Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Security Masters look after Tiger

Tiger Woods

It's a measure of how times have changed that Tiger Woods' personal safety inevitably was a factor in the decision that he should make his comeback at next week's US Masters.

Augusta National never speak publicly about security but you'd probably have more chance of sneaking a Molotov cocktail into an airport departure lounge than getting a mobile phone or anything faintly resembling a weapon onto the property at The Masters.

And once inside, the club's strict code of etiquette has been so rigidly enforced down the decades by an army of polite, but firm, Pinkerton agents, it feels sometimes as if even the Azaleas have ears.

The overall result is a thoroughly modern golf tournament with a splendid old-world atmosphere in a perfectly secure environment, or as near as one can get to it.

Yet it would have been extremely difficult to impose such a tight lid on last week's Tavistock Cup or even Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational without upsetting the ambience of the events themselves.

Last weekend, Larry Dorman gave New York Times readers an intriguing peek behind the veil of secrecy which surrounds the security department of the US PGA Tour.

From the moment the US Tour set up its own special security group in 1997, the year Tiger Woods burst into megastardom by winning The Masters by 12 strokes, none of its members has been allowed speak to the media, on or off the record, about operational matters.

Meanwhile, Dorman reported that because of the sensitivity of security plans involving Tiger's return, the names of the six ex-FBI agents, who work on site at most of the 46 tournaments, on the PGA Tour schedule are being withheld.

They are at the sharp end of a security team of up to 300 people responsible for keeping players, officials and spectators safe at events.

At Bay Hill last weekend, for example, the operation included 65 officers from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, 160 volunteers and another 70 private agents from a local security firm.

Had Tiger played at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he would have been protected on the golf course by a team of eight — four in plain clothes (two on each side of the fairway); two uniformed officers inside the ropes; one security man keeping an eye on the crowds ahead of the group and another one behind. Overkill? Not when one recalls that a drunken, armed man was overpowered and arrested as he followed Tiger at the 1999 Phoenix Open.

Since then, agents have largely gone unnoticed in plain sight and, as Dorman astutely observed, they hope it stays that way.

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