Tiger by the tail

In Tiger Town, everything was supposed to be first-class.

The stunning, 50-mile views high atop craggy mountains. The luxurious $3 million home sites. Private parkland, walking trails, a helipad. And a golf course designed by none other than Tiger Woods, the man many consider the greatest golfer who ever lived.

Photo by Jonathan Welch

Officially it's known as The Cliffs at High Carolina. But for all intents and purposes, when the developers announced in August 2007 that one of the world's most famous sports stars was designing its golf course, Tiger Town was born. And with the acclaimed golfer's name, image and reputation inextricably linked to it, the biggest development ever seen in Buncombe County seemed possessed of enormous economic potential.

Fast-forward to November 2009 and the news that Woods had cracked up his Escalade attempting to flee from an argument with his wife over his supposed affair with another woman. In the ensuing days and weeks, more reports have emerged concerning numerous other alleged affairs. His gold-plated name, once associated with golf excellence and a clean family image, has now been tied to sexual encounters with porn stars and party girls.

Meanwhile, a billboard advertising The Cliffs at High Carolina has morphed into a sardonic setup line. Featuring a giant image of Woods against a backdrop of Western North Carolina mountains, the massive sign urges viewers to "see what inspired me." The punch line? Any of a dozen tabloid photos of women other than his wife who have now been linked to Woods.

As of this writing, Woods has mostly kept silent and out of the spotlight, even as the stories and speculation rage. The world's No. 1 golfer, who ranks second all-time in the number of major tournaments won, has announced that he's taking an indefinite leave from competing on the links to tend to his personal life.

As for corporate sponsors, the global consulting firm Accenture Ltd. announced it was dropping Woods. The golfer's numerous other corporate clients are still standing by their prominent pitchman, though television ads featuring Woods have stopped airing, and analysts are suggesting that most of his larger sponsors will take a wait-and-see approach to see how Woods' personal brand fares in the months to come.

So how will the scandal affect Woods' first golf course, which is right here in Buncombe County? Given the high-end development's massive scale and apparent economic potential, the impact on neighboring communities could be significant. To get a read on the evolving situation, Xpress checked in with assorted local voices.

Too soon to tell

In neighboring Black Mountain, folks appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"At this point, I think we really don't know," says Mayor Carl Bartlett when asked about the potential local impact of Woods' troubles. For the most part, Swannanoa Valley residents have kept any concerns they might have to themselves, Bartlett reports.

And with the golf course and surrounding development all still under construction, any financial benefits to the area are hard to gauge, he points out. But everyone's aware of the potential. "The golf course could have a huge economic impact, especially if he brings his tournament here," says Bartlett. "It's amazing to imagine what four days of national attention on High Carolinas and our area could do."

It might prove "a lifeline in the future," says the mayor, "and I certainly hope this doesn't harm that."

Bob McMurray, executive director of the Black Mountain/Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

"We're a little concerned, but it's too early to tell," he says. "I'd hope that Black Mountain and Swannanoa are still beautiful enough that people will come here, but Tiger Woods is a big drawing card.

"Hopefully he'll put his personal life behind, and his professional career will still be enough of a draw for The Cliffs to finish their development," McMurray says.

Dean Pistor, a local investor who co-owns Realty World Commercial Marketplace and The Beacon Pub in Swannanoa, says he doubts the current controversy will have much impact on The Cliffs. Due to the economic downturn, he notes, the local real-estate market, particularly for high-end homes, has been sluggish.
Pistor says he's banking more on the jobs The Cliffs will create than on the homeowners it will attract. And over the long haul, he believes Swannanoa will get a boost from the development.

"Will this controversy affect sales? I don't really think so, and honestly, I hope it blows over soon because I feel it's already been blown out of proportion. There are all these women coming forward now just to get their name in the paper. I mean, c'mon. So what?"

Unchanged

So far, the official line from Tiger Town is supportive. In a Dec. 8 statement, Scott Ziegler, president of corporate branding for The Cliffs Communities, wrote: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Woods family as they deal with this personal and private family matter. Our relationship with Tiger Woods and our commitment to The Cliffs at High Carolina remains unchanged."

But Woods' "family man" image has been a key selling point for The Cliffs. "With a wife and two kids, your perspective in life changes," the golfer says in a video on the development's Web site, as spotlighted by a CNBC reporter.

The video continues: "I want to have my kids experience something like this. I want to be able to bring them up here and feel safe, feel secure — enjoy running the trails and being a part of nature like this. Because your priorities start changing and evolving once you have a family, and I want to come up here as often as I possibly can." Woods also says: "One of the things that has drawn me to this is the fact that I can bring my family here. We'll be here a lot."

As of October, the development had closed on about 30 lots, averaging $1 million apiece, according to The Greenville News. All told, there are 99 lots at the development, which covers some 3,000 acres in Swannanoa and Fairview. Original plans called for more than 1,000 home sites costing $300,000 to $3 million, and custom homes priced from $700,000 to $5 million.

A waiting game

In the meantime, however, the unavoidable link between professional and personal life is problematic for all the companies relying on Woods to help sell their products. The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 9 that representatives of Nike, Procter & Gamble's Gillette brand, video game maker Electronic Arts, PepsiCo's Gatorade sports drink and laser eye-surgery chain TLC Vision had all reaffirmed their relationships with Woods. Pepsi said its recent decision to drop a Gatorade product named for Woods was not related to the scandal, and NetJets, a rental company, said Dec. 7 that it continued to support the star golfer.

"What's going on right now is that these companies are really holding out and waiting to see what will happen," says Kadence A. Otto, an associate professor at Western Carolina University and director of the college's sport-management program. "But my question is, how long can they hold out? I could see those companies dissolving contracts if he doesn't come out into the public eye."

In the case of The Cliffs, notes Otto, an issue to be aware of is the risks involved in "building an entire facility around a person, because we're all fallible." The public, she maintains, can be fairly forgiving, particularly when a celebrity admits a mistake, but that forgiveness can be tougher to come by as the Woods story grows and he remains silent.

Tell it like it is

Jennifer McLucas, director of account services and public relations for The Goss Agency in Asheville, agrees.

"First and foremost, if you make a mistake, you acknowledge it," she counsels. If she could give Woods any advice, says McLucas, it would be to "come forward with compassion. When you sit back, you appear to be elusive and withholding information, and the public tends to be less sympathetic."

Woods "can be vague," she continues. "He doesn't have to tell the world whatever it was that led him to do what he did. He doesn't have a responsibility to the American public, but he does have a responsibility to golf and the entities who endorse him."

As for The Cliffs, McLucas, too, likes the wait-and-see approach.

"I'm of the opinion that most people make mistakes, and most people warrant a second chance. Which leads me to say that, as far as The Cliffs, I wouldn't necessarily drop everything about Tiger. Let's face it: Tiger is probably the greatest golfer that's ever lived. Having a golf course that's designed by Tiger Woods, one that inspires him — there's something to be said for that."

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19 thoughts on “Tiger by the tail

  1. Tiptoe-san

    This affair, just like all of the other famous affairs in the last 50 years, will fade with time and 2 years from now no one will seem to remember or care about it. It’s merely the “flavor of the day” in the news and in my opinion shouldn’t even be a concern to people in general. There are much more important things out there affecting our daily lives that need to be tended to and things like Tiger’s indescretions should be placed on the back burner of importance. What a man does in his private life(no matter how lewd), as long as it is legal, should be private.

  2. Dionysis

    The plot thickens. Now it has been reported that a doctor who has treated Woods is under investigation by the FBI for illegally administering performance-enhancing drugs. So far, nothing has surfaced that implicates Woods having used such drugs, but the fact his doctor is under investigation is not a positive development for the ethically-challenged figure.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I do think they might want to consider changing those signs you see every 50 feet or so. I’m not sure “See what inspired me” strikes quite the right note at this point.

  4. Asheville JJ

    I laugh every time I see those signs!!
    Tiger’s life no longer became private once he made himself into a celebrity. Big endorsements, big money, big fame. He and his sponsors want us to pay attention to him when they want to sell us something. “Look at me, look at me!” is ok when I want you to listen to me and buy a Buick. “Come hear what I have to say. Come here and see what a great man I am”. Now he wants the media to leave him alone? You took the money Tiger, you wanted the fame, it doesn’t always bring good things.

  5. Jenny

    Is anyone going to post a picture of the Tiger billboard with the blow-up doll on 1-40? My husband just called me about it. Sounds funny.

  6. ashevillelokel

    All that’s left is for a CHILD to be allegedly fathered by Tiger and it will be the nail in the coffin ….

  7. Wait. Whoa. What?

    He’s toast. Look for a brand new campaign to go up very soon on all those billboards. All new photography. You read it here first.

  8. Tiptoe-san

    If the guy that owns the topless bar on the river has any sense he’d place some ads adjacent to the ones of Tiger. “See what inspired me.” Then the next sign if for The Treasure Club. Too funny.

  9. pff

    I could care less about this soap opera of an issue, but for those opposed to The Cliffs, this could be a great opportunity form public opinion against the environmentally destructive private community for the uber rich, tainting the water table for all the farmland below it.

  10. Alan Ditmore

    We don’t need Tiger because now we have Cecil Bothwell, who will bring tourists flocking to see the man who ended invocations and broke the atheist ceiling. At least if Cecil will lead and strike now against invocations while the iron is hot.

  11. little_nell

    We were driving up from Charleston last week, and starting around Hendersonville…bam-bam-bam…at least 3 (maybe 4) of those billboards. I’m telling you, they have a TOTALLY DIFFERENT meaning now.
    With Tiger’s tail tucked and “in hiding” for so long, it’s pretty wild to see him up there bigger than life. I think they should come down.
    At this point I think Elin would be a better choice than Tiger!!
    I agree with ashevillelokel… an (alleged) child is probably on the way.

  12. ashehome

    This golf community is destructive to the land and anyone who lives next to a golf course is living next to land that is continuously sprayed with pesticides.

    This is not the way to develop economically. Haven’t we learned that destroying our environment does not pay off in the long run? All the pesticides, misplaced wildlife, destroyed vegetation…this is ridiculous.

    Is there a civic leader around who gets this? Someone who has the brains to think outside the box for once?

    I mean really, isn’t it time to try and find away to encourage the economy without destroying something. How about a wind farm with Tiger Wood’s name instead? Or a solar farm? These provide terrific jobs, saves the land and air and we all benefit. This also might help Tiger Woods regain some since of dignity.

  13. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Perhaps Tiger is the crack in America’s historic disparity between how wayward men and women are treated. For the first time, the man is being castigated for his extremely whorish ways more severely than are his women.

    There’s still disparity, though, as in the article above: most people make mistakes, and most people warrant a second chance.

    Tiger’s women, of course, are not being treated to such gentle language, nor would any prominent woman discovered to have a stable as large as Tiger’s ever be given a second chance.

    Perhaps it is simply numbers, though, and all the blonde bimbettes have merged into just one big Barbie doll category rather than being seen as dozens of individual people.

    I’m pulling for Elin, though, who is in a position to gain huge numbers of product endorsements on her own, which would be the ultimate “club to the head” of the wayward Tiger.

  14. Sharon

    There are deep rooted issues that Tiger has to face and decide how he wants to live his life. It is very sad. I think Elin is handling herself with class and strength and what ever she decides will be right for her. And that includes the possibility of she and Tiger coming through this stronger and better and more in love.

    I just thought when word first hit the news about the car accident that “this has there is more written all over it.”

  15. mjp

    another example of the decline of “civilization”
    he’s just a rich golfer

  16. Piffy!

    It’s quite a shame that what a man does in his private life is more shocking to the public than the irreversible damage done to an ecosystem when they build a place like “The Cliffs”.

    I could care less about Tiger woods alleged affairs. But the Cliffs are a disaster and the people associated with it should be hung out to dry.

  17. I’m really upset about this. I had a whole ad campaign riffing on the Cliffs ad, almost to the point of having billboards up. Thanks Tiger.

  18. geehart

    If you folks have any “gentlemens” clubs in the area, this situation would be an advertising bonanza. Put up a billboard next to Tiger’s and show what really inspired him!

    Tiger is sure no family man. His egotistical behavior is a high insult to his wife and kids for which there can be no possible excuse.

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