In this business, you get used to seeing Tiger Woods walk into press conferences. But what never gets old is the ever-present cloudburst ' the thunder of following feet (entourage, security, photographers, well-wishers, any wishers), the lightning of flashbulbs, endlessly freezing moments in a life the media find endlessly interesting.
Last week, the Striped Storm blew into the Blue Ridge foothills near this quiet little town. Softball-sized peaches, $6.99 a dozen thanks to a spring frost, are on sale at the half-dozen or so roadside stands that line U.S. 25 between here and Greenville, a half hour south. Just outside of town at The Cliffs Valley Golf Club, Woods announced the newest page in his still-young career. He will design his first U.S. golf course, the Cliffs at High Carolina, in mountain meadows and forests about 45 minutes north of here, between Asheville and Hickory, N.C.
And it was a line that got it all started, in a way. Jim Anthony, a diminutive man in all but spirit and economic muscle, used to climb telephone poles as a lineman for Southern Bell. That gave him an excellent view of some of the most beautiful rolling, wooded mountains in the world. He wondered who owned it all. When he was 40, he quit his linemans job, got some investors, and started buying. Sixteen years later, he is planning his eighth private golf-and-residential community, with Woods course as the centerpiece. (There are already courses by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio, as well as a Gary Player course under development.) Each of the developments, which stretch across the western Carolinas between Greenville and Asheville and border national forests, has been extremely successful.
It takes Anthonys kind of vision and will to bring together a lineman from the Carolinas and a skinny kid from L.A. About the time Anthony was taking a huge flyer and changing his career, Woods was learning to hit from flyer lies and thinking about getting his drivers license.
But still, Tiger waited a solid decade into his pro career before thinking about designing courses. He just opened his design company last year, and launched into a high-end project in Dubai. Surely his name would have drawn plenty of clients before this. (Word is Woods turned down some double-digit-million offers in recent years before accepting the Dubai fee, which has been reported at as much as $25 million.) Nonetheless, Woods was in no hurry.
I haven't done it before because, one, I didn't feel like I had played enough around the world to truly understand how to design golf courses or what golf really is, Woods said. But there was also another factor: I've been offered many times to design golf courses here in the States and never did because I never felt comfortable with the partnership. But after meeting Jim, it was an instant yes. Jim is the sole reason why I'm doing this.
Theres at least one other reason. Woods wants this course, this mountain course, to be a walking course.
High Carolina is special for several reasons, Anthony said. One, over 4,000 feet elevation gives us incredible views almost on every hole. It has gently rolling meadows, and as Tiger indicated, it will be a walking golf course. In our early discussions, we could not be more excited about a walking golf course that really dovetails into our whole philosophy of wellness.
Wellness? Is this real estate or yoga? But Anthony, himself trim and healthy, is serious. All his Cliffs communities have tried to weave a substantial thread of wellness into their fabric, be it through recreation or relaxation. Some may call it simply a new way to market real estate. Anthony thinks otherwise. Residents are even assigned wellness coaches.
No one has said that a golf carts wheel will never crease a fairway at High Carolina. But walking will be available and encouraged, which fits in with Woods belief in the importance of physical vitality.
I just think that with how America's changed, how we all have seen [physical education] leave the schools, how obesity has increased astronomically, Type 2 diabetes has now become rampant everywhere ' I just think that golf can lead the example of wellness, Woods said.
Whether the walking idea catches on or not, many eyes will be on Woods first U.S. design, in which he promises a minimalist approach to moving earth. That could help to make the walking dream a reality.
We're not going to try and move a bunch of dirt, Woods said. That's the whole idea. Now, Jim has said that he wants to move some of the trees that are native to that area and then replant them, so we definitely will do that. We've got to move enough dirt so it's walkable; you don't want something that's unwalkable. We want something to flow and feel comfortable. But also, nothing gradient or, you know, four, five percent where it's not going to be too difficult [to walk].
And be careful about off-line shots. Tiger loves bunkers, and not necessarily easy bunkers. The leading edges might look a bit wild.
I think that's wonderful how ' I mean, one of the changes that was made up in Boston this year for the Deutsche Bank tournament is that you'll see a lot of native grasses and a different look than how it has played in years past, Woods said. And I think that's getting back to not being so perfectly manicured all the time. I think that's a good thing.
Another good thing, in Tigers view, is the coming shift in his business mix, of which Tiger Woods Design is a part. He smiled when he said it, but he did mention during the press conference that he has made lots of commercials ' maybe enough for awhile. Not that hell shy away from photo shoots, but a change his business priorities may indeed be on the way. Where will this new project rank?
Very high, extremely high, Woods said. One of reasons why I'm moving towards this is to do something that's different, that's challenging, something I've always wanted to do. This is extremely difficult. It's something that as I have gotten into it, I have been stimulated and ' more than I ever thought I would ' I actually love that.
Which is the result, I guess, of living under a storm, but not a cloud.
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