Recently, Big Cedar Lodge Resort just outside Branson, Missouri, became the center of the golf world when Tiger Woods emerged from his hiatus for a surprise press conference announcing his next golf course design project. But the event took an unexpected turn when Woods decided to hit a couple of shots onto a “19th Hole” green about 150 yards away that had been chosen as a scenic backdrop for the presser. Woods’ first shot went into the water and the Internet went wild with the story before the ball had even settled to the bottom of the pond. It was reminiscent of a similar scene last year when Woods dunked three straight shots at a media event for the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club just outside Washington, DC. The latest water ball and the announcement two days later that he was going to have a fourth back surgery buried the original purpose for event, which is the expansion of what could become the most influential destination golf project since Bandon Dunes in Oregon.

Woods’ firm, TGR Design, is partnering with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris to build an 18-hole championship course and a “family-friendly” nine-hole track at Big Cedar Lodge. The championship layout will be named Payne’s Valley Golf Course to honor the late Payne Stewart, the U.S. Open champion who was a native of nearby Springfield. Scheduled for completion in 2019, it will be the first fully public-access course in the world designed by Woods. He says that he plans to combine minimal rough and limited forced carries with generous fairways to produce a track that challenges good players while allowing high-handicappers to play it without having to reload at the turn. And that 19th Hole where Woods sent ripples through the golf world (as well as the pond that guards the green) is backed by a limestone cliff that is so sheer, an elevator will be built to take golfers from the green to the clubhouse above.

Hole No. 10 at the Gary Player-designed short course at Big Cedar Lodge.
Hole No. 10 at the Gary Player-designed 13-hole short course at Big Cedar Lodge.

Morris is the mastermind behind Big Cedar Lodge. Originally purposed as a retreat for employees of the outdoor sports retail giant, the site as grown into a public resort that features world-class experiences in hunting, fishing, hiking and sport shooting. The resort covers 3,000 acres in the scenic Ozark Mountains near the Missouri-Arkansas border, and guests can experience everything from bass fishing and cave exploring to a spa day and fine dining, all without having to leave the grounds. No less an expert than Golf Channel Travel Editor Matt Ginella thought so much of the resort after a recent visit that he chose it to be the site of his wedding. An award-winning conservationist, Morris has designated part of the land as a parkland preserve where the buffalo literally roam (a small heard that visitors can see on a tour), and he has built several museums on the property to showcase artifacts from dinosaur skeletons to Civil War muskets that were found during the development of Big Cedar Lodge. Now he has set his sights on golf with the goal of combining the worlds of outdoor sports, natural preservation and the ancient game.

Top of the Rock Golf Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Hole No. 2 at Top of the Rock, a short course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The course is home of the Champion Tour’s Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

As befits a man that grew a business from one shelf in his father’s liquor store to a multi-billion dollar sporting empire with 160 outlets, Morris has entered the golf world with both barrels blazing. By the end of 2020, Big Cedar Lodge will feature golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw, Tom Fazio and now Tiger Woods. The goal is ambitious; to be the best golf resort in the central portion of the United States. To achieve it, Big Cedar Lodge would have to leapfrog places like Destination Kohler, the Wisconsin complex that has hosted multiple major championships. But much like one of the racers in the NASCAR team that he sponsors, Morris is gaining on the leaders fast.

“We are within one day’s drive for 50 percent of the population of the country,” says one source associated with the project. “We already have one of the most compelling vacation experiences anywhere, and we are adding a world-class golf component to that. Best of all, we can offer it at a price point that can’t be matched by the golf resorts on the [Eastern or Western U.S.] coasts.”

Big Cedar Lodge already plays host to the Champions Tour every April with the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Tournament. The new additions, combined with its infrastructure and amenities that are the equal or superior to virtually any tournament location in the country, put the site in the running for everything from a PGA Tour event to the Ryder Cup. When asked about these possibilities, the self-deprecating Morris replies “It’s not necessarily in the plans now, but who knows? It would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

So far, every time Morris has cast his line he’s pulled out a trophy fish. Don’t be surprised if one day in the very near future, Big Cedar Lodge lands him the coveted mantle of major championship host.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world.

He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting.

Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events.

Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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  1. Leaving in 3 days for our 4th annual Branson Golf trip. While its cool that its getting all this press and attention, I also wish this place could stay my little secret :)

    A few comments have suggested the same but want to reiterate how awesome of a course Buffalo Ridge is. I have been lucky to play some great courses (Torrey, Kapalua, etc…) and I will not go as far as to say Buffalo Ridge is “better” than some of those world class courses, but it might be my “favorite” course I have every played. It has the distance, challenges, condition, etc…to keep up with some of those great renowned courses…but most of all it is such a fun course to play. I have never met anyone that didnt immediately put it in their top 5. Excited for the other courses to get finished down there.

    There are other good courses in the area as well especially when you mix in a Top of the Rock range session and Par 3 course. If you live in the midwest I cant think of a better golf trip destination.

  2. I live in Springfield which is about 30 minutes North of Branson. I have played a lot of great courses here in the United States (Hawaii) and Mexico, and the courses in Branson with the two new courses being built by Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw, will make this area one of the best golf destinations in the United States. If you have not been to Top of the Rock where they play the Champions event, you are missing out. It is a phenomenal place that is manicured beyond belief…..I just recently played 18 at Buffalo Ridge and 9 holes at the par 3 TOTR course, and while I love BR, I was blown away by the par 3 TOTR course.

  3. “the expansion of what could become the most influential destination golf project since Bandon Dunes in Oregon.”

    Did they pay you to write that line? What about what Keiser is doing at Sand Valley or what Mosaic is doing at Streamsong?

  4. Morris has already been promised a major by the PGA. I live not too far from Brandon talking with the people building the golf courses around there, it is a done deal. I cannot wait.

  5. Having played Pebble, Erin, all 4 Whistling Straits and tons in AZ, I can honestly say that Buffalo Ridge (formerly Branson Creek) and it is one of my favorite courses I have ever played. Great Fazio layout with risk/reward holes and zoysia tee boxes + fairways. Elevation changes, waterfalls, etc, you name it and this course has it. A good test from the tips, especially when the wind kicks up. Add to it the new courses by Coore/Crenshaw + Tiger and Big Cedar will have a world class facility at extremely affordable prices.

  6. I don’t live far from Big Cedar and have attended the Legends tournament every year its been here, plus played Top Of The Rock and Buffalo Ridge. Really excited to see what all ends up happening here. I’d think Johnny would almost need to design a legit champions course in order to host something like a PGA event or a major/Ryder Cup. Buffalo Ridge is nice, but its not overly difficult and you’d think the PGA guys would just shoot some silly scores there, plus its not overly spectator friendly.

    We’ll have to see what happens with the Tiger course, but from the sounds it’ll be a bit more resort friendly. Either way, I will play it a lot I’m sure.

  7. I live right here in the Ozarks about an hour and a half from Branson. It’s a pretty incredible venue that feels like it’s in it’s infancy. The anchor is Buffalo Ridge (Formerly Branson Creek), the Fazio designed course. It’s a beautiful course that flows nicely, can be as challenging as you want depending on the tees you play. Johnny brought Fazio back in to spruce it up and fix one really bad hole.

    Just having a range session at Top of the Rock or putting on the Watson putting green is an experience. Truly is a great place for a family getaway.

  8. As my grandpa used to say…if you dont like where your ball ended up, you shouldn’t have hit it there

    Old guys have the best golf sayings…maybe that should be a new thread

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