Tiger Woods announced Tuesday that he is designing his third golf course, a private track in Mexico called Punta Brava. Golf Magazine Senior Editor Alan Bastable sat down with Woods to discuss the project, how he relates to the average player and the problem with Augusta National.
I understand you were out walking Punta Brava the day before your knee surgery?
Correct. A week after the [U.S.] Open.
You just braved it?
It is what it is.
You’re not a guy who’s easily intimidated. But having so little design experience and being handed a piece of land this dramatic, have you ever thought, “Man, what if I screw this up?”
You know, you don’t. I was so excited. The whole idea of an oceanfront golf course is to make sure that we capture [the location]. I didn’t want to ruin that site. Obviously, Brady [Oman, one of the developers] has his ideas of where he wants his homes [laughs], but we’ve had a great partnership. That’s been the fun part, bouncing ideas off everyone who’s been involved. We’ve had a good time doing that. As we’ve gone through the routings, I’ve made a concerted effort to make sure that you could see the ocean from every hole — and that means from literally from every hole. From every tee, fairway and green.
You said today you looked at many sites before taking the Punta Brava job. Were you specifically looking for something on the ocean?
No. You’re looking for great sites, there’s no doubt about it — but also for great partners. Ultimately, if you can put those two things together, you’re going to have a great golf course.
All three of your courses will be private and ultra high-end. What about Joe Public?
When it’s all said and done, I will have a whole portfolio of golf courses — not just high-end private courses.
Are you currently looking to develop a public course?
Yep, we’ve been looking.
A lot of great players have been successful designers — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw. Are great players naturally predisposed to be great designers?
No. I think guys who think their way around the golf course and consider the strategy involved in how to play the game [have been most successful]. Greg and Arnold were extremely aggressive players, but they were aggressive in a smart way. They weren’t just crazy; they didn’t go for it all the time. They were aggressive by nature but they also played smart. Jack was a little more conservative but still very cerebral, and I think that’s how you have to play the game of golf, and that’s what they’ve brought to golf course architecture. That’s what I want to bring.
Being the player that you are, is it difficult for you to relate to a guy who hits his drives 220 yards and shoots 100?
No, not all.
How do you separate the two?
Tee placements, for one. Not only having different sets of tees — for instance, Punta Brava has four sets — but also tee placements. Most righties tend to cut the ball, so you [position] certain banks and fairways to alleviate that problem.
When your portfolio of courses is complete, what do you want your legacy as a designer to be?
I want players who have played my courses to have had a fun experience but also to have been challenged. I want them to have had to think their way around the golf course. That’s why I allow players a lot of different options of how to play a hole. Don’t just make them play one certain way.
Are there specific courses and/or designers that have inspired you over the years?
I’ve always loved playing links golf. That to me is just the ultimate — using the ground as your friend, what clubs to hit off tees, how the wind changes things. All these different things are an integral part of how to play the game of golf, and they’ve been taken away from players because the game has made a shift to more of an airborne game.
But are there any designers in particular whose work has moved you?
Every one of them has designed golf courses that I’ve either liked or haven’t been fond of. It’s just what fits your eye as player. A lot of Tour players don’t play courses that don’t fit their eye. That’s just kind of the way it goes.
This isn’t a big problem for you as a player, but do you think golf courses are getting too long?
That’s why you have to have a variety of tee options. I think Pete Dye made a very interesting statement when he said that you have to design golf courses for one type of player or the other. It’s very difficult nowadays to design golf courses that integrate what recreational golfers are going to face and what championship-level players are going to face. That’s very difficult because of the [discrepancies] in [driving] distances. Today guys with more clubhead speed are able to take advantage of technology much more than the average player. That didn’t used to be so much of an issue. You could have shorter golf courses and have players face the same challenges.
What about Augusta National? The lengthening and other tweaks to the course have traditionalists irate. Where do you come down on the recent spate of changes?
They’ve always tried to be proactive and tried to keep scoring where it doesn’t get out of hand, where players are hitting the same clubs into the same holes. The only contention I’ve had is that the green speeds have picked up. You may be hitting 7-irons and 5-irons into the same holes, but the greens are now running at 12 and 13 on the Stimp. That adds a little bit more of a difficulty.
Speaking of difficulty, any chance we’ll see a swoosh-shaped bunker at Punta Brava?
Ah, no [laughs].
How about Nike golf shirts in the pro shop?
[Smiles.] I’m sure they will definitely have those.