In an industry where it’s almost inevitable that when a sports personality’s popularity reaches the stature of superstardom, memorabilia companies and the players themselves almost always tend to mass-produce pieces associated with that player and ignore the mighty theory of supply and demand. Fortunately, the world of Tiger Woods collectibles, at least up until this point, has somehow managed to avoid this ongoing hobby tragedy. Instead of aiding in the decline of his memorabilia values, the powers that be and Woods himself have not only helped maintain value, but have sustained such a limited supply for nearly all categories of his memorabilia that nearly all Tiger pieces have proved to be sure-fire investment items for years to come.
Whether it’s Tiger’s high-end rookie cards, autographs, tickets and badges from tournament appearances or, if you can even find them, match-used memorabilia, Woods stuff is hot and getting hotter.
“The last month or two, it’s been extremely hot primarily because of Tiger’s winning streak he was on earlier this year, and people thinking Tiger’s going to continue winning Majors at a fast pace,” said Ryan Carey, president of Green Jacket Auctions. “He’s only five Majors behind Jack Nicklaus’ record, and I think from here on in as Tiger approaches that record, it’s only going to get more hot.”
So hot, as a matter of fact, Michael Gilstrap, product manager for Upper Deck Authenticated, said his company was currently out of all Tiger Woods signed memorabilia.
UDA has had Woods secured under an exclusive agreement since 2001, and according to Gilstrap, he hasn’t seen anything like the Woods hype since the excitement that surrounded Michael Jordan during his playing days.
“We have basically always had a very strong demand for Tiger,” said Gilstrap. “He signs a very limited number of signatures per year. We’ve always had a strong sell-through with Tiger, but as of recently, it’s exceeded that demand by so much that we have extreme back orders, and his popularity is just through the roof right now.”
According to Gilstrap, before Woods signed with UDA his signatures were a very touchy thing because of the Wild Wild West nature that went with trying to find an authentic example on eBay. Gilstrap said Upper Deck has a very aggressive fraud investigation team employed, and his crew has been very good in eliminating the chance of an unsuspecting buyer purchasing a phony Woods autograph, but he acknowledged that it didn’t always work that way.
“Tiger, fortunately, recognizes that it’s important to work with a partner like Upper Deck that provides authenticity because there was such a large number of forgers on the market before we became partners,” said Gilstrap. “Prior to him coming on board with us, about 90 percent of Tiger autographs on eBay were fake. Since then, we have gone through great stakes to protect his UDA pieces.”
UDA specializes in Woods signed memorabilia from photos and club heads to shoes and more, but one Tiger signed item that collectors seem to always have great interest in is a Woods signed golf ball. Problem is, Tiger rarely signs balls, and some golf experts say he’s completely stopped scribing his name on that little, white dimpled sphere.
“I personally have not seen Tiger sign a golf ball since 1996 when he first came on tour,” said golf signature specialist Kip Ingle of James Spence Authentication.
Ingle, who has attended more than 100 golf tournaments that Woods has been a part of, said he signed the first couple months on tour, but since then he has not seen Tiger sign a ball.
“Tiger’s very adamant about not signing golf balls,” added Ingle. “In fact, in light of his relationship with Upper Deck, he still doesn’t even sign balls. Not even for UDA. Tiger’s had incidents in the past where PGA pros have come to him to sign a golf ball for charity organizations and he’s even refused to sign them for those players.
“I’ve had the pleasure of getting Tiger’s signature, and in 1996 during his last U.S. Open as an amateur, I got him to sign three golf balls,” said Ingle. “At that time Nick Faldo had just won his third Masters and I was selling Faldo golf balls for $30. And I said ‘This Tiger Woods is really going to be something and I’m going to put his golf ball out for $35.’ It was at the Anaheim National and I sold all three of them on the first day, so I’m not very smart.”
The record for a Woods single-signed golf ball sold in an American Memorabilia auction for $7,648 in March 2006.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for Ingle, but he’s not alone. Attendees of the 1997 Masters may be singing the same song of frustration that Ingle is if they passed up on a chance to purchase a souvenir flag at the clubhouse’s gift shop at August National, the site of Woods’ first Masters victory and his first Major.
“One of the big pieces for Tiger are 1997 signed Masters flags,” said Carey. “Even one unsigned, on its own, sells for around $3,000. I’m talking about the souvenir flag that was sold for about $15 at the Masters. This was a flag that around 2000 or 2001, was worth about $200. Flags have been hot.”
According to Woods memorabilia expert Vipul Patel, the reason flags have been hot as of late is because UDA never had a chance for Woods to sign certain flags.
Patel said Upper Deck offers collectors a program where they can pay one of UDA’s main distributors around $1,000 per piece to have Woods sign one of their own pieces during a UDA private signing.
According to Patel, the 1997 Masters flag is definitely a desirable piece among Woods collectors, but the flag from his 1999 PGA Championship victory over young golf phenom Sergio Garcia is the one to get.
“Out of all the flags that are collectible, it’s the ’99 Medinah flag,” said Patel. “There were only a handful of them that ever sold. The company that originally made them went under. Now there’s no way to get the embroidered ones out there. There are replicas out there, but the authentic ones are tough to find.”
So, what’s the best way to go about securing a Woods autograph for your collection? Ingle and most experts say the best way is to buy one offered from UDA, although there are perfectly legit examples that come with a letter from a respected third-party authenticator. Also, Woods has been known for signing for fans while on tour, but getting a Tiger signature at a tournament can be easier said than done.
“Getting a Tiger Woods autograph at a golf tournament is very similar to winning the lottery,” said Ingle. “You’re in a situation where there’s such a large crowd that follows Tiger around the course, and it seems like the whole course spills toward the 18th hole as Tiger is finishing. He signs a small number of autographs and in that scenario, it’s usually only multi-signed items that he signs. After he’s done from a tournament round, I would say he signs anywhere between zero to 10 autographs, and quite frequently it’s closer to zero.”
If you strike out getting a signature at a tournament, at least you’ll have your ticket from the event that you can keep in your collection.
“A lot of people lately are collecting tickets and trying to put together each of Tiger’s Major wins,” said Ingle. “Then there’s also people who take it another step and are trying to get each of Tiger’s wins. But that’s going to be a very sizable collection and you might not have a big enough room for it.”
Patel said the most desirable tickets that collectors are going after are examples from the early part of Woods’ career. According to Patel, tickets from recent tournaments are great additions to any Tiger collection, but as far as value goes, now everybody knows to hang on to them. He said the rarity is usually only applicable for his early tickets.
“It’s ridiculous what some of the tickets have gone for,” said Patel. “Amateur tickets are probably the most collectible of all of them.”
According to experts, whether it’s his professional debut ticket from 1996 when he appeared at the Greater Milwaukee Open or his first professional victory in 1996 at the Las Vegas Invitational, you can’t go wrong with Woods tickets from the 1990s.
Carey said that one ticket every Tiger collector should try to obtain is the 1997 Masters badge, as it was from probably his most memorable tournament, his first major win and a ticket that won’t break the bank.
“It’s the one to get,” said Carey. “A lot of Masters badges are made each year and most people save their badges. They sell for $100-$200 a pop and are extremely sought after. There’s a lot of them out there, but anything related to the 1997 Masters is a good investment, and also anything related to the 1999 PGA Championship as well.”
For Woods collectors who choose the traditional route of going after his cards, especially rookie cards, experts have a few different views collectors may want to consider.
Some of the differences in opinions on Tiger’s first cards occur because there is confusion on which card should actually be classified as his rookie. His first card, for example, is the 1996 Sports Illustrated for Kids. This perforated card was inserted into the Dec. 1996 issue (Larry Johnson cover) of SI for Kids. The card took the hobby by storm in March 2001 when Mike Souza reportedly sold a PSA 10 version via a private sale for $125,000.
But is it technically even a card? Some think it should just be considered a part of a page from a magazine and shouldn’t be classified as a card. Tuff Stuff’s Sports Collectors Monthly’s pricing analyst Joe Clemens is in the understanding that it’s indeed a card, but said he wouldn’t buy one.
“The person who bought that card for $125,000 obviously paid way too much for it and it wasn’t a good investment at all,” said Clemens. “Tiger was raging hot at the time and people really didn’t know much about that particular card at the time.”
Tiger’s most affordable rookie card is his 2001 Upper Deck, but as far investment potential goes, Clemens advises collectors to stay away from that card as well.
“It’s a really common card,” said Clemens. “They (Upper Deck) really overproduced that card. You can find unopened boxes of that product for $5-$10. They’re a dime a dozen. If you’re just looking for a Tiger rookie card it’s fine, but it’s not a good investment.
“I would only buy the 2001 SP Authentic if I’m buying a rookie card,” added Clemens. “It looks like he’s going to break Nicklaus’ Majors record. Could it be a $20,000 card in the future? With Tiger, nothing would surprise me. It could happen.”
According to Clemens, the SP Authentic Woods card is his most desirable card for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the card is signed by Woods. Also, people seem to be drawn to cards that are issued by a major company like Upper Deck, it is limited to only 900 and it was a base card in the set, so it technically can be considered a “rookie card.”
“It’s odd,” said Patel. “I think ever since Upper Deck introduced the 2001 series, people are flocking to that. I don’t think they’re considering the SI for Kids the true rookie anymore. The SP Authentic Tigers that are limited to 900 are selling at ridiculous prices. There are others limited to under 100 or limited to 10 that sell for half of that. It doesn’t make sense. I think it has to go back to the SI for Kids cards at one point or another, but I think right now it’s just that initial run where people don’t think they will be able to get the one limited to 900 any time soon.”
If collecting Tiger rookie cards isn’t enough for you, you may want to attack the near-impossible task of going after every single Woods card ever made. PSA Set Registry member Norman Oberto is determined to do just that.
Oberto normally puts together sets for the Registry that are on the smaller side, like his 1950 Callahan Hall of Fame set that is currently ranked No. 1.
“I’ve got probably 40 sets on the Registry and usually cater to the smaller sets, but the Tiger Woods set is one of the exceptions,” said Oberto. “There are probably about 600 Tiger cards in the set, and at some point, I would like to get them all. Once I saw what ones were out there, I just started buying Tiger cards right and left. Some of them are obviously more routine cards, common cards, but autographed Tiger cards are just skyrocketing in price. Because of his popularity and starting off the year with some wins and anticipation of what he might do when he breaks Nicklaus’ record, it’s got everybody excited.”
Oberto already has about 400 different Woods cards and anticipates it will take a few years before he completes the entire run.
If cards and all the aforementioned Tiger memorabilia has you thirsty for more, you could always try to obtain match-used equipment by golf’s living legend. There isn’t much out there available for collectors, but if you look hard enough, you can find some amazing used pieces.
UDA just released a signed desktop display, which includes a golf ball that Tiger used on the driving range. Unfortunately, the $499.99 (SRP) piece sold out only a couple days after it was released.
Upper Deck has also offered an extremely limited number of match-worn polo shirts, and a Sunday red example just sold in Mastro’s Premier sale for $43,200. In Sept. 2007 American Memorabilia fetched $9,639 for a match-worn Woods shirt that was originally obtained as part of an Upper Deck pack redemption prize.
There has never been an athlete who has become larger than life and bigger than the game he plays than Tiger Woods. Whether you’re going after his cards and memorabilia as a collector or as an investor, you can’t go wrong. But just remember, the longer you wait to buy Woods pieces, the more tournaments he will win and the higher the prices will go.
Check out Chris Nerat’s blog, Gavel Chat at: gavelchat.sportscollectorsdigest.com. Readers may reach him at Chris.Nerat@fwpubs.com or call him at (800) 726-9966, ext. 13452.