Golf pro Tiger Woods’ decision to move his business operations to Jupiter undoubtedly bolsters Palm Beach County‘s position as a hub in the golf world — and it comes without any formal effort by economic developers to woo the world’s highest-paid athlete with tax breaks or other incentives.
“To move his whole business here is a testament to what Palm Beach County represents,” said Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic golf tournament and president of IGP Sports & Entertainment Group in North Palm Beach. “It’s fantastic.”
Woods recently finished building an oceanfront mansion on Jupiter Island, so it’s no surprise that he is moving his business to Jupiter from Orlando.
“With Tiger’s relocation to the area, it was important for the office to move, too,” said Chris Hubman, chief financial officer of Woods’ company, ETW Corp. “It’s a great place to live and work, and we have been warmly received.”
Though he hasn’t won a tournament since 2009, the year his ugly divorce dominated headlines, Woods remains the world’s richest athlete. He’s the only athlete to earn $1 billion. He earned $75 million during the 12 months that ended in May 1, more than any other sports star, according to Forbes magazine.
“Tiger is still the biggest name in our sport, and relocating his company in Jupiter should have a positive effect on the golf industry in the area,” said golf great Gary Player, whose Gary Player Group is based in Palm Beach Gardens.
Although Woods’ endorsement deals and winnings have waned since his scandal, Palm Beach County business boosters are happy to claim him as the county’s newest corporate citizen.
Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, plans to drop his name in pitches to other employers looking to move here.
“I’m going to be able to tout the fact that his corporate headquarters are here,” Smallridge said. “We plan on using it.”
It’s unclear how many jobs Woods will bring here from Orlando; Smallridge guesses 20 to 30.
Woods will move his business without seeking tax incentives to do so. Palm Beach County has used tax breaks and other public incentives to lure or keep internationally known employers such as The Scripps Research Institute, the Max Planck Society and Office Depot‘s headquarters.
Woods’ unprompted move amounts to “a free gift,” Smallridge said.
While state and county efforts to recruit businesses often focus on public incentives, tax breaks aren’t a priority for most business owners, said Joseph Cortright, an economist in Portland, Ore. Many times, executives seek to be close to similar businesses.
Woods’ new offices were formerly occupied by Greg Norman’s business, and Nicklaus’ and Player’s offices are only a few miles away.
“Many times when you find one world-class operation in one place, you find a lot of others,” Cortright said. “Once a cluster gets established, there are really powerful incentives for people to be where the action is.”
Carlsbad, Calif., is home to another cluster of golf companies. Club makers Callaway Golf, TaylorMade-adidas Golf and Cobra Golf are based there, and Fairhaven, Mass.-based Titleist has an operation in Carlsbad.
Palm Beach and Martin counties already are an international capital of golf course design firms, including Nicklaus’ design arm and the Jupiter offices of prominent designer Tom Fazio.
The American Society of Golf Course Architects counts 11 members in the area from Palm Beach Gardens to Stuart — the same number as Texas.
But a glut of golf courses and the collapse of the homebuilding industry have left little work for golf course designers.
“There’s no projects in the United States anymore,” said Jim Fazio of Jim Fazio Golf Design in Palm Beach Gardens. “You either work overseas and travel, or you find another line of work.”
Fazio, brother of Tom Fazio, is working on courses in Italy and Japan, and he’s not sure when he’ll get another project in Florida.
“Our industry may never be the same as it was,” Jim Fazio said. “There are so many golf courses, and people aren’t playing as much golf as they used to. I’m not optimistic.”
While course design is on the downswing, the earnings of pro golfers are on the rise. The average prize money for a PGA Tour event nearly doubled in the past decade to $6 million.
And those players are flocking to Palm Beach and Martin counties. The area is home not just to Woods, Nicklaus, Norman and Player but also toErnie Els.
Honda Classic director Kennerly said more than 30 touring pros live here, including PGA Tour No. 1 Luke Donald.
“It’s a terrific place to live,” Kennerly said. “You’ve got fantastic golf facilities. You’ve got easy access to the ocean.”
Kennerly sees northern Palm Beach County and southern Martin County eclipsing Orlando as the center of Florida’s golf universe — in large part because rising earnings mean golfers no longer need to be near a busy international airport.
“A lot of people moved into the Orlando area back in the 1980s and ’90s because of the airport,” Kennerly said. “You could fly anywhere in the world from Orlando. Now, a lot of them are flying privately.”
Player, a native of South Africa, predicts Woods won’t be the last big-money golfer to follow Nicklaus, Norman and others to Palm Beach County.
“In many respects, Tiger is following all of us,” Player said. “I am sure that this area will attract more golf-focused businesses in the future.”
Source: Sun Sentinel