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Tiger had been coy the other day when a European reporter asked if he planned to spend part of his week in the desert, stepping off yardages and planting little red flags. ("I'll probably go out to the site and take a look," Tiger said.) His nascent design team, however, is huddling with the Tatweer staff at the Emirates Club. Tiger's man on the ground is his childhood friend and high school teammate Bryon Bell, who caddied for Tiger on occasion before going to work at the Tiger Woods Foundation.
There is understandable curiosity about Tiger's foray into course design. Typically, a champion golfer either partners with an established golf architect--Arnold Palmer with Ed Seay, for example, or Ben Crenshaw with Bill Coore--or hires a staff of practiced landscape engineers and architects � la Jack Nicklaus, whose design company has produced 310 courses in 30 countries. Tiger would seem to be leaning toward the latter model (he took advantage of Nicklaus's generous offer to let Bell visit his North Palm Beach offices to study the golf course operation), but he turns vague when asked who will actually read the topographical maps and produce the construction drawings.
In L.A., Tiger had assured me, "I will not be hiring some guy to design a golf course. I'll be hands on and involved in it."
He was more forthcoming about his design philosophy. "My tastes are toward the old and traditional. I'm a big fan of the Aussie-built courses in Melbourne, the sand-belt courses. I'm also a tremendous fan of some of the courses in our Northeast." Tiger didn't name those courses, but I mentally ticked off some classic layouts that he probably likes: The Country Club, Shinnecock Hills, Merion, Baltusrol, Winged Foot.
"I'm not one who thoroughly enjoys playing point B to point C to point D golf," he continued. "The courses I like are the ones where you have the option to play different shots. I enjoy working the ball on the ground and using different avenues."
"Like Royal Liverpool?" I asked, naming the English course on which Tiger won the 2006 British Open using a 19th-century arsenal of low, scooting tee shots (played almost exclusively with irons and fairway metals) and ground-hugging approaches.
He smiled at the memory. " Liverpool this year and St. Andrews in 2000 are the only times I've seen the fairways faster than the greens. You hit a putt from the fairway, it was running one speed. It got to the green, the putt slowed down." His smile broadened. "That's not like most golf courses, but that's what I like to see. It fits my eye."
Now, walking on the Arabian desert under dark, roiling clouds, I pause to squint, to fit my eyes to the scrubby slopes and narrow washes of Tiger's blank canvas, trying to see a golf course.
Pretty soon, I see it.
Tiger says the two years he spent at Stanford are starting to pay off. . . .