Tiger’s Life-Changing 17-Hour Drive From Bellerive

The last time Tiger Woods arrived at Bellerive Country Club, the world was a very different place.

Speaking on Tuesday ahead of the 100th PGA Championship, Woods reflected on that fateful week 17 years ago when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 canceled the WGC-American Express Championship and resulted in a life-changing 17-hour car ride from St. Louis to Woods’ home in Windemere, Florida.

“I literally haven’t set foot on this golf course since that week in 2001,” Woods said. “It was a very surreal time, at least for me anyways. I had done an American Express clinic here in town, and I played a practice round with (MarkCalcavecchia) and the tragedies that happened transpired.

“One of the towers had fallen on the American Express building, and a lot of people lost their lives and the people at American Express were struggling at the time, and I think Tim (Finchem) made the right move in canceling the event.

“That was on the 11th, and I drove home on the 13th; 17 hours to get back home to Florida, and it was a very surreal time for myself on that drive and a lot of reflecting.”

The reflection that took place on that drive changed Woods’ life, his life’s mission and undoubtedly the lives of innumerable kids that his Tiger Woods Foundation benefitted. At the time, the Tiger Woods Foundation was concentrated mainly around after-school youth programs and scholarships.

With the United States reeling from the attacks and all planes grounded, Woods took his Buick courtesy car and headed home, but a chilling thought came to his mind. 

“I just felt that if I was the one in one of those buildings or on one of the planes, what would be left behind?” Woods said, according to GolfDigest.com’s Joel Beall. “And I basically thought I hadn’t done anything. Yeah, I can hit a golf ball wherever it may be, but that’s entertainment. I hadn’t done anything impacting.”

From there, his foundation’s mission pivoted.

“We were a golf-based foundation,” Woods explained on Tuesday. “I did a lot of clinics around the country and tried to raise money for the local areas, trying to bring awareness and a better understanding to our youth about the job opportunities that are afforded in the game of golf. You don’t have to be a PGA Professional or a Tour player to make a living. There’s a lot of different opportunities, and that’s what we tried to do.

“When the tragedies happened on the 11th and I drove home on the 13th and I reflected, if I had been a part of that, what would our foundation be? Well, we wouldn’t be really anything because I called it basically a traveling circus. We would raise a bunch of money, be there for one week and gone for 51. What would we be?

“A couple weeks later I sat down with my dad, and I said, ‘hey, Dad, I think we need to change the foundation and our directive and how we go about it.’ And he says, ‘what do you have in mind?’ And I said, ‘well, it has to be along the lines of how I grew up. It was family, then academics, and then golf, or whatever sport I was playing at the time.’ And so he said, ‘okay, let me get back to you in a week or so,’ and that’s when we got the lease from the city of Anaheim, 50 years for one dollar a year, and we built our learning lab there in Anaheim on the golf course that I played my high school golf.

“Lo and behold, we have now what? 53 different curriculums that are based in STEM, and so that one drive changed our entire directive of my foundation.”