Woods carves a vision at High Carolina

SWANNANOA - Standing in what will eventually be the 18th fairway of his first American golf course design - the Cliffs at High Carolina - Tiger Woods looked up the hill Saturday morning toward a white stake designating where the 18th green will be built.

Woods stood on bulldozed dirt, still thick with sticks and stumps, under a blue October sky. The hardwoods covering the hills around him had not yet begun to show their autumn colors but Woods wore a brown sweatshirt against a soft, cool breeze.

Two years from now - fall of 2011 if all goes well - High Carolina will be open for play and Woods could see it coming to life Saturday.

"You want to leave a lasting impression on anyone who plays here," Woods said. "This is as good as it gets."

From where he stood, approximately 3,800 feet above sea level 10 miles east of Asheville, Woods could see for miles. In ideal conditions, golfers will be able to see nearly 50 miles from spots around High Carolina.

From a tent adjacent to the 18th green, the view was spectacular. Down below, low clouds filled gaps between small hills before the sun burned away the fog.

Woods, in conjunction with his team, is not just designing the par-71 golf course. He's also involved in planning the overall community, which has already sold 30 homesites at an average price of $1 million apiece. Membership at High Carolina will be $150,000 and include access to the other Cliffs communities.

"We never anticipated he would be involved to this level," said Jim Anthony, who has developed the six, private Cliffs golf communities in western North and South Carolina.

Asked Saturday if Forbes magazine was correct in reporting he earns more than $10-million per course design, Woods smiled and said, "That would be nice."

Woods is also designing courses in Dubai and Mexico but his work at High Carolina is unique in several ways. It's his only U.S. course design. It's being carved into rolling mountain land unlike the desert setting of his Dubai course and his ocean/cliffside design in Mexico.

Walking the property Saturday morning, Woods marveled at the scenery surrounding him.

"It's unbelievable to have the opportunity to design something on this land," he said. "You don't get pieces of property like this. I'm from L.A. (originally Cypress, Cal.). We don't see this."

Because the permitting process to clear the land took longer than anticipated, many future holes are still covered by trees. Hole designs are marked by tall white stakes set at the tee, the landing area in the fairway and the green.

By spring, all 18 holes should be cleared and the holes will be shaped. To soften slopes, Woods said grading and leveling will be done in various spots around the layout.

With experienced designers as part of his team, Woods' goal is to design a course playable for golfers of all skill levels. There will be six sets of tees that can make the course play as short as 4,902 yards and as long as 7,515 yards.

Though he has been playing golf since he was two, Woods (33) said he did not begin paying attention to course design until he played the Old Course at St. Andrews and Carnoustie during a 1995 trip to Scotland.

He was struck there - and again at Pinehurst No. 2 - by how those layouts allowed players to play the ball along the ground into greens rather than forcing every shot to be hit in the air. If his designs will have a 'signature' element to them, Woods said it will be "utilizing the ground as your ally."

"Before I entered the design business, I started paying attention to why guys design courses the way they do," Woods said. "It got me intrigued and once I got involved in the design, it was addicting.

"You can create something that people will remember and want to come back to. It's fun and challenging and people will say they want to come back and do this again. Not all courses are that way.

"There's no better way to capture it than with 50-mile views."

It's what captured Tiger Woods.