Tiger's Gallery Star: With his rapid rise to fame, Woods has won over folks of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors. He's made golf cool.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A story in yesterday's Today section misidentified a Baltimore golf course. The northeast Baltimore course is the Clifton Park Golf Course.

The Sun regrets the error.

Beverly Hamilton sidled over to another mom, sensing she wouldn't laugh at her new-to-all-this questions. Where do you buy child-sized golf clubs? How do you know what size to get? What if the kid has a growth spurt? Will we have to get him new clubs every year?

"He says he's going to be the next Tiger Woods," Hamilton said with a shake of her head as she watched her son Benjamin, 10, take a lesson at Lake Clifton Golf Course in northeast Baltimore.

Benjamin, join the club. It turns out Nike was right: We all are Tiger Woods.

Tiger is transcendent.

If you love golf, you love him. If you hate golf, you love him. If you're black, white, Asian or all or none of the above, you love him. If you're young, old, athletic, arthritic, you . . . well, you get the picture.

But what golf's latest phenomenon transcends most of all is golf itself. Handsome, charismatic, youthful, ethnically diverse and athletic, he's brought spice to this most vanilla of games.

"I couldn't help myself, [even though I usually] can't stand to watch golf," said Bonnie Fleck, interrupted from her workout at Meadow Mill Athletic Club yesterday to talk Tiger. "It's his smile. The complete joy on his face. To watch him enjoy the game ... and his parents are there and it's such an emotional experience."

Indeed, is there any father or son out there whose heart didn't take an extra beat when Tiger's cool game face finally crumbled with emotion when he hugged his father after the match?

Golf could threaten baseball's lock on father-son bonding. Or father-daughter bonding.

"She can hit a ball 30 yards, including rolling," bragged Mike Chin, 41, as he watched his tiny 6-year-old -- "No, I'm five!" came the correction from the green -- daughter Sarah whack away at Clifton Park.

Clifton Park is one of five public golf courses run by the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., all of which have seen an influx of would-be Tiger cubs enrolling in classes. The corporation director, John Ladd, heard someone on talk radio decrying the expense of getting involved in golf and was about to call in to tell the world how, for $10, a fee that can even be waived sometimes, any city kid can take weekly April-through-August lessons. Then he realized, wait, I already have more than 700 kids enrolled, what if 500 or 600 more heard me and signed up?

"I'm hoping the whole phenomenon will attract more minorities to the game," Ladd said. "I'm not naive enough to think all these kids are going to throw away their basketballs and pick up golf clubs, but if you can reach them early, at age 8 to 10, golf might click with them."

Yesterday afternoon was the second class for the beginners at Clifton Park, and kids inspired by the Masters -- or inspired by the parents inspired by the Masters -- took tutelage from teacher Brian Meyer and his helpers. Arriving after school, some in baseball uniforms, about 60 children practiced tee shots and chipping and, most of all, the trademark politesse of the sport.

"If someone in your group hits a good shot, clap for them," encouraged one of the instructors. "And if they miss their shot, don't laugh at them, because you'll have your turn up here."

Perhaps trained by TV viewing of the sport, they indeed clapped delicately in that whispery way that golf inspires.

The telegenic Woods drew millions to their TVs this weekend, even those who would no sooner watch golf than watch paint dry. CBS reported that more people watched the Masters this year than any golf tournament ever. Its Baltimore affiliate, WJZ-Channel 13 says 41 percent of area homes were tuned in when Woods finished his historic round and donned the green jacket.

"The most remarkable thing, here are all these people in my office who don't normally pay any attention to sports. Certainly one of the first things they said was, 'Wow, did you watch Tiger Woods?' Not, 'Did you watch Masterpiece Theater?' " said Judy Cooper, public information officer for Prince Georges County Library in Hyattsville. "It was really exciting. What they're saying, a lot of people are going to start watching golf now. I will. I don't understand a word they're saying. I don't know what a bogey is."

For those who do (it's one over par), Tiger makes an already great sport even greater.

"I thought I was Tiger Woods out here yesterday," Roy Harper, 57, said. A longtime golfer, he hit the links Sunday morning at 10 with renewed enthusiasm and got home in time to watch the final round and Tiger's coronation.

Harper, vice president of the Paragon Golf Association in Baltimore, dropped by Lake Clifton yesterday and visited with his friends and fellow golfers. They're 50 years old and up, African-Americans who somehow made golf their own long before Tiger Woods was born. They're proud of him, maybe a bit envious, and hope he'll encourage youngsters to take up this sport that they love.

Raymond Newman, 50, a therapist, started out as a caddy at Lake Clifton and developed a lifelong love of the game. When his grandson Darnell was 6, he gave him his own set of clubs. Darnell says it's fun, but he prefers basketball, soccer and hockey.

Either golf bites you or it doesn't.

Over at Carroll Park Golf Course, manager Doug Cross has 33 kids enrolled in golf lessons, some drawn by the Tiger phenomenon, others simply motivated by the game itself.

When Cross, 45, was a youngster growing up in Temple, Texas, there were even fewer black pros than there are today. But, no matter -- as a 12-year-old, he saw the great Johnny Miller play a tournament on TV and became captivated by his fluid style. One day, as he was cutting through the train tracks near a local golf course, he found a five-iron that some angered player must have thrown over the fence after a missed shot. He started hitting tennis balls with it. Eventually, as he was rolling up newspapers for his route, he saw an ad for a whole set of clubs that would be sold at a garage sale, and emptied out his savings for them.

His point is that it's a myth that you need lots of equipment and money to start playing.

"Role models are probably more important today than when I started," Cross says. "Back then, we just were told to find something you liked doing more than find a role model. ... I think [Tiger Woods] he's going to have a big impact, not just on African-American kids but all all kids."

Just around the bend from the Clifton Park Golf Course, the basketball court with its beat-up nets and bent fences is abuzz with the usual after-school pick-up games. Ask these African-American youths about Tiger Woods, and, as one of them said at the interruption, "We're trying to play a game here."

"He's a role model," Kavon Ransome, 19, said dutifully, providing the response he knows he should give, as he waited to get in on the action.

"I like to watch [golf] on TV," he said, but only when Tiger plays among all those "middle-aged white guys."

Ransome says he can see taking up golf at some point, "not like he did, but as more of a relaxer. Not to get a green jacket. I like hands-on ball, like basketball, football and baseball."

"It's not much of a man's sport, as physical," said Damone Ward, 19, flexing his biceps to show the results of hours in the gym. "Not like basketball, football and wrestling."

So he didn't see any of Woods' historic victory at the Masters?

"I watched," Ward said, "the whole thing."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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