Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs might have shanked his reputation, but it’s developer Jim Anthony who’s in the rough. Two years after launching The Cliffs at High Carolina, home sites — priced from $500,000 to $3 million — are selling slower than tickets to a Tigerless tournament. And he’s stuck with millions in promotions featuring the golfer, including billboards depicting Woods swinging — with a golf club this time. “See what inspired me!” he says on one.
There’s a lesson in all this, says Jeff Goss, president of Asheville-based The Goss Agency Inc., the region’s largest advertising and marketing company. “Never use a celebrity to establish a brand. They’ve got him standing up on the mountaintop, like he’s conquered the mountains. It’s a little too prideful and arrogant for the situation he’s in.” The agency previously represented Travelers Rest, S.C.-based The Cliffs Communities Inc., though not the Buncombe County project.
When he launched it in August 2007, several months before the recession hit, Anthony tied The Cliffs at High Carolina to Woods, who designed the course, his first in America. But professional golf-course designers say active golfers usually have little more to do with course design than George Foreman does with grills. “The golfer might say, ‘Maybe that dogleg should be to the left, not right,’” designer Tom Fazio II says. “But that’s about all.” Neither Woods nor Anthony have revealed Woods’ financial arrangements with The Cliffs at High Carolina, but golf publications report Woods got $25 million for a similar role in a course in Dubai.
On billboards, promotional videos and in personal appearances, Woods and Anthony have hawked The Cliffs at High Carolina as family-strong. “With a wife and two kids,” Woods says in one video, “your perspective in life changes.” That was before November, when Elin Woods reportedly changed her husband’s perspective again after reports of his sexual escapades surfaced. Florida police found him unconscious with facial injuries beside his slightly wrecked Cadillac Escalade. His wife, mother of his two children, told them she had smashed the windows — trying to free him.
At The Cliffs, where Woods had helicoptered in to rub elbows with Anthony and potential buyers a few weeks before, Anthony issued a statement saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the Woods family” and insisted that the development’s bonds with Woods were unchanged. In December, company spokeswoman Jen Welch clammed up, refusing to comment on Woods or sales at the development, which economic boosters had portrayed as a boon to the Buncombe economy. She did say the course is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012.
Goss and other western North Carolina marketing experts say the controversy probably will blow over if Woods rejoins the pro tour. But the impact of the recession may linger. A year ago, The Cliffs executives reported that the 3,200-acre project had sold 42 of its 1,000 lots for more than $40 million. More recent reports, some quoting Anthony, put the number at less than 40. Matt Stone, Buncombe County’s building-permit supervisor, said in late December that only two building permits had been issued — one of them for a gatehouse.