Tiger Woods On Golf, Obama And The Economy

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

I managed to land an interview with Tiger Woods this weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. Fabulous assignment, until I fell flat on my face, literally—more on that later. Woods was in Asheville to promote his first designed golf course for the US, The Cliffs at High Carolina, opening in 2010. You’ll see parts of that interview airing throughout the day Monday on CNBC.

You can see the entire interview below.

Woods talked about his recovery since having knee surgery after his memorable win at the U.S. Open. “I hope to play next year,” he says, “but I don’t know when. That’s the most frustrating thing.” He says he can chip and putt, but his surgeons and trainer won’t tell him when he can swing a club. “I can watch other people hit balls,” he laughed, explaining that he can still go to the driving range. When I asked him if it kills him to watch others play when he can’t, he answered, “No, not really, because I’d probably embarrass myself.”

Woods talked about the impact of a down economy on professional golf. “It is going to be a difficult thing,” he says. “I don’t know if some of the tournaments, if they’re going to go away or have new sponsors come in.” He says his endorsement contracts remain intact (no surprise). Presumably, though, this includes his deal with Buick, struggling to survive as GM seeks a government bailout. When another reporter later specifically asked about Buick during a news conference in front of prospective home buyers, Woods said, “This isn’t the time or place for that.” The crowd roared with approval.

As for the down economy’s impact on regular golf--including a proposed sales tax on golf in California--Woods says he’s concerned this might affect golf programs for kids. “In these economic times, it becomes even more difficult not only to bring them in, but to keep them in the game.”

And, in a first, he talked about the election of Barack Obama. “I think it’s absolutely incredible,” Woods told me. “He represents America, he’s multi-racial, and I was hoping it would happen in my lifetime. My father was hoping it would happen in his lifetime. He didn’t get to see it, but I’m lucky enough to see a person of color in the White House.” When I asked what his father might say if he had lived to see the election, Woods replied, “He would’ve cried.”

As for his new career as golf course designer, Woods’ course at The Cliffs at High Carolina is the latest in a series of developments by The Cliffs Communities scattered throughout the Carolinas. Jack Nicklaus has designed courses at other Cliffs developments, as has Gary Player, Tom Fazio, Ben Wright and Tom Jackson. Cliffs Communities CEO Jim Anthony says the economy has slowed sales 20 percent this year, but on Saturday, after Woods spoke to invited clients, The Cliffs at High Carolina signed contracts on 45 of 50 lots, worth a total of $45 million if/when those contracts close. Not a bad day.

The course that Woods is designing is meant to be walkable, as the development is emphasizing wellness. And the views are breathtaking. When completed, the course, at a 4,000-foot elevation, will have 50-miles views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Woods has reconfigured the layout many times so that every hole maximizes the scenery. Jim Anthony even gave up some prime homesites to make way for a spectacular 18th green.

Anthony says that Woods, even as he’s recovering from knee surgery, has walked the property more than any other architect he’s worked with. On one trip Tiger walked 22,000 steps and jumped boulders (yikes! The knee!), and he asked Woods to show everyone his pedometer. While neither man will discuss details of their financial arrangement—if Woods is getting a cut of home sales as well as being paid a fee for designing the course—Anthony does say they’re both satisfied. “We didn’t bet the farm. We made a very prudent investment.”

Watching Tiger work the crowd was fascinating. To see grown men nearly swoon like teenage girls around the Jonas Brothers is something to behold. Unlike his all-business, steel-cold demeanor during competition, Woods was relaxed and friendly. “Hope y’all have a great time,” he told well-heeled prospective buyers. “I said ‘y’all’,” he noted as the crowd laughed. “It’s a long way from So Cal.” He moved easily through the throng, as layers of PR people ran interference, taking him from point A to B on the day's schedule.

    • Tiger Woods Unveils Golf Course Design for The Cliffs at High Carolina

And what a schedule. Everything during the event on Saturday was choreographed down to the minute. In the period of one hour I watched Woods start by happily posing for photo after photo with invited guests (there was a slight gasp when someone’s toddler took a swipe at Tiger’s face—Woods laughed). Then he moved to do a quick interview with The Golf Channel, then to shooting a short video for in-house Cliffs marketing, then to a ceremonial groundbreaking at the 18th hole (he used his still-healing left leg to push the shovel into the ground), then to posing for an upcoming cover photo for Portfolio (things got a little ugly between their group and mine, but that’s another story), and, finally, to me. I had him for fifteen minutes—and he graciously answered every question, even agreeing to do the obligatory “walking shot” with me. That’s the shot you always see in TV stories where the reporter and the interviewee walk and pretend to be engaged in deep conversation. During our walking shot, I asked him if he missed California. “Yes,” he said, “I do. All my friends are there.”

But all did not go smoothly. I had one of the most embarrassing moments of my career. As Tiger and I were making our way down a small slope to get to a spot for our walking shot, I managed to catch my foot on a mound of grass…and fall down. Not a stumble, but a tumble...all…the…way…down. In front of a crowd of about 80 people. And did I mention that Tiger Woods was there? I popped right back up and made a lame joke about “My knee, my knee!” as he graciously tried to come to my aid. You can see a video clip of it below. The camera was rolling, but wasn’t framed up yet, so all you see is the ground, and then me falling right into frame. All I could think was, “Thank goodness I fell and he didn’t. Thank goodness I didn’t take him down with me. “ Can you imagine the headline? “Tiger Woods re-injures knee while saving CNBC reporter.” My daughter said later, “Only you, mom. Only you.”

Here is the wacky shot of me falling down. Hello, YouTube!

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