The guilty pleasure of tracking Tiger Woods … by air


The biggest news of March 29, 2022, at least in the golf world, came because of a website that tracks the flights of private aircraft. Thanks to ADS-B Exchange (tagline: “serving the flight tracking enthusiast”), it’s possible to know where your favorite celebrities, athletes and titans of industry are flying at any time, provided you know the appropriate call signs. And it should come as no surprise that in our little corner of the golf universe, there’s a general knowledge of the call sign for the private airplane owned by Tiger Woods (the registration number most commonly believed to be Tiger’s ends, not so remarkably, with at TW). That’s why, long before the five-time Masters winner landed in Augusta, Ga., that day, it was an almost certain fact on golf Twitter that Tiger was in his Gulfstream G5, on his way for a practice round at Augusta National:

At 10:30 a.m., ground footage confirmed it, but those of us with our finger to the … wind?… already knew.

Woods’ trip telegraphed the fact that there was a decent chance he would actually play a few weeks later, his first official start since the horrific car crash of February 2021. Obviously, that reality came to pass, but without the eyes in the sky, we may have never known it was a possibility until much later … or that he played with his son Charlie and Justin Thomas on that day in late March.

As Jason Sobel of The Action Network noted, it became a trending Twitter topic, dwarfing other non-LIV golf news to that point in the year, including Scottie Scheffler’s rise to World No. 1.

The same cat-and-mouse sleuthing occurred a few weeks later ahead of the PGA Championship that was being played in Tulsa, Okla. Twitter started to buzz on April 28 as what was again believed to be Tiger’s plane went from Florida to Oklahoma. Tulsa TV stations again confirmed he’d arrived with distance images of the plane at a local airport.

And then there was footage of him making his way around Southern Hills, playing with director of golf Cary Cozby caddieing for him.

Finally, in August, there was another ripple when Tiger flew to Philadelphia ahead of the BMW Championship in nearby Wilmington, Del. Tiger wasn’t traveling in to play in a tournament. Instead, he was on his way to help lead a secretive players-only meeting that defined, in so many ways, what will be the future of the PGA Tour. Though the future impact of this meeting wasn’t immediately clear, Twitter still knew where he was going. A search for “Tiger plane” on Aug. 16 returns several of the hits, including the (tongue-in-cheek) hope that he might be teeing it up. But seeing these two tweets back-to-back really sums up the Tiger tracker experience:

Following Tiger’s travels isn’t exactly new. Tiger’s air travel gave him away back in 2015 when it wasn’t clear if he would play at Augusta, and Twitter has long tracked Tiger’s yacht (called “Privacy,” a name he probably didn’t consider ironic when he broke the champagne bottle on the hull). Earlier this month, “Privacy” appeared to be anchored at the Albany Resort Marina in the Bahamas, three days after he hosted the Hero World Challenge there. (Earlier, his private plane also had flown to the island, meaning that Tiger appears to have brought two “vehicles” with him.)

Is this good? Bad? Neither? Hard to say, though it’s certainly more compelling to follow than you might think, as the fervent interest shown on Twitter makes clear. Tiger is a remote figure, even now, and though he’s beloved and though he’s more recognizable than 99.9 percent of human beings on planet earth, there’s still a definite remove there. It’s why then that following the world’s most famous golfer in this manner brings with its own unique sense of excitement, an emotion derived in part from the sense that it makes us feel slightly closer to him. Granted, we’re not in that private jet, and we’re not standing on the deck of “Privacy,” but the simple, almost personal act of being able to pinpoint his location on a map, and perhaps to wonder what he’s doing at that moment, is almost intimate. We can’t get close, but we get to know where he’s been, and where he’s going to go. Call it a guilty pleasure.

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