spent a lot of time in Jupiter with his yacht, Privacy, docked there. The hope among tournament officials was that Woods would be moved into his Jupiter Island compound before next year’s tournament.
Though Woods played the Honda Classic on a sponsor’s exemption when he was 17, he’s never played the event as a pro.
“We’ve heard that he will support the Honda Classic as a hometown event,” Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly said. “Should he choose to relocate here, we hope he does play. Whether he moves here or not, I hope he considers playing because it’s a championship caliber venue and championship caliber tournament and our field’s getting better and better every year. I think he would do well here.”
The Honda Classic was an instant hit in its inception as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic outside Fort Lauderdale in 1972. Gleason brought all his Hollywood buddies to the tournament and all the PGA Tour’s biggest stars showed up. Jack Nicklaus won the event twice in its formative years. It was conceived as a way to sell homes around Inverrary’s new golf courses.
Through the ‘90s, with the West Coast Swing growing stronger and players dissatisfied with the Honda Classic’s move to new courses, the event’s fields weakened.
Kennerly and tournament director Ed McEnroe have engineered a re-making of the Honda Classic since moving into their roles before the 2007 event. They billed it as the new Honda Classic. They were part of the move to PGA National Resort & Spa’s Champion Course, a course redesigned by Nicklaus that features the trio of challenging holes (Nos. 15-17) called the Bear Trap. Nicklaus wasn’t just recruited to spruce up the design before the inaugural event, he was brought in as a partner of sorts. The Nicklaus Foundation and its charities are among beneficiaries of the event.
The Champion Course’s popularity has been a large factor in wooing players back.
“The PGA Tour is viewed as events with Tiger Woods and those without Tiger Woods,” said Rick Horrow, a CNN sports business analyst. “Clearly, Ken Kennerly and Ed McEnroe have done a stupendous job of taking the Honda Classic to the next level. If this morphs into a Tiger Woods event, the sky’s the limit.”