Wedged between a military base and a suburban neighborhood of tract homes, Navy Golf Course could easily be taken for a mid-city muni and nothing more. The layout occupies a mostly flat, open tract of land in Cypress, California, dotted with water hazards and trees. But a dusty display case inside the clubhouse reveals a clue to something deeper: It contains a few faded snapshots, including one taken on the premises, of a gangly Tiger Woods.
Arnold Palmer had Latrobe Country Club. Jack Nicklaus had Scioto. And Tiger Woods, son of a Green Beret, had Navy, as this modest twenty-seven-hole complex is known. Based on shot values alone, few traveling golfers would go out of their way to play the eighteen-hole Destroyer Course or the executive nine, Cruiser, both of which opened to civilians in 2006.
But for fans of the world’s number-one golfer, a visit to Navy is a pilgrimage to the place where the legend was born. And as Tiger’s path to glory lengthens, certain sketchy details from his youth may become further obscured. So they’re worth recognizing now.
Look for the eucalyptus tree on the left side of the sixth hole, 347 yards from the tee. It’s known as Tiger’s Tree because Woods’s father, Earl, used to tell his son he wouldn’t be ready to play with the big boys until he could reach it with his drive—a feat he pulled off at age sixteen, says Joe Grohman, Navy’s longtime pro. You’ll also get a telling sense of how Tiger developed his unwavering focus: Clattering Apache helicopters fly in and out of the Joint Forces Training Base, mere yards away.
Although Earl was a decorated Vietnam veteran, a cohort of intolerant patrons of the club didn’t endear themselves to his mixed-race son. Tiger was insulted with racial epithets, and club officials once banished him from the course for allegedly hitting range balls into a nearby garden. Over time, the membership has turned over, and Grohman says the club would love to make peace with Tiger. But Woods has never returned. History isn’t always pretty.