There really hasn't been a story questioning the direction and concept behind Tiger Woods' entry into the golf course design business until Paul Sullivan filed this in-depth and skeptical take for the February issue of Portfolio.
I'd wager that the tone of this story is a product of a few elements. One, Sullivan does not need further access to Woods and therefore has filed a fair and honest assessment that probably won't be well received by Woods. Two, Porfolio appears dedicated to serious dissection of issues in American business along with only some of the nauseating deep-tissue ego massaging that the business community soaks up (and which as served it so well!). And three, the recent economic crisis has exposed flaws in the early approach by Woods to go after unprecedented fees and big-scale, difficult projects, though you may recall I detected some negative reaction after attending the impressive but over-the-top Punta Brava press conference in October.
A few points from the Sullivan piece. Get ready: big ego collision!
Even Nicklaus, an admirer of Woods’ talent on the course, is skeptical about the new projects’ timing. “He’s on his third golf course contract,” Nicklaus says, emphasizing the last word. “He hasn’t done any yet. I don’t think he’s finished any golf courses.”
But Jack's not paying attention or counting or anything like that. He's just a supportive elder father figure who loves it that this fee looks like a bargain now!
Woods is earning a flat fee to design and promote the courses. That money will be paid regardless of whether the associated real estate deals survive the economic downturn.
This would seem to counter the belief that his inflated design fees are contingent upon real-estate sales. Smart move on Tiger's part, but it's hard to imagine those willing to pay such fees coming along again for a very long time.
The setup is remarkably risky for investors, given that Woods has never completed a course design and that all the projects have built-in knocks—from out-of-the-way locations to high costs. But Woods shows no signs that he’s daunted. “I’ve learned so much in these few months,” he says. “The amount of meetings I’ve been in—you’d be shocked by the number of meetings I’ve been in, but that’s how you gain the knowledge: being in the meetings and participating. You learn and you grow.”
That's great experience, but some of the best knowledge is learned watching another architect deal with this stuff and spending time in the field observing construction. Because it's ultimately about building interesting holes. Pointing at a topo map is just a tiny part of that process. While I detest the global behemoth that Nicklaus Design has become, cranking out too many Paint-By-Numbers designs, you have to hand it to Nicklaus for putting in his time with Pete Dye and Desmond Muirhead before going out on his own. Tiger might have benefited from a similar apprenticeship. But he usually proves pundits wrong, and he may well do the same with his golf architecture practice.
Still, this is encouraging:
Yet the Cliffs and Punta Brava people I spoke to have been surprised by how involved Woods has been. “I don’t think I expected the intensity,” Cliffs V.P. Brazinski says. “When Tiger shows up, he puts on his boots, gets a bottle of water, and says, ‘Let’s go.’ When some of the other designers come, they just want to see it by helicopter.”
Gee now, who has designed courses at The Cliffs? For those of you counting at home,Jack, two Tom Fazio courses and a Gary Player.
Sullivan also reports this next item which doesn't pass a smell test.
Woods has been planning his new courses for the past two years. His managers at IMG began brokering the deal for the project in Dubai in 2006. In December of that year, a month after taking the helm of Tiger Woods Design, Bell was approached by Punta Brava backers about involving Woods in the project. Bell toured the site in January 2007 but took another year to commit. A few months later, in April 2007, Woods was approached by the Cliffs team.
A couple of days after winning the 2008 U.S. Open, with much of the sports world focused on the state of his knee, Woods was in Mexico to vet Punta Brava’s new layout for the 22nd time—more than five times as many site visits as most brand-name golf course architects do.
Now, think about that. He's not signed on the dotted line until January 2008. So between then and June, Tiger got on board Tiger Airship 1, and landed then later took off at beautiful Ensanada International Airport 22 different times? And remember, the prior year he was playing a full schedule and spending a lot of time with his newborn, so even if those 22 "site visits" stretched back into 2007, he would have had to be spending almost no time on any other activities to squeeze so many site visits into his schedule.
Now, 22 days on site may be what was meant, but there's a huge difference between 22 days and 22 site visits, even if you are traveling via private jet.
The story also features a video that shows a lot of the staging and other nonsense that goes into a Woods site visit. Doesn't look like much fun.