McNealy soon officially joined the Tiger Club when he played a real round with Woods and Clint Eastwood at the pro-am of the January 2001 Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii. "We had a big crowd. Not because of me," McNealy says.
Woods made the round more memorable when he let McNealy's 5-year-old son, Maverick, play the 18th hole.
All CEOs describe Woods as personable, unlike the robotic athlete seen on TV, and say he will offer tips when asked.
At the 2005 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., Alliant Techsystems CEO Dan Murphy had a 10-foot putt on the 17th green that was directly behind an 8-foot putt by Woods. Murphy asked for advice, and Woods told him to aim for a dark blade of grass next to the hole. Murphy's putt lipped out.
He says Woods' reaction was to tell him that Murphy now knew how Woods felt when he got bad advice.
Advice may be cheap, but securing a round with Woods can be expensive. Tiger Club members can usually be traced through contributions, which go to the Tiger Woods Foundation or charities sponsored by the tournament hosts.
Influence and connections work, too. Yum Brands' Novak, grocery giant Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle and Robert Lawless, who retired Jan. 1 as CEO of the giant McCormick seasoning company, didn't pay anything to play with Woods at the pro-am before the Skins Game. But ConAgra Foods sponsored the Skins Game that year. Supervalu, Yum and McCormick happen to be good customers of ConAgra. .
Just about anyone willing to write a check can play in a golf pro-am. It cost $2,200 to $2,700 to play this week with a pro in San Diego, but that falls way short of a round with Woods. It buys only a ticket into a lottery. As the donors' names are drawn, they choose from the remaining pros. However, Woods and the tournament's defending champion are almost always withheld from the lottery. Those golfing partners are handpicked by tournament sponsors. Buick, which sponsors three tournaments, uses its Woods' spots to reward top dealers and for an auction to raise money for charity, says Mark LaNeve, vice president North America for General Motors.
While bidding in such auctions is the clearest path to the Tiger Club, it is also the most expensive. The $660,000 paid by the three Network Appliance executives and a doctor broke the record of $425,000.
Bargains can be had. In 2006, Mark Merhab, chairman of the Angels Baseball Foundation, gave his wife, Donna, a night without the kids at a luxury hotel as a Mother's Day present. She had so much time on her hands at the hotel that she found an eBay auction for a round with Woods, a fundraiser for a children's hospital. She won the bidding for $40,000, which she gave to Merhab for Father's Day.
Why so cheap? Merhab figures there were two reasons. The auction ended on Mother's Day, when many would-be bidders had other obligations, Merhab says. Woods also had had a dry spell. However, before he played the round in August, Woods had won his third British Open. He was back in the news, and the crowds were vast.
CEOs may be used to pressure, but when they golf, those watching are "normally your wife and somebody else," Lawless says. When you play with Woods? "There are 10,000 lining the first tee."