By Mark Lamport-Stokes
THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has prepared for an emotional Sunday when his World Challenge golf tournament, which has raised over $25 million for his foundation, will end a successful run of 14 years in California.
Every December, an elite field has assembled at the picturesque Sherwood Country Club, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, to compete in the Woods-hosted event which will relocate to Florida for next year.
"Fourteen years here and it's been absolutely incredible," world number one Woods told Reuters as he reflected on the tournament's run in California after the inaugural edition was staged at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1999.
"The members, the board and all the volunteers have come out over the years through rain and wind, we've even had sleet here before, as well as perfect sunshine.
"And all the players who have supported it over the years, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to design and develop our learning centers without this event. It is going to be an emotional Sunday for sure."
Asked why the event was shifting next year to Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando in Florida, Woods replied: "The global golf schedule has changed so dramatically with the FedExCup, the Race to Dubai and guys playing pretty late in the year, they are worn out and they don't want to travel any more.
"A lot of the Aussie players go down to support Oz and it's hard to get a lot of South Africans to come up and play in this event as they support their own tour at this time of the year.
"A lot of the guys at this event here are based in Florida, so it just makes it a little bit easier for us to draw fields like we have now. With the guys who are based in Florida, you're not asking them to fly across the country."
Regardless of where the World Challenge is held, Woods is passionate about the event's role in raising money for Tiger Woods Foundation projects and the six learning centers he has set up in the United States.
More than 100,000 scholars have gone through the various learning centers since the first of them was opened in Anaheim, California in 2006.
"It's so important, what we have been able to do and how we have been able to transform kids' lives and allow them the opportunity to go to college and provide them with mentors and internships," Woods said.
"A lot of these kids live in tough neighbourhoods where there are gangs, violence and drugs. A lot of them grew up in single-parent homes or were raised by grandparents or were adopted.
"We try to bring in an environment for them that is safe and stimulating. We're trying to provide them with an eye-opening experience. We give them hope but more importantly we give them a skill-set and the support to go ahead."
'BEHIND THE EIGHT-BALL'
Woods, who created the Tiger Woods Foundation with his father Earl shortly after he turned professional in 1996, has set his sights on helping disadvantaged scholars who began life "behind the eight-ball."
His various learning centers provide a state-of-the-art haven where children can develop life skills and get to grips with subjects as diverse as forensic science, robotics, business entrepreneurship and rocket design.
"I don't think that they should be stuck behind the eight-ball," said Woods. "We provide them with an opportunity to get out in front of that."
For all of his remarkable achievements on the golf course, ranging from his 14 major titles to his 79 career victories on the PGA Tour, Woods has long hoped that his legacy will focus instead on his contributions to society.
"Whether I get to 19 (majors) and beyond or 82 (PGA Tour career wins) and beyond, that's all me, that only impacts me," said Woods.
"Hitting a high draw and a high fade, making a couple of putts here and there and winning a few tournaments, that only impacts me. What we are doing with the Foundation is impacting thousands of kids' lives.
"That's far more important than what I am doing on the golf course. We have been able to impact hundreds of thousands of kids already and in the near future it will be millions. And eventually it will not only be domestic but international."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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