Perhaps it’s the moment the sleek white Tavistock Group corporate helicopter lands on the 18th fairway, dropping off the Isleworth team of red-clad golfers after a quick 10-minute cross-town commute. Or maybe it’s just the private presence of Hall of Fame-caliber players like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and a host of others putting on the practice green as Golf Channel satellite trucks and PGA tour leader boards prepare for the live worldwide telecast.
Whatever the case may be, the first thing that’s clear about Orlando’s Tavistock Cup is this isn’t your typical Monday morning “member-guest” tournament.
In 2005, when CNBC provided news coverage of the second-ever Tavistock Cup, an annual golf tournament featuring Isleworth Golf & Country Club’s touring professional golf members against touring pros from cross-town sister club Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, the cable business news channel billed the private event as the “Toughest Ticket in Sports.” Others have described the friendly affair hosted by Orlando-based Tavistock Group as the World Golf and Country Club Championship.
According to Lake Nona member Ian Poulter, the contest is all about bragging rights – two great clubs, great members and great pros. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” the popular British golfer said before this year’s event at Lake Nona.
However one wants to describe it, the recently held Tavistock Cup is simply one of the most unique and compelling sporting events around. How else can one explain an invitation-only event whose rosters read like a who’s who of golf, led by none other than Woods – one of the greatest athletes ever. Or a gallery highlighted by past Tavistock Cup player and female golf icon Annika Sorenstam, who casually roamed the crowd at this year’s event after slipping out of her nearby Lake Nona fairway home.
Factor in the likes of fellow participants Stuart Appleby, J.B. Holmes, John Cook and captain Mark O’Meara on this year’s Isleworth team, as well as the Els-captained Lake Nona squad led by Retief Goosen, Justin Rose, Chris DiMarco and defending Masters champ Trevor Immelman – to name just half the players — and the members of these two clubs have won an astonishing 53 major championships and 710-plus worldwide victories.
Throw in a tournament purse of $3.5 million, $1 million of which is donated to charities, two days of live international Golf Channel coverage and all the trappings of a top Tour extravaganza, including 10 leader boards and party suites/tents flowing with the finest of foods and spirits, and it’s well apparent there’s nothing quite like the PGA Tour-sanctioned Tavistock Cup.
In fact, all the talent, organization, and luxurious amenities and accoutrements associated with the event has the flavor and feel of a major championship, yet it’s open to just 4,000-plus Lake Nona/Isleworth members, residents, guests, sponsors and volunteers fortunate enough to follow their favorite stars in an extremely rare, no-ropes golf environment. What this special intimacy also offers is an opportunity to enjoy the players and world-class amenities of Tavistock’s Isleworth and Lake Nona communities in a distinctly more lighthearted and relaxed fashion.
For instance, what other event with this type of talent and prize money on the line actually holds a major themed private gala on the eve of the final round where all the sponsors and special guests mingle and party together – with the players as part of another fundraiser. At this year’s highly popular gala, a brand new Audi 5 Series car and $20,000-plus Omega watches were just two of the live raffle prizes.
Back on the course, where hole-in-one/closest to the pin prizes include more Audi cars and Omega watches, Air Nautique boats and private travel from Marquis Jet, the mood and competition is just as spirited as spectators show up by the thousands in either “mandatory” Isleworth Red or Lake Nona Blue to display their official support for Team Isleworth or Team Lake Nona. Even the world’s No. 1 ranked player lets down his guard in a rare competitive moment, telling comedic commentator David Feherty, “There’s no doubt we’re going to have a little bit of fun today,” just one day after placing ninth at the World Golf Championship in his second tournament since coming back from knee surgery.
And fun Woods had on the first hole of the opening day, when the world’s top-ranked golfer gave everybody a chuckle by walking up from the back of the tee box with a pair of white autographed boxers as Henrik Stenson was lining up his opening drive. Of course, the briefs were a brief reminder of Stenson’s highly publicized shot at the previous weekend’s World Golf Championship at Doral, when the Swedish golfer stripped down to his white underwear and whacked a wet shot from a water hazard.
From behind the tee box, boxers in hand, Woods leaned into host emcee Gary McCord’s microphone and said with a grin, “On behalf of all the players from Team Isleworth, we’d like to personally present to you …” and Woods, with a beaming smile, unfolded the autographed shorts and draped them over Stenson’s golf bag.
McCord, who entertained the crowd all tournament long with his witty comments, then yelled, “Oh, and they’re dirty!” Stenson quickly turned to the camera and replied with an ever-so-slightly embarrassed smile, “He’s disgusting you know,” in reference to Woods. “You know that don’t you?”
McCord then carried on with the gag, saying, “These will be on eBay tonight ladies and gentleman in case you want to bid. Starting bid will be a dollar and a half. I’m in!” Everybody then roared in laughter, and Woods and longtime caddie Steve Williams beamed with smiles, as Stenson’s caddie, Fanny Sunesson proudly waved the boxers for all to see.
That moment, in many ways, encapsulates the priceless experience of being at the Tavistock Cup.
“There is truly no other golf tournament in the world like it,” says Tavistock Cup tournament director Andy Odenbach. “Fifty percent of our member professionals playing on the PGA Tour are in the top 30 in the world, and our guests get to walk right down the middle of the fairways with them as they compete … it is unreal.”
What is equally as unreal are the two exclusive private communities owned by the Tavistock Group, a private investment company founded and controlled by British billionaire Joe Lewis. Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, the setting for this year’s March exhibition, is a gorgeous 600-acre private community located in southeast Orlando, and serves as the centerpiece to the growing 7,000-acre mixed-used Lake Nona development highlighted by a booming life sciences corridor that features a new University of Central Florida College of Medicine, Veterans Administration and Nemours Children hospitals, and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
Besides the world-class championship course designed by Tom Fazio, other top amenities enjoyed at Lake Nona are an elegant 40,000-square Neo-Georgian-styled clubhouse, an 18-room Lodge, world-class Bath & Racquet Club and state-of-the-art fitness center. The pristine golf course, set amidst a secluded wooded canopy on the front nine and three large picturesque lakes on the back nine, has hosted many international golf events over the years, including the Solheim Cup, World Cup and several USGA qualifiers.
Among the low-density setting of Lake Nona lies an array of Mediterranean- and French-inspired residences, ranging from coach homes to custom estate homes priced at $1 million to more than $7 million. Famed golfers Sorenstam and Sergio Garcia are two of the member-residents, as well as former football coach Lou Holtz and tennis great Jim Courier.
On the other side of Orlando where Woods calls home in Isleworth, the setting is even more luxurious and exclusive. Situated on 600 acres, the private gated enclave of less than 400 residential units is home to numerous sports stars and celebrities led by Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter and Ken Griffey Jr., and business leaders such as Darden Restaurants chief executive Clarence Otis, Tupperware Brands chairman/CEO Rick Goings and IMG vice chairman Alastair Johnston to name a few.
Featuring one of the most exquisite clubhouses in the world, an 89,000-square-foot Mediterranean-styled structure, numerous multi-million-dollar Sotheby’s sculptures scattered about the grounds and an 18-hole course called “Florida’s Augusta” by member-resident Robert Allenby, and Isleworth Golf and Country Club is simply in a league of its own. Home prices at Isleworth start at $2 million and go up to $20 million-plus.
If either of these communities isn’t compelling enough, try visiting Tavistock Group’s newest resort-style development called Albany, which features Woods and Els as two of the development partners. A luxury beach resort community on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, Albany has a broad array of amenities for all members of the family including a luxury boutique hotel, an Els-designed 18-hole championship golf course and a mega-yacht marina flanked by luxury marina residences designed by some of the most acclaimed architects in the world. Most of the amenities are scheduled to be open fall 2010.
Meanwhile, Tavistock Group also is in a high-profile partnership with the Jamaican Government’s Harmonization Ltd., to jointly plan and develop 2,350 oceanfront acres on the country’s northern coast in Trelawney Parish (Jamaica’s prime minister Bruce Golding was in attendance at this year’s Tavistock Cup). The Harmony Cove development is designed to reclaim the age of luxury in Jamaica and will include several hotels, a gaming lounge, golf courses, retail shops, restaurants and marina, making it one of the Caribbean’s definitive premier resort destinations.
Whether it’s building best-of-class private resort-style country club communities, or hosting one-of-a-kind sporting events, it’s hard to top the Tavistock touch. That would certainly be the opinion of those wined and dined at this year’s Tavistock Cup, where two days of Grey Goose, Sea Bass, lobster tail and other tasty treats made most people forget about the depressing economy or anything else for that matter — other than having just a great time at a private party with the best players in the world.
Yep, for at least two days under idyllic spring conditions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, it seemed like all was right in the world. Then again, that’s how it feels all the time inside the gates of Tavistock Group’s communities.
As the colorful Poulter put it after he and his champagne-soaked teammates won this year’s four-ball medal match-play/four-ball singles medal match play, 17-13, “Everything about the Tavistock Cup and Tavistock Group just gets bigger and better each year.”
“Just look out there and see all the red and blue people having a great time,” added Poulter, as his little girl danced around the 18thgreen spraying Perrier-Jouet champagne at victorious Lake Nona party-goers. “For Joe Lewis and his team to put on such a great show like this says a lot about the quality of his company and the communities. There’s nothing else like it in sports.”
Indeed, and there’s nothing quite like the Tavistock Group. Sometimes, the grass is greener on the other side.