The Business of Tiger Woods Is Good

For the success of his business projects, now including golf course design, he credits an emphasis on quality. Another focus: expanding his charitable foundation

There are a few athletes whose star power is so bright they're known worldwide by a single name. Tiger is one of them. Tiger Woods video golf games produced by Electronic Arts (ERTS) sell in 70 countries. Nike (NKE) Golf President Bob Wood credits the brand's swift rise as a global golf business entirely to Woods. Indeed, whether Woods is in New York or Bangkok, the fairways of Pebble Beach or the streets of South Africa, children and adults scream for him. For those reasons and more, the celebrated golfer came out on top in BusinessWeek's just-published Power 100, a ranking of the most influential people in the business of sports.

But fame is not all Woods is after. He donates a slice of his millions to the Tiger Woods Foundation each year, to help disadvantaged kids. The foundation, of which Woods is chairman, gives college scholarships to select schools, sponsors after-school programs that teach goal-setting skills, and oversees the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Woods sat down recently for a chat with BusinessWeek's Chicago Deputy Bureau Chief Roger O. Crockett at the W Hotel in New York. Throughout the interview, he was surprisingly modest. The recognition of his impact by BusinessWeek makes him feel "funny," he said. And in a mix of the charm that makes him a marketer's dream and the humility that makes him a fan favorite, he teasingly asked if he had been voted No. 101 rather than No. 1. "I don't look at myself that way," he said. "People don't understand that when I grew up, I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest. I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that's been what has gotten me this far." Edited excerpts of the interview follow:

What is your image of your brand?

Quality. It's not about quantity. It's not about going out there and being associated with everyone you possibly can to make money. All the partners that I've had I try to view it as a partnership. I'm trying to help them as much as I can. And hopefully they see it the same way. I try to have quality appearances when I play golf and it expands to off the golf course as well.

You do endorsements with Buick (GM), EA Sports, and Gatorade (PEP). Why have you chosen those brands?

It's all about do I believe in the product, and it's all about 100% commitment. Everyone who has worked with me can attest to that. I don't know half-ass. I'm all or nothing.

How much time do you spend with your sponsors? Do you get deeply involved in your products?

Yes, I do. I don't know if that's a positive or negative thing. I am always thinking about everything. I guess in a sense I'm a little bit of a control freak. I'm committed to try to make the product the best I possibly can. I ask a bunch of questions. I want to know everything I possibly can.

Give me an example of the questions you might ask.

I've been a gamer all my life. From the Atari 2600 days to Pong, I've gone through the whole gamut. So for me to be a part of a video game, that was as lucky as you possibly can have as a gamer. I wanted to know everything I possibly could. I didn't get involved in the programming, but I asked, "How can we make the product as realistic as possible?" I would have to explain things to them about golf and the level of reality I think we can get to. Over the years we've made the game so realistic it looks like you are really there.

Recently your business career has become more defined as you've gotten into golf course design. How did that start?

I didn't want to do it until I played all around the world. You can't fully understand how to design a course unless you've basically tried them all. Now I'm immersing myself into golf course design. And I'll tell you what, it's been the greatest thing…ever…for me.

Why do you say that?

I thoroughly enjoy the creativity of going to work, going to the office and trying to create something that people will always remember and love and want to come back and experience again. That is my challenge. I get excited every day looking at topographical maps and trying to figure things out—the routing and what options we have on different holes. Sometimes we've gone through 30 to 40 different routings just by monkeying around and trying to create something that's the best.

This image of you in the office. How much time do you spend?

It's hours. Especially now that I'm injured. I'm in there a helluva lot more now. But even before that, if you had gone in the house you'd see maps on kitchen tables. I really enjoy that part of my life. I knew I would like it, but I didn't know I would love it to this extent. I'm not a person that will create hundreds upon hundreds of golf courses. That is not my intent. As I mentioned earlier, it's about quality.

What business leaders have caught your eye? What things have you picked up from them?

People like Phil Knight at Nike. He started basically from nothing. It's quite remarkable. How do you do it? It's intelligence. But it's also guts and determination.

Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson have leveraged their playing careers into business success. How do you see your business career evolving beyond golf?

Right now I'm really focused on the Tiger Woods Foundation and growing that. And now my venture into golf course design. These are varying extensions of who I am and what I love to do.

Tell me more about your foundation.

I think what we've done over an 11-year period has been pretty good. There are 7 million kids in our programs around the country. To do that in a short period of time has been pretty remarkable. But like I tell everyone at the foundation, "We're just getting started." In the next three years we're expanding overseas. We're looking at Asia specifically because of my mom being from Thailand. I want to help kids all over the world.

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