Tiger's dream course

Sure, he can master any course in the world. But can he design one? Tiger Woods takes us on a tour of his first U.S. project, the Cliffs near Asheville, N.C.

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ByJessica Shambora, reporter

Woods has courses underway in Dubai, North Carolina, and Baja, Mexico (pictured).

(Fortune Magazine) -- From the helicopter, a blanket of trees spreads out below me, and in the distance, the town of Asheville is barely visible. The chopper banks right, and out the window I can see that swaths of foliage have been cut away to form serpentine shapes, barely identifiable as fairways from 1,000 feet above.

We're touring the site that Tiger Woods has chosen to design his first U.S. course, part of a tony development called the Cliffs at High Carolina. My fellow passengers are two couples from Houston, both prospective Cliffs members and Tiger fanatics. "Did you bring Tiger in today?" one well-dressed gentleman eagerly asks our pilot. "Where did he sit?" The pilot points my way, and one of the women glares at me with envy. "You lucky girl."

Clearly, the man has fans, and not just the second-home-buying variety. "For the last ten years all of us have been trying to figure out how to build a golf course that's interesting for him and not impossible for everyone else," says Tom Doak, the architect behind the esteemed Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore.

Now Tiger's taken matters into his own hands, using an eight-month hiatus from professional golf (after nursing a reconstructed ACL, he plans to play his first tournament in late February) to fully launch his course-design business. He has projects underway in Dubai and Mexico, and his North Carolina course is scheduled to open in the spring of 2011. "I'm very curious to see what he does as an architect," adds Doak. "He's not only a great player, he's the most creative player we've seen in a long time."

In an interview near the Cliffs site, Woods insists he's not entering the course- design business merely to torture lesser players. "It's not about how I play the game - it's about making it playable for everyone else. I want everyone to enjoy it, whatever their skill level."

That said, Woods himself seems to still be in the early stages of defining his approach. "Links golf is certainly important to my design philosophy - utilizing the ground as a friend," he says. "Not every player can hit the ball high with spin, so I want to give them the opportunity to run the ball up on the green."

Even in this economy, there seems to be pent-up demand for anything associated with Tiger, at least among the group that assembled in North Carolina recently to see Woods introduce the Cliffs course. Prospective homebuyers noshed on a decadent spread and elbowed their way to the front when word got out that Woods' appearance was imminent.

During Tiger's brief talk, the well-heeled audience hung on every word and seemed smitten with his proficient use of the term "y'all." The Cliffs sold 40 lots that day - for $40 million in total.

That must have cheered the developers behind the project: Tiger is rumored to have commanded up to $25 million per project (by comparison, Doak's firm makes $1-million plus on some projects).

There's no question the course, which will only be open to Cliffs homeowners who pay a golf initiation fee of $150,000 for access to eight courses, will be visually stunning. It will measure 7,500 yards from the tips, climbing up and down the ridge with an elevation change of 200 feet. The views of the surrounding mountains are sublime, particularly from the tee of No. 14, a driveable par-4. Says Tiger: "I like that one hole out there that says 'Should I or shouldn't I go for it?'"  To top of page

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