Interview: Tiger Woods on L.A. golf, his passion for par-3 courses and the first hole-in-one he ever made

February 13, 2018

After a 12-year-absence, southern California native Tiger Woods will tee it up again this week in L.A., at Riviera, for the Genesis Open. He’s tried to claim victory at “the Riv” on 10 occasions without success, but he’s still enamored with the place. With his Tiger Woods Foundation running the event, Tiger is the tournament host, and he looks fondly upon the venue where he first attended a PGA Tour event with his pop, Earl, when Tiger was 9 or 10. In addition, his first-ever appearance in a PGA Tour event was at Riviera at age 16, at the 1992 Los Angeles Open. Despite respectable rounds of 72-75, he missed the cut, but stuck around for Sunday’s finale to be presented with a newly created “low amateur” award.

Tiger’s deep sentiment for golf in L.A. goes back to his junior days, when he competed at the region’s par-3 courses. There he developed his affection for short courses, and why he’s so passionate about creating family-style layouts as a course designer. We chatted about that very topic in mid-December at Diamante, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, site of his first completed championship design and home to a nifty little 12-hole short course he created as well.

You’ve done par-3 courses on both of your existing designs, Bluejack National (in Houston) and here at Diamante. Why do you design these layouts and how much use do they actually get?

Tiger Woods: They get a ton of use. At Bluejack, I know they do a lot of cross-country golf, too. You play whatever configuration you want. It’s all about having fun. The kids play it, the elderly play it. It’s fun to mix and match with different little iterations. The short courses are made to be for either practice or to be played for fun, very quickly, very easily, very efficiently. Obviously it’s up to the developer what he wants, but we love doing them.

What is it that you learned from the par-3 courses where you grew up that made you think about how you would do par-3 courses today?

The par-3 courses I grew up on, one was Hartwell, in Long Beach (Calif.) and the other was Bellflower. They were short and they were lit at night. And so you’d get people with, say six clubs and a six-pack and they’d really enjoy themselves.

We had, at the time when I played, an extremely good junior golf program because all kids could play from all different levels, so I started playing when I was 8. It was a nice place to play, competed every Saturday, always had a tournament. They catered to us (juniors), but also to anyone who wanted to play. And it was very quick. That’s the great thing about it. Even back then, when they didn’t have cell phones, everyone enjoyed the pace of play. It was quick and fun. That’s what stuck with me.

Do you have a favorite memory from competing in a par-3 tournament or playing with the guys, when you were that age?

I’d have to say when I was eight years old, on the 12th hole at Hartwell, I made my first hole-in-one. I hit a nice little two-and-a-half-wood up there. And I couldn’t see the ball. I was too short to see over the bunker. And so the ball hit on the downside of the bunker and rolled into the back of the hole. The guys were screaming and yelling and I didn’t know what they were screaming and yelling about, so they picked me up and held me, showed me that there was no ball on the green. I immediately ran down to the hole, started celebrating when I saw the ball in the hole and they said, “Hey, you little s—, your clubs are back on the tee.”

What about the notion of nine holes in a par-3 course, versus 18, 10 or 12?

That’s why we call it a Short Course. We can make it so that, like, the Playgrounds at Bluejack has 10 holes. Well, you can play 18. You can configure however you want. You can leave it up to the players. Yeah, you have suggested areas which you want to tee off from to go to that green, but if you don’t want to use them, don’t. Like here at the Oasis (at Diamante). You have 12 holes, but three of the holes can be a par 5 and a par 4 and a par 3. So you can mix and match however you want.

Do you have a specific design philosophy that extends to each short course you do?

We try to have it where actually every hole is open to all types of shots. At the Playgrounds in Houston, when we first played with those two kids (at the Grand Opening in May 2016), the one that made the hole-in-one, I putted the whole time. What did I shoot, 3-over, something like that? I just putted the whole way around the golf course. Going back to what I said earlier, about what’s my favorite type of golf, it’s links golf. You can use the ground, you can have a bunch of fun. It’s a reason why I loved how the Playgrounds turned out is that we were able to use the ground literally from tee to green.

What’s your new Bahamas Short Course project about, and how will it differ from your other designs?

It’s called Jack’s Bay, in Eleuthera. The project developers (Beacon Land) are the same as at Bluejack. They liked the Playgrounds concept and 10 holes, so we’ll keep those themes. The seventh hole is right on the water, a downhill, short par 3, but actually you’re in the water. At high tide, you just tip your foot over to the left side of the green and you’re wet. You can feel spray from the waves hitting.

Can you identify your favorite short course?

I have four greens in my backyard — my own little short course. Charlie (Woods’ son) and I play it all the time and we play it in whatever configuration we want.