MONTGOMERY, Texas -- Have a Tiger Woods press conference, and the media will certainly come. That was the case Wednesday at Bluejack National, the new exclusive private club about 35 miles north of Houston. It's Tiger Woods' first U.S. golf course design, which is definitely big news, but the reason the Wall Street Journal and a couple other national media outlets sent reporters, of course, was to check on Woods' health.
Still recuperating from back surgery, the million-dollar question is when will Woods return to action? While the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are holding their own on the PGA Tour right now, the question of Woods' return is paramount in the golf world. (GolfChannel.com's Ryan Lavner chronicles Tiger's health in this report from Bluejack.)
But on Wednesday we also learned about a different side of Tiger Woods -- his design philosophy and perhaps even more accurately, how he thinks golf should be played.
For example, we learned that Woods is like most golfers; he hates to lose golf balls. And while that's not much of an issue for tour pros, Woods recalled how he would fish lakes growing up in California, looking for balata balls he could play in tournaments, undoubtedly to replace the ones he lost or damaged during his practice or tournament rounds on other courses in California.
He also hates slow play. And finally, as a father of two young children, he wants a place where he can take them to have fun, whether it's on the course or fishing on the lake, and said he plans to return to Bluejack National long after its completed, from time to time to do just that.
All those attributes can be found in the work he did at Bluejack National, where nine holes are open (all 18 holes are grown in and expected to be open in April), and on Wednesday, staff and members celebrated the opening of The Playgrounds Course as well as "The Place," which centers around Bluejack's Nike Golf Performance Center.
Bluejack developer Michael Abbott said Woods' vision was just what they wanted.
"What he did for us here is teach us how he could make a very playable golf course," Abbott said. "If we make it playable and fun, then we bring back families, we bring the social part of golf back again.
"It's been the greatest treat of my lifetime to work with somebody like (Woods)."
Video: Ryan Lavner on Bluejack National design
Bluejack could be a model for future facilities
While Bluejack is certainly reserved for those who can afford to join such an exclusive club, the model is unique and could inspire more clubs and facilities to copy its innovations.
"I think golf should be played on the ground," said Woods, whose Tiger Woods Design Group has one other course to its credit, El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. El Cardonal, like Bluejack, is a course that almost always provides openings to the greens as do most of the links courses in Great Britain and Ireland.
"You can putt it from 120 yards out," Woods said of those courses. "Trust me; I've done it. When I won in St. Andrews (on the Old Course) in 2000, I putted from 86 yards on the sixth hole. I just think that's the way golf can be played and should be played."
For the record, though, Bluejack National is not a links course, not even close. The course actually looks a lot like Augusta National, also on the short list of Woods' favorite venues. But like the Old Course, Bluejack National, which features perfect zoysia fairways and stunning white Augusta-like bunkers, can be played on the ground; you just have to go around the water hazards. Better players won't do that, of course; they'll fly the ponds and lakes as well as many of the bunkers, and from the tips at 7,425 yards, it'll be a huge test.
But like Woods said, unless you dunk it in the water, you won't lose any golf balls. There's no rough, the underbrush along the pines and oaks have been cleared out and largely replaced with pine straw, and the trees have been thinned out as well. Plus, there are multiple sets of tees, including the "Frank" kids' tees, named for Woods' old Nike head-cover mascot, and those short tees play around 3,000 yards. And as Abbott pointed out, many groups are playing the nine holes that are open in about an hour and 10 minutes.
Bluejack National: Much more than a golf course
As a bonus, though, the main course is just one of the many options at Bluejack National, which will soon take its place among the elite clubs in the Houston area (Many of Bluejack's almost 80 members are already members of other elite clubs). This is a unique development, a resort-style community that will also provide tennis, bowling, fishing, a spa, pools, zip lines, a treehouse for the kids, movie theater, football field and even a mini "Fenway Park."
It also has The Playgrounds, a 10-hole short course every bit as conditioned as the main golf course, with holes ranging from 35 yards to 110 yards, with the flexibility to make up your own holes as well. Wednesday's press conference and subsequent member event with Woods was about the opening of that course as well as the Nike Performance Center. The Playgrounds is also lighted, which means you can play it well into the night. Woods drew some inspiration for that from an 18-hole, lighted, par-3 course called Heartwell Park in Long Beach, Calif.
"That was a fun place to play," Woods said. "I think this is the same thing, just done a different way."
The Nike Center will also be fun, but can be a place for golfers who want to seriously work on their game. As only one of three such venues in the world, the facility features the latest in technology, including two instructional and hitting bays, a SAM Putting Lab, a fitness room as well as a lounge with a bar and grill overlooking The Playgrounds. And the range, not surprisingly, is as pristine as Augusta, too.
And of course, all of this is being accomplished at the highest quality with no detail overlooked. Already, Bluejack National is on par with the very best private clubs in Texas. Anyone who comes out for the first time is taken aback by the natural and agronomic beauty of the entire facility.
One of the biggest coups, perhaps, was the hiring of Eric Bauer as director of agronomy. Before Bluejack National, he grew in and maintained The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, just southeast of Montgomery. Carlton Woods, which has 36 holes (including a Tom Fazio course with zoysia grass) had a reputation as one of the finest conditioned facilities in the United States, and Bluejack isn't far behind, especially after a warm February helped to continue the grow-in.