A bunch of fifth graders in a packed classroom at the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim are analyzing hair and fingerprint samples from a mock crime scene.
Another class is separating and documenting macromolecules from DNA samples—a process called gel electrophoresis.
Ten-year-old Jaziel Segura is on another case, using a sketch he drew to track down a thief who steals markers.
His classroom for the week is a forensics lab, and his tools are microscopes, sifting containers and other paraphernalia.
No textbooks here—a marked difference from the traditional lesson plans the kids usually take up at Orange Grove Elementary School a few miles away in the shadows of Disneyland.
“This is more detailed about everything,” Segura says. “You have to figure out how you got the answer.”
Segura is among 142 students from Orange Grove and nearby Paul Revere Elementary School who participated in the weeklong program, which was funded by the Irvine-based Tiger Woods Foundation, which will get some global exposure this week as host and primary beneficiary of the newly minted Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
The luxury Genesis brand of Hyundai Motor America in Fountain Valley takes over as the title sponsor for another OC tie-in.
The PGA tour event, in its 91st year, is a homecoming of sorts for Tiger Woods, who received his first pro exemption 25 years ago at the storied course as a 16-year-old phenom.
The homecoming will be marred, though, due to his withdrawal from the Feb. 16 to 19 tournament due to back spasms.
“This is where it all started for me, and to come back here and play it and run it but also all the programs that benefit from this event are huge for us,” Woods said during a recent media day for the tournament. “I always love playing Riviera, I just never played it well.”
Woods has 79 tour wins, three behind record holder Sam Sneed.
The learning center in Anaheim that bears his name will aim to attract a gallery of its own outside the eighth tee during the tournament. It will sponsor an interactive exhibit for young fans, emphasizing activities steeped in its core emphasis of science, technology, engineering and math.
The temporary center will occupy a tent and feature stations on soil testing; stimpmeters that measure the speed of putting greens; Sphero robotic golf balls controlled through an app; and tinkering areas with engineering challenges.
“We want to provide some basic exposure of the things we do here,” says Executive Director Katherine Bihr. “This is our first time bringing our curriculum and content out” of the classroom and to an event.
The 36,000-square-foot permanent learning center in Anaheim was established in 2006 through a partnership with the city and county. The foundation leases 14 acres of county-owned land for $1 per year for 50 years.
The foundation built some practice holes and putting greens, and developed a driving range across the street.
The practice facility is for kids in the foundation’s program, while the driving green is open to the public and charges by the bucket for balls.
Two PGA pros are on staff and work with students on their games. Many kids who have gone through the program played in high school, some even landing college scholarships.
Woods—an alumnus of Anaheim’s Western High School, where he rose to national prominence in the junior amateur circuit before enrolling at Stanford University—wanted the foundation to find a property near his hometown.
He wanted to create a safe place for children where they could learn how to get involved in their community and discover their own path to higher education or a career they didn’t know existed.
“A lot of their families are struggling financially, and they don’t have a lot of resources—that’s why the center is here,” Bihr says. “Tiger wanted to provide a lot of opportunities for kids like he had as a young boy. It’s not just cutting a check.”
The foundation’s Earl Woods Scholarship Program, which honors Tiger’s late father, connects recipients with mentors and internships, offers workshops to navigate the collegiate experience and provides work force development, among other services.
“These kids are majority first-generation college students,” says program Marketing Manager Reshma Melwani.
Some have gone on to attend Ivy League schools. One works at NASA, another at Deloitte. A recent Earl Woods Scholar is a doctor in residency at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The learning center’s after-school program for students in seventh through 12th grades runs for seven weeks. Some students can immerse themselves in a variety of curricula, such as advanced engineering, digital manufacturing, forensics and food nutrition.
Some prefer more of a primary emphasis—rockets, for instance. An activity center is loaded with tools at their disposal: water bottles for test launches, a vertical wind tunnel for design analysis, and a propulsion chamber to gauge fueling.
“These kids are being equipped to succeed in life, not to just succeed in college,” says foundation Chief Executive Rick Singer, who has set a goal to reach one million students and provide professional development to 5,000 teachers.
The learning center has reached more than 150,000 students at its outlets in Anaheim, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Florida.
Many of the students who walk through the doors know Tiger Woods only as the learning center guy, not the most dominant golfer the sport has ever seen.
It’s still Tiger’s reputation as a golfer that TGR Live—the foundation’s event arm—had counted on to attract a strong attendance at the Genesis Open, where Tiger was scheduled to compete after withdrawing from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the month, citing back spasms, the latest in a string of serious setbacks and procedures that have derailed his historic career.
He remains a big draw on the tour when healthy, a growing concern as Tiger moves further into his 40s.
“Tiger moves the needle like no one else,” says tournament Director Mike Antolini.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to buy tickets for the event. The foundation, similar to other host charities on the tour, is in line to receive net proceeds from ticket sales, hospitality suites, donations, and other streams.
That figure will be in the millions, adding to the $140 million the foundation has raised since its inception in 1996. The funding is used to operate the learning center’s $3.5 million annual budget, the scholarship program, other initiatives and to pay a staff of about 35 part- and full-time workers.
TGR Live has amassed a volunteer staff of over 1,000 who will work the grounds as marshalls inside the ropes, standard bearers, score keepers and shot trackers, among other duties.
The field is an excellent one, with commitments from 15 of the top 30 players in the world, a fact not missed by Woods, who set the goal for his foundation to reach a million students.
“We can’t do that unless we have events like this. We need sponsors like Genesis, courses like Riviera and players that are committing,” he says. “We don’t have the ability to affect millions of kids’ lives if we don’t have the commitment.”