LOS ANGELES An ailing knee couldn't stop Tiger Woods from winning the 2008 U.S. Open, and it hasn't slowed his golf course design career, either. Woods announced Tuesday that Tiger Woods Design is building an 18-hole private course on the tip of a jagged peninsula near the Mexican resort town of Ensenada, about 65 miles south of San Diego.
The 6,835-yard, par-70 course will be the centerpiece of a high-end community named Punta Brava ( "Wild Point") and Woods's first design in Latin America. It is his third project overall, joining Al Ruwaya Golf Course at the Tiger Woods Dubai, which is scheduled to open late next year, and The Cliffs at High Carolina in Asheville, N.C., slated to debut in the middle of 2010. Punta Brava should be completed in 2011.
Though the three sites are all works in progress, they are decidedly distinct. Al Ruwaya is set in the middle of a desert, The Cliffs is nestled in a tree-lined mountain range, and Punta Brava clings to the edge of a rocky spit of land framed by the Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Todos Santos. From a peak 1,200 feet above the crashing tide, the 264-acre property cascades down a steep mountainside to a craggy coastline pocked by inlets and sea coves. Nowhere on the routing or the entire property, for that matter is the ocean out of view.
"As soon as I got on site, I was in," Woods said Tuesday as he stood next to a giant rendering of Punta Brava at a press conference at the swank Hotel Bel-Air.
Woods said determining how best to take advantage of the site's proximity to the water was the biggest challenge in mapping the routing. "We tried to incorporate the viewscapes and rock formations to make sure that you felt like you were part of this amazing peninsula the entire time you play," he said. "That was a challenge and one of the reasons it took us just over 20 routings or so to finally get it right. But I think we got it right."
Seventeen tees or greens will abut the ocean, and eight shots will require a carry over the water. Just off the coast dozens of isolated outcroppings protrude from the ocean, one of which will be converted into the tee for the par-3 17th. Woods said his favorite hole is the 12th, a 402-yard par 4 that he had to talk his developers out of lining with home lots. "It's very similar to the eighth at Pebble Beach, where you play a fairway wood or long iron off the tee and then you basically hit over the bay," Woods said.
The site is reminiscent of Pebble Beach in other ways too, from the cliffs to the soundtrack of churning surf and barking sea lions. The most memorable stretch of holes may well be the closing trio a pair of par-3s that play over the ocean followed by a coastline-hugging, 544-yard par-5 that evokes the famed 18th at, you guessed it, Pebble Beach.
Woods visited the site three times during the routing. On June 23, the day before he had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left knee, Woods was in Mexico, surveying Punta Brava by foot for three and half hours as he finalized the routing. "Tiger's a perfectionist," said Brian Tucker, a principal with the newly formed Flagship Group, which is developing Punta Brava. "He'd just keep working the routing and working it."
That doggedness and attention to detail are apparently what sold The Flagship Group on Woods. Tucker says several other high-profile designers were considered for the job Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Greg Norman among them and all were smitten with the site. "Rees Jones didn't say one word," Tucker said. "His mouth was just wide open. 'There are so many [design] options here,' he said. 'I'm just overwhelmed.' "
The beauty of the peninsula is undeniable, but was entrusting it to Woods who has just two routings under his belt a trying decision? "Not at all," said Brady Oman, chairman of The Flagship Group and the developer of several golf course communities in Texas. "I watched what he had done in Dubai. In fact, I went over and spent a week in Dubai. He was just our first choice from day one."
Oman didn't say what it will cost to develop Punta Brava, but he said a project of its scope typically costs about $100 million. Forty lots, up to three acres in size, will be sold for between $3 million and $12 million beginning in February. The property will also have 18 villas, 60 "partnership" villas and a private hotel with 20 villas. Some of the homes will border the course, but none will stand between the course and the ocean.
The most renowned of The Flagship Group's co-founders is Red McCombs, the Texas auto magnate who also founded Clear Channel Communications and formerly owned the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings. McCombs said Tuesday that he was at first unsure about investing in Punta Brava.
"I wasn't especially turned on," McCombs said. "Then they told me there was a good chance that Tiger would be involved. I said, 'Forget it. It's over. I'm in.'"