Tiger Woods building his first golf course at resort in Mexico

October 22, 2012

Tiger Woods is finally about to make his "Hello, World!" debut as a golf course architect.

GOLF.com can exclusively reveal that Woods has begun construction on what appears certain to be his first ever completed golf course at Diamante, a high-end real estate enclave in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas. Ground was broken on the course — to be called "El Cardonal," the original name of the former ranch on which it sits — last month and it is expected to open in the spring of 2014.

Woods had previously signed three highly publicized course design contracts, but all of those projects ran aground during the global economic collapse.

With a construction budget of up to $12 million, Woods's El Cardonal layout will crisscross desert arroyos on the 1,500-acre property overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In a statement emailed to GOLF.com, the 14-time major winner says he is determined to produce a course that lesser mortals can enjoy.

(Related Photos: Tiger's new course project in Cabo San Lucas)

"I want to make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all players, regardless of skill level," Woods wrote. "I've played in enough pro-ams to know that not every golfer is a scratch player. Creating wide landing areas and avoiding forced carries whenever possible allow all golfers, even beginners, to keep the ball in play and have more fun."

The team at Tiger Woods Design recently made a scouting trip to some courses in Southern California, including Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club. Woods, who is expected to return to the El Cardonal site in a few weeks, has said those classics will influence his work at Diamante.

"I want to be sure that my designs make individuals think their way around the course," Woods explained. "To me, that's an important part of golf and it's what I like to do when I play. I think players like risk-reward opportunities and to feel like they've been challenged in all aspects of the game."

The El Cardonal course will be the second one at Diamante. The first, the Davis Love III-designed Dunes course, opened to acclaim in 2010 and is ranked No. 58 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World.

"Given the chance to work with a great legend of the game who has the natural talent and vision of Tiger Woods, and who wants to bring his knowledge and passion to the design business, creates a unique opportunity for all of us at Diamante and made this an easy decision," said Ken Jowdy, Diamante's CEO.

(Related Graphic: See the routing, hole yardages at Tiger's new course)

Jowdy declined to reveal the financial terms of Woods's deal, which he says is partially based on sales of the real estate component around the course. "It's a sliding scale," Jowdy said. "The more successful we are, the more successful he will be. All of our interests are aligned."

It is no coincidence that shovels were in the ground before Woods and Diamante made the project public. All three previous Woods courses were announced to great fanfare but either stalled or died before completion due to economic woes. So while Woods trails Jack Nicklaus by just four major championships, he lags in the course design race by more than 300 (in fairness, Nicklaus has had a 43-year head start).

The course that was to have been Woods's first, Al Ruwaya ("Serenity ") in Dubai, was suspended in 2009 with just six holes completed. It has since been abandoned and the fairways reclaimed by the desert, though Woods was reportedly paid more than $50 million for his work.

His first U.S design was planned at The Cliffs at High Carolina, near Asheville, N.C. That was announced in 2007, but Cliffs Communities — the real estate development powerhouse behind the project — went bankrupt and now lists liabilities of up to $500 million. Woods's most recent project was slated for a spectacular oceanfront site at Punta Brava, near Ensenada in northwest Mexico. That was announced days after he won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open. Just three months later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and sank much of the golf real estate industry with it. The Punta Brava project has been stalled ever since.

(Interactive Map: Explore the site for Tiger's new course)

That collapse of Lehman Bros. wiped out Diamante's financing, too, leaving the entire project teetering on the brink for more than two years. And that doesn't even rank as the most contentious episode in the short history of this $200 million private community, where legal wrangling has ensured that lawyers have had more billable hours than the caddies.

In 2009 a group of investors that included 19 NHL players sued Jowdy for $25 million, leveling a raft of colorful allegations, including that he had misused funds on private jet rides for celebrity pals like Roger Clemens and Reggie Jackson. Jowdy denied the allegations and claimed a former business partner had defrauded the hockey players and many other investors. The NHL players dropped their suit in 2010, and Jowdy's former partner is now the subject of an investigation in the U.S. for alleged fraud.

One of those NHL players who sued Jowdy was Bryan Berard, the former number one draft pick and New York Islanders defenseman.

"Since the time when we first talked almost a year ago, Kenny has answered all questions with honesty and integrity," Berard says. "Once you step foot on the property at Diamante and see all that has been done, you know instantly that we were misled, given very bad advice, and the lawsuit we filed was totally wrong."

Jowdy is still smarting from all of the negative publicity surrounding the bruising legal battles that have now largely ended. "Fortunately I had the truth on my side, along with the support of my family and friends," he says. "Now we all look forward as we continue making Diamante a premier resort destination."

(Related Photos: Tiger's Jupiter Island practice facility)