America’s Next Great Golf Destination
Officially the course was not open yet. For that matter it has yet to open, but is slated for a soft opening November 1st.
It was certainly playable in mid-September, just some of the trimmings to be cleaned up and Ozarks National will be the fourth of five courses that will make up the golf kingdom of Bass Pro Shop founder Johnny Morris.
We know that just about a week before us Matt Ginella and the Golf Channel crew had the opportunity to tee it up as well. Why us you say?? With both Big Cedar Lodge and the Branson Convention and Visitor Bureau getting involved with IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), 19 golf tour operators from all parts of the globe had descended upon Branson to discover as much as they could about America’s Next Great Golf Destination. They were not disappointed. Golf was amazing as was the opportunity to spend a few days in the Big Cedar villas. And there is a reason as to why Branson attracts over 9 million visitors annually.
As with all the courses at Big Cedar it is all about big panoramic views. Whether the vistas over the tops of the Ozark Mountain, limestone out cropping’s lining the fairways, numerous waterfalls or the spectacular sunset from the Top of the Rock. While still gaining notoriety from the traveling golfer community, Big Cedar has not gone unnoticed in the tourism world.
Located about 10 miles south of Branson you will find a collection of lodges and luxurious cabins offering up views of Table Rock Lake, this is Big Cedar Resort. Travel & Leisure ranks Big Cedar Lodge as the Best Resort in the US Midwest. Not going unnoticed by Conde Nast as #3 on the Gold List of Top Resorts of the Midwest.
While we are on the subject of “BEST” let’s not overlook the fact that at the largest Bass Pro Shop in America just up the road in Springfield you will find Johnny Morris’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium – voted by USA Today.
You learn very quickly that Johnny Morris settles for nothing but the best in anything he sets his sights on. So there is no surprise when he picked the team of Coore-Crenshaw for craft the Ozarks National. Tiger Woods’ first public design will be course number five, Payne’s Valley a tribute to PGA Tour star and Springfield native Payne Stewart, family friends of the Morris family.
With Ozarks National the Coore/Crenshaw team have created a world class masterpiece that is suitable for all levels of golfers. Fairways are immense so there is no doubt that you should hit the fairway off the tee but bite of more than you can chew and your will find yourself facing forced carries that just won’t make it fun.
Measuring 7,036 yards from the back tees, the course represents the terrain of the Ozarks with incredible vistas and beautiful views. The 18-hole routing was meant to showcase the natural setting that is the Ozarks, surrounding native habitat and valleys and cliffs as you maneuver along the fairways. Even in its pre-opening stages the fairways were in great shape and the greens receptive.
Holes seven through nine make the close of the front nine pretty dramatic. Seven is a long sweeping uphill par 5 with a risk reward option for longer hitters. The par 3 – 8th is over a canyon to a green protected by front side bunkers too boot. Best to hope the pin is at the back. Nine is another par 5, big dogleg left with bunkers lining the left side of the fairway. Stay right young man, 3 shot par is good here.
Holes 12, 13 and 15 might be my most memorable on the back. 12 is a long par 3 across a steep slope of native grasses. 14 requires a tee shot that must carry a deep ravine plus two bunkers to catch those balls that just were not hit well enough. Hole 15 has a noticeable string of bunkers that dissect the fairway. Should not really come into play but a little intimidating.
The other 18-hole masterpiece Buffalo Ridge Springs is a Tom Fazio design just minutes away from the Mountain Top clubhouse which provides check in currently for Ozarks National, Mountain Top and next year Payne’s Valley.
Buffalo Ridge Springs might just be one the most picturesque golf courses in the world. Right from the 1st tee box you admire the downhill par 5, and from the back of the first hole where you come across your first waterfall, looking back up hill, clubhouse insight you admire even more!
No need to put the camera away, the limestone wall along the left side of the second fairway make for a nice shot too! Oh…did you see the Buffalo roaming in the field along the first fairway? No worries, they might just be over by the fourth. Five, six and seven play around a crystal clear water filled rock quarry and the first trestle bridge. Need I say more!
Number nine is a demanding uphill par-3 to a mega sized green with a huge bunker in front. But no need to worry about the bunker until you finish admiring the limestone valley facing you with a small stream and waterfall dissecting it.
14 might be my favorite hole on the course, just because I like par 5’s, tee box surrounded by water, and that water flows down the entire left side before cutting in front of the green. Stay left here my friends. To get to the green you ride over the second of the trestle bridges providing amazing views of what is to come on 15. The mountainside tee box on 15 perfectly frames the landing area below, water down the right, another small waterfall and the green too is framed by a limestone wall. 17 is a pretty par 3, with three ponds linked by two waterfalls with another limestone wall in behind.
If the 15th club in your bag here is a camera – no penalty!
On this trip we also had the opportunity to play the 13 hole, all par-3, walking only course – Mountain Top! The name says it all, panoramic mountain top vistas, holes framed by walls of limestone outcroppings and beautiful white sand bunkers – sounding like a broken record right!
On our first night at Big Cedar we experience the beautiful Sunset Ceremony, bag pipes and all at the Osage Patio at Top of the Rock. It was also mine and the group’s first sighting of what might be the most beautiful driving range in the world. After our round at Mountain Top there was no keeping us away from hitting more balls – not because we needed too but just to say we did!
After two trips to Branson and Springfield, I am admittedly very fond of the area and the people. So down to earth. Simply means that I must return to play Payne’s Valley as Payne Stewart was, and still is, the only PGA Tour player that I can say was my favorite! Still have not set foot on the Top of the Rock Course – must do! After my first visit to St. Louis and my first two Cardinal games, you can bet I will be doing that again too!
It is a special place in the center of the country that you don’t generally think of as a golf destination. Thank you Branson and Johnny Morris for opening up golf in the middle of America.
For more information on Big Cedar Lodge – www.bigcedar.com
Or information on Branson www.explorebranson.com