Tiger’s school thriving despite patron’s woes
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Outside the Tiger Woods Learning Center, visitors are welcomed with a message etched in concrete and another time.
“Tiger,” it says, “thank you for being an adult role model.”
Inside, past a huge bronze sculpture of Woods and his father in the lobby, eager fifth-graders wielding scalpels and tweezers are busy dissecting squid. In another classroom, they’re studying marine science.
Every week brings busloads of kids to the sparkling new center just a few good Tiger tee shots from Disneyland. The center’s mission is to help them think about how different classes – which tilt toward math, science and technology – can lead to a career they’d like.
For the time being, it’s business as usual at the 35,000-square foot center, set next to a municipal golf course in a working-class neighborhood. The fallout from the scandal that brought down the school’s benefactor hasn’t intruded, so far, at a place where Woods always believed he did his best work.
Greg McLaughlin, head of the Tiger Woods Foundation, says the center has enough financial support to carry on while Woods is on hiatus from golf.
The future is a bit more unsettled, if only because everything about Woods right now is unsettled. But if McLaughlin is worried, he doesn’t show it.
“We feel pretty confident we’re in a good place right now,” he said. “We have a pretty strong financial position which is a tribute to our fundraising efforts, and I think that will sustain us during Tiger’s indefinite leave.”
While every new day seems to bring a new sighting of Woods and paparazzi scramble to get pictures of him and his family, things are decidedly more quiet at 1 Tiger Woods Way, where life inside his learning center goes on just as it has the last few years.
Fifth-graders arrive every morning by bus for their weeklong stay. They seem more interested in trying to build a rocket or filming a video than they do in the personal life of the man who made the place possible.
“They haven’t made any comment about it at all,” school director Katherine Bihr said.
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Woods always seemed destined to become a towering figure in sports, from the time he appeared on national television as a 2-year-old with a cut-down golf club to the time he became the first African-American to win the Masters. With plenty of guidance from his father, Earl, he was equally determined to create a legacy away from the golf course.
Father and son created the Tiger Woods Foundation when he turned pro in 1996, and for years it was a constant reminder to Woods that he was making a difference in the lives of kids who wouldn’t know the difference between a 9-iron and a putter.
Woods, by most accounts, hasn’t reached out to many people since going into seclusion. But one of the calls he did make was to assure the foundation he was not on a permanent leave of absence.
“He specifically wanted to talk about the foundation and his dedication and commitment to the kids we served,” McLaughlin said. “I conveyed that to all the staff and board members.”
Just as important were the calls from donors and sponsors. Like Tiger, they weren’t bailing, either.
“To the contrary, we’re actually pleased all of our partners are extremely supportive of our work,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t speculate what might happen in the future, but our partners know the quality of our work.”
How long the Tiger Woods Foundation can continue to fund the learning center and its other programs at current levels may depend on how long it takes Woods to rehabilitate his image. Though the foundation has millions in the bank, its fortunes largely revolve around that of the golfer who started it 14 years ago.
In addition, the foundation likely will have to spend millions on a second learning center in Washington that still doesn’t have a site more than two years after it was announced.
Until now, much of the foundation’s money came from events Woods is connected with, including his own tournament every December near Los Angeles. Chevron signed on as the title sponsor in 2008, declaring it a partnership born of “shared ideals and commitments.”
The foundation also runs the AT&T National, hosted by Woods in Washington in the summer. Woods may or may not be playing in the tournament, but the delicate subject of hosting it was resolved, at least temporarily, when he agreed to lay low this year.
Though AT&T dumped its commercial sponsorship of Woods in the wake of the scandal, the corporation is contracted for the tournament through 2014.
The other two events the foundation relies on for income are the Tiger Jam, an annual concert in Las Vegas, and the food-centric Block Party in Southern California. The Tiger Jam, which raises about $1 million a year, would seem to be most in jeopardy because it is largely dependent on both its host and the willingness of star music acts to appear with him for the benefit.
“It’s our intent to have a 13th Tiger Jam in 2010,” McLaughlin said. “We’re still working on trying to find a date that would work. It’s always driven by finding an artist able to perform.”
Though the tournaments and events generate plenty of money, they’re not exactly cash cows for the Woods foundation. According to IRS forms filed for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, they took in $36.2 million but cost $32.7 million to produce.
And while Woods has talked of reaching millions of children with his charity efforts, his foundation is relatively small compared with others. Among sports-related charities alone, the Tiger Woods Foundation ranked 15th on a list compiled by the nonprofit Foundation Center, just ahead of Henry Aaron’s Chasing The Dream Foundation.
McLaughlin says the foundation and its related entities have assets of about $99 million. Last year, $4.7 million was spent to run the learning center and $2.8 million was distributed as scholarships and grants to different charities and organizations. Figures filed on IRS 990 returns are somewhat lower for a year earlier, listing assets of $75 million and spending of about $6 million.
The foundation was hit that year by big losses in the stock market, something not unique to Woods’ charity. But the market has rebounded and the two tournaments should provide a steady stream of income at least for the near future. The foundation, meanwhile, still has considerable liquid assets and, even if donations dried up, Woods himself has deep pockets.
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Even before Woods became embroiled in a sex scandal, not everyone shared the view that he was doing all he could to help disadvantaged children. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown contended last year that Woods “gets away with teaching kids to play golf, and that’s his contribution” to society.
But almost every fifth-grader in Anaheim goes through the learning center, and most have never picked up a golf club. And while the driving range is prominent, the focus is more on science and careers than drivers.
The head of the Anaheim City School District says he’s grateful for the center, saying the 20,000 or so kids it has touched in its short existence far outweighs anything Woods may have done in his personal life.
“Having a resource like the Tiger Woods Learning Center is just incredible,” superintendent Jose Banda said. “It comes down to money, especially with budgets the way they are. The stuff they have is state of the art and expensive stuff.”
On a recent morning, the driving range out the back door was empty. During breaks, the fifth-graders are likelier to be kicking a soccer ball than hitting golf balls.
This class is mostly Hispanic, and nearly all are from low-income families. Ask if they know who Tiger Woods is, and they’re quick with a response.
“He’s a professional golfer,” one says.
Ask what else they know about Woods and you get little more than a shrug or a smile. If they’ve heard whispers from their parents or watched things on TV, they don’t let on.
McLaughlin, who has known Woods since he offered him an exemption into the Los Angeles Open as a teenager, admits he was initially blindsided by the whole scandal.
“I wasn’t aware of any of the indiscretions that became known, but I can tell you Tiger is a good person and someone I’ve known a long time,” McLaughlin said. “What I’ve seen over 20 years seeing his commitment to kids and the foundation is undeniable.”
Not only will Woods’ charities survive and thrive, McLaughlin maintains, but his legacy will someday change. He’s convinced there is a higher calling for Woods, one that will someday outweigh his current troubles.
“When his obituary is written, it will say here’s an individual who made a tremendous contribution to society,” he said. “When that time comes people will realize what he’s done for millions of kids. You have to think that ultimately this will be a big part of how people view him in life.”