Grand designs for Tiger

Sean Dudley
By Adam Lawrence

Tiger Woods has taken his presence in the golf industry a stage further by launching Tiger Woods Design – a golf course design company that plans to embark upon projects around the world.

Woods' first project will be in Dubai, and is set to be the region's largest tourism and leisure project, slated for completion in 2009. Al Ruwaya, meaning 'serenity', will be a par 72, 18 hole championship-quality course with lush landscaping, stunning water features, dramatic elevation changes and five sets of tees to accommodate every calibre of golfer. The Al Ruwaya course is planned to stretch to 7,700 yards, and to embody Woods' vision of the ideal course design.

As well as the golf course, the development is expected to include a professionally-staffed golf academy; a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse with the latest amenities and comforts; an 80-suite boutique hotel for VIP guests; 300 luxury villas; 20 mansions and a community retail area.

"Why Dubai? Because I am excited about the challenge of transforming a desert terrain into a world-class golf course," said Woods. "I have a vision of creating something that is uniquely mine – from the detailed layout of each hole to the Mediterranean architecture to the topline gym equipment in the clubhouse – unlike anything else. And through my partnership with Tatweer, I want to realise this vision in Dubai." Woods plans for Tiger Woods Design to include a global strategy that appeals to all skill levels. The organisation will also seek exclusive properties for course development, while taking care to preserve the natural habitat of each location.

Rather than establish his own team of architects, Woods is expected – for initial projects at least – to work with an existing golf architecture firm. The firm of ASGCA member Tom Fazio has been rumoured as a likely partner; and is located conveniently to Woods' home in Florida, USA.

Woods' announcement has prompted speculation regarding design fees, with some observers suggesting that premiums on property prices in any Woods-branded development could justify design fees of as much as US$30 million dollars per course.

His fee for Al Ruwaya has not been disclosed, but golf investment in Dubai is staggeringly high – Thani Investments' Dubai Golf City alone is expected to cost in excess of US$1 billion to develop – so a mega-fee is not inconceivable.

So what should be expected from a course designed by Tiger Woods? An obvious answer would be length, and at 7,700 yards, Al Ruwaya has that. Further clues lie in recent comments to the press: "I always believe in golf should have open front. You should be able to use the ground. On tour it is miss the green, automatic lob wedge, hack it out of the rough. That to me is not fun golf. Fun golf is Pinehurst. Fun golf is playing links golf.

Fun golf is learning to how to manoeuvre the ball on the ground and give yourself options. One of the hardest up and downs is when you have options. You have so many different ways to play and you see a lot of pros really mess up easy shots because they have so many different options. I think that's taken away from the game of golf now, and that's too bad." The company's stated philosophy is to further elevate the standards of golf course design and create enjoyable, challenging courses worldwide. At the heart of this vision is Woods' desire to apply his firsthand knowledge and personal experience to the design of each golf course.

"I've had the luxury of playing golf around the world, and I've spent a lot of time evaluating how to play all kinds of courses," said Woods. "I'd like to share my experience and the lessons I've learned and hopefully create some amazing, fun courses." "There are golfers everywhere that may never get a chance to play a links course in Scotland, a tree-lined course in America or the sand belts of Australia," said Woods.

"Hopefully I can bring some of those elements to their backyards." Woods course development activities are not solely related to design. He has also recently announced a partnership with Ernie Els and Tavistock Group, to create Albany Golf & Beach Club – a resort community featuring an 18-hole championship course set in The Bahamas.

"We are excited to get started on Albany. Joe Lewis, Ernie and I share the same ambition to make this community one of the finest in the world," said Woods. "With Albany, I look forward to spending more time in The Bahamas and playing Ernie on our new golf course.

There's no doubt about it, we plan to make Albany very special." For Albany, design privileges have been assigned to Els. Construction is scheduled to begin immediately, with plans for the community to open in the autumn of 2008. "I think it's all timing," said Woods.

"I wanted to play around the world and play on every continent before I got into the golf course design business. I was able to do that, and then I also wanted to partner with companies and people who have the same vision as I do for a project.

I was lucky enough to have that happen in Dubai."