THE FIRST THING you notice when you walk into Tiger Woods's restaurant in Jupiter, Fla., is that it doesn't seem like Tiger Woods's restaurant. There are only three photos of Tiger in The Woods Jupiter. All are sepia-toned. In one, you see only his legs and his shadow; in another, his face is obscured by his hands; and in the third, a golf ball is in focus but the man who putted it is impossible to make out.
You might think Woods employs the world's worst photo editor. Actually, there is a point to fuzziness and strange cropping. You are supposed to know who owns The Woods, but you aren't supposed to care.
"Most of the people who are close to me were surprised that I didn't want my face associated with it," Woods says. "I just didn't think it needed that. I wanted it to stand out on its own merit. I didn't want it to be that people were going there because it's my restaurant."
The only real sign that this is a famous golfer's hangout is the famous golfers who hang out. The Woods is the sport's version of Cheers, but with a twist: Fans know everybody's name. Visit on the right day, and you might see some combination of Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Daniel Berger, Keegan Bradley and Michelle Wie. McIlroy's parents are regulars too. And yes, that guy standing over by the bar, joking with the bartenders, is indeed the owner of 14 major championships, as well as The Woods.
With its leather chairs and bevy of wine bottles on display, The Woods may seem like a typical upscale restaurant, but there is no place in America quite like it. LeBron James or Sidney Crosby couldn't copy the formula: The stars of their sport don't live in the same city year-round (though many NBA stars do spend the offseason in Los Angeles). Jupiter has become the capital of the PGA Tour, and The Woods is where the movers and shakers meet. This is not what Woods envisioned when he decided to open his own restaurant. And that is exactly why it happened.
TO UNDERSTAND how The Woods breaks from the tradition of the sports star restaurant, go back to the early 1990s. Michael Jordan was playing basketball better than anybody ever had, and so, naturally, Michael Jordan's Restaurant opened, in the River North neighborhood of Chicago.
The restaurant—not to be confused with the Michael Jordan's Steakhouse chain, which came later—was the quintessential American celebrity restaurant. The logo was Jordan's autograph on a basketball. An enormous mural of Jordan hung outside. Tourists flocked there to buy not just food but also shirts, golf balls and posters. Jordan had a private, glass-enclosed room on the second floor, where, like a museum piece, he could be viewed but not touched. But Jordan didn't actually own the restaurant. It was a licensing deal.
After a while Jordan realized that sitting in a glass-enclosed room of a restaurant that bore his name was not quite the same as privacy, and that eventually led to the quintessential American lawsuit: The owners said Michael Jordan abandoned Michael Jordan's Restaurant, and he sued them for denigrating him. (He won. The restaurant closed.)
The Woods is everything that Michael Jordan's was not. Woods owns it outright. Asked if he picked a lot of people's brains when he decided to open a restaurant, he says, "Honestly, not really." There were two good reasons for that. One is that while restaurants are notoriously risky business ventures, The Woods is a tiny slice of Tiger's portfolio. The place could be empty all year, and he still wouldn't have to sell his yacht. So he didn't have to obsess over profit margins.
The other reason Woods didn't do much due diligence is that he knew exactly what he wanted: somewhere to eat while he watched sports and "a place where my kids and I can have dinner and relax." Woods has no apparent problems relaxing at his restaurant—he is usually found up front and often mingles with waitstaff and customers. The customer he most wanted to please was the Tiger fan but himself, and he said he would feel weird eating regular meals at a restaurant that was essentially a shrine. He says he called it The Woods instead of something like Tiger Woods's Place because "I just felt it is a family restaurant. My family are the two kids and my mom. We're all Woodses."
He does have a private room, but it's more of a design afterthought than a centerpiece; you could walk through the whole restaurant and not figure out where it was. Woods says, "I really don't go back there that much. I'm usually at the bar." He sits in the room only when he wants privacy with his daughter Sam, 10, and son Charlie, 9.
The year after Woods won his first major, the 1997 Masters, he famously chose cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries and milkshakes for the club's Champions Dinner. Some of the event's older champions were appalled, but Woods was 22 at the time. This was what he liked to eat. His tastes have matured since then, but he still says, "Anything that has to do with beef, I'm definitely in." There are five steaks on the menu. It is common to visit The Woods and see Tiger eating one while Charlie and Sam eat salads or bison burgers.
WHAT WOODS did not realize until the place opened in August 2015 was that other star golfers would gravitate toward The Woods. They go because the food is delicious and the place is upscale but not pretentious.
On a recent trip this writer plowed through the calamari (served with blue cheese and a Buffalo-wing style sauce, a genius idea), the lollipop lamb chops, a rib eye sandwich and the s'mores casserole. The young Tour pros often make a meal out of appetizers alone. As Woods says, "A lot of the kids on Tour have gravitated toward it. They like it. They know they're safe there." When Thomas won the PGA Championship last August, he went to The Woods and took the Wanamaker Trophy with him. Fowler was there, and so was Woods, and it's easy to imagine them both looking at Thomas and thinking, "I'll have what he's having."
"PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED I DIDN'T WANT MY FACE ASSOCIATED WITH THE PLACE," WOODS SAYS. "I JUST DIDN'T THINK IT NEEDED THAT."