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.
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.
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.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy
Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.
Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.
The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.
The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.
Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.
I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.
The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.
Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.
Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf
We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.
The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.
The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.
Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.
After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.
Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.
After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!
As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.
To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.
Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.
The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.
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