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Woods Touts Learning Center for Any Kid With a Tough Course

August 29, 2004|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

When Tiger Woods finally arrived on the Anaheim driving range of his youth Saturday afternoon, he certainly didn't disappoint. With a sand wedge in his hand and a bucket of golf balls at his feet, the world's top-ranked golf professional told the crowd that he always warms up before a tournament with a little target practice.

He gestured casually to a metal sign 75 yards away on the range, aligned himself and took a swing. A collective gasp erupted into a roar as the ball plunked against the sign.

"Not bad, huh?" Woods said with a chuckle.

This time next year, however, a similar shot would likely crash through a window of an expansive education center planned by Woods and his foundation.

Construction begins next month on the Tiger Woods Learning Center, a $10-million, 35,000-square-foot complex on the grounds of the H.G. "Dad" Miller Golf Course, where Woods played as a student at nearby Western High School.

Scheduled to open in spring 2005, the year-round center will be free to all students from grades four through 12 and feature classrooms, a computer lab and 250-seat auditorium.

About 1,750 kids and parents from Anaheim and as far away as Jamaica packed the driving range bleachers Saturday for the largest of a series of clinics run by Woods this year. In previous years, Woods has held his clinic in Orlando, Fla., but moved it to Anaheim to draw attention to the learning center.

Before Woods arrived in a golf cart to the pounding beat of "Eye of the Tiger," a crew of Navy paratroopers skydived onto the driving range and Earl Woods, the chairman of his son's foundation, addressed the crowd.

Katherine Bihr, the center's executive director, said she expects an after-school program to supplement classes in math, science and language skills. The center will also run school-hour classes for children on vacation.

Such classes, Bihr said, will be especially valuable for Anaheim's crowded schools, which run on year-round, multitrack calendars that constantly rotate groups of students in and out of school.

Bihr said she expects about 3,500 students a year to enroll in the center's programs.

Woods has donated $5 million of the $20 million raised to build and operate the center. Most of the funds has come from corporations such as American Express and Target. Foundation officials hope to raise another $5 million over the coming year.

And while the center will include sand traps, an 18-hole putting course and a driving range for students, Woods said the purpose of the center is to improve grades for all students, not correct hooks for aspiring golfers.

"Golf has never been my top priority and it never will be," Woods said Saturday. "I was very fortunate to have teachers in my life that took the time to help me, and I want to build something that will give these kids the same opportunities."

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