On any given evening at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, a long queue will stretch from the floor of the casino to the entrance of a nightclub called The Bank.
There, crowds of fashionable punters wait patiently in line, sometimes for hours, for the opportunity to set foot on its glass-cased dancefloor, which is occupied by acres of cleavage and overhung by endless chandeliers. It is the City of Sin's "most desirable, cosmopolitan nightclub," according to promotional literature, which grandly adds that "like its namesake, the Bank [is] a sanctuary for all things precious".
Every now and then the expectant crowds will part so that a headset-wearing hostess can march through, accompanied by wealthy men who are known in the industry as "whales". They are ushered to a cordoned-off area overlooking the main arena, where they are brought extortionately priced drinks and assigned a "mood advisor," whose duties include plumping up the cushions and offering, with the words "blondes or brunettes, sir?" to drag willing young women off the dancefloor to join the party.
Tiger Woods was a whale. In fact he was one of the biggest and most coveted (a blue whale, perhaps?) in a multimillion-dollar industry that stretches from London and Ibiza to New York, Miami, Dubai, Vegas and any number of global "party towns". And it is testament to the success with which the VIP nightclub scene quietly facilitates the indiscretions of not just Woods, but scores of other actors and sportsmen, that the scandal which prompted him to quit golf "indefinitely" to concentrate on being "a better husband, father and person" took so long to emerge.
For the five years of his married life Woods kept his spectacular philandering secret from the media and his wife, Elin, who has just bought herself a home on a private island in Sweden and is reported to be planning to seek a divorce in the new year. He was also able to keep it from many of his closest associates, including his caddy, Steve Williams, who told a newspaper in his native New Zealand that he had no knowledge of Tiger's "indiscretions".
We must presume that word never reached the corporate sponsors who are suddenly wondering what to do with their soiled investments in the once squeaky clean star. Last night global consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture announced it was ending its sponsorship of Tiger Woods, saying the golfer was "no longer the right representative" after the "circumstances of the past two weeks." Woods still has Nike's "full support," but Gillette said it was "limiting his role," Tag Heuer and Accenture have removed his image from promotional literature, and AT&T is "evaluating our ongoing relationship," with Woods.
Finally, what many pop psychologists, including the BBC's normally austere golf pundit Peter Allis called Tiger's "addictive sex problem" was hidden from the sponsors of major golf events. They are now coming to terms with having bought into an entire sport whose market value has dropped drastically. When Woods was injured last season, television audiences for golf events fell by up to 48 per cent. Whether he now stays out until March (returning perhaps, in the run-up to the Masters in Augusta) or seeks a longer lay-off, billions of dollars have disappeared down a tabloid sinkhole.
With this much at stake, and given the scale of his carousing, it seems unbelievable that Tiger Woods took so long to fall. In the era of kiss-and-tell, in a country where blogs and supermarket magazines compete, on an hourly basis, to lend credence to the unlikeliest celebrity rumours, it's difficult to comprehend how one of the most recognisable men on the planet can have managed, for five long years, to secretly maintain a harem of cocktail servers, waffle waitresses, beauty queens and pornographic actresses.
Until, that is, you lift the velvet ropes of the VIP nightclub industry, where Tiger picked up almost all of his birdies. Despite their decadent public face, venues like The Bank are able to attract celebrity clientele willing to flex black AmEx cards on $500 bottles of Belvedere vodka and $20,000 methuselahs of Cristal champagne precisely because they guarantee client secrecy.
Woods has so far been linked to 13 young women. But the surprising fact is that, even now, only eight have actually been named (the others have retained lawyers to keep their identities secret). Of those eight, just four have publicly confessed to affairs.
The most interesting women, however, are two of the four who continue to strenuously deny affairs with the golfer. One is Rachel Uchitel, the New York socialite who was the first of the alleged mistresses to emerge in the wake of the late-night car accident that set Tiger's downfall in motion; the other is called Kalika Moquin. She works in the marketing department of the Light Group, which operates The Bank.
In a remarkably astute article published early last week, which ought to now be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the sexual habits of the rich and famous, the US sports blog Deadspin claimed that the biggest misconception in the unfolding scandal is that Uchitel and Moquin were Tiger's full-time lovers.
Instead, the blog claimed, their primary function was to act as party organisers, securing his entrance to fashionable nightspots. They would also, as Deadspin put it, "provide women for Tiger during his globetrotting excursions to various tournaments, charity functions and private-jet weekends with his Fortune 500 party pals that he seemed to enjoy so much". For this, they earned retainers estimated at $15,000 a month.
The twenty- or thirtysomething women that Uchitel or Moquin allegedly provided for Woods were not prostitutes. They might be flown to Las Vegas (or Melbourne, where Uchitel was caught going about her business by the National Enquirer) and given free accommodation. But they are neither paid for their troubles, nor expected to sleep with a "whale" unless they particularly want to.
They are, however, required to be discreet, which is why so many have maintained a dignified silence, despite vast chequebooks being waved in their general direction.
In Britain, footballers and soap stars pick up women in high-street bars and pay for it in tabloid headlines. In the US, icons of sport and entertainment, from Elvis onwards, have instead paid people like Uchitel and Moquin to protect their lucrative reputations.
It's a valuable service. Last week, Ms Uchitel came within two hours of giving a press conference explaining her role at the office of her Los Angeles lawyer, Gloria Allred. When it was cancelled, at the last minute, many wondered if she had been compensated for her silence. But perhaps a different calculation was in play. Maybe, after years of earning vast sums to co-ordinate the exotic private lives of people like Woods, she simply decided that her market value as the world’s most famously-schtum celebrity party organiser was worth more than a single kiss-and-tell could ever provide."