Branson, Missouri

I have been to Branson twice in the last few years and if not for the COVID WuFlu there is a good chance that I would have been there again, maybe even now!

You see…The next piece in the puzzle of Branson, Missouri becoming America’s Next Great Golf Destination has arrived. I gotta get there!

Preview play is available on Payne’s Valley, the First Public-Access Course by Tiger Woods at Big Cedar Lodge, and it’s not that I am a Tiger fan by any stretch, but Payne Stewart in his colorful plus 4’s was my all-time golf hero and to this day, in my heart, he has yet to be replaced.

Named in honor of golf legend and Ozarks native, the late Payne Stewart, Payne’s Valley is slated for a grand opening later in the season. Through a partnership between Johnny Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops, and Tiger Woods, the 19-hole layout was created with the intent to foster a deeper connection to nature through the game of golf. The walkable course will be challenging yet player-friendly and will include an unforgettable finish where golfers must traverse through a breathtaking natural cave system to return to the clubhouse.

Ozarks National

“We are excited to give golf fans a taste of the truly remarkable experience we are creating here in the Ozarks,” said Johnny Morris. “Payne’s Valley marks the fifth golf course at Big Cedar Lodge, helping to solidify it as America’s next great golf destination. We are confident Payne’s Valley will be a truly memorable experience for all golfers, and we can’t wait to share it with the public.”

Sight unseen I will go out on a limb and suggest that Big Cedar Golf will claim a double header with back to back “Best New Course of the Year Awards!”

Ozarks National designed by world-renowned golf architect duo Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, opened at Big Cedar Lodge in 2019. The 18-hole championship course is the first and only golf course in Missouri designed by Coore & Crenshaw, which was honored as the Best New Public Course by Golf Digest in 2019. With breathtaking views the course also includes interesting features, such as a 400-foot wooden beam and plank bridge, which connects the tee box and fairway of the 13th hole that stands 60-feet above a flowing creek.  I really enjoyed playing Ozarks National last summer but Buffalo Ridge Springs is still top of the herd in my books.

Buffalo Ridge Springs, 18-holes, designed by renowned course architect Tom Fazio and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris. Ranked by GOLF Magazine as the No. 1 Public Golf Course You Can Play in Missouri for multiple years, the course features herds of roaming bison grazing on the native prairie grasses that surround the golf course boundaries. Buffalo Ridge Springs covers approximately 450 acres of Ozark Mountain terrain with flowing creeks, scenic lakes and natural limestone formations.

Why is it important to mention 18-holes so often when talking about Big Cedar Golf? Because not all world class golf needs to be eighteen holes!

Rounding out the Big Cedar Collection are two short courses; The Top of the Rock Golf Course is a true celebration of nature and Ozarks heritage. Honored as the first par-3 course to be featured on a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event, the 9-hole course offers an unrivaled golf experience with unparalleled panoramic views that highlight the work of the course architect, Jack Nicklaus.

Mountain Top is “Nature’s Course.” Here Johnny Morris, who by nature is a very hands-on kind of guy, teamed up with World Golf Hall of Fame legend Gary Player to create a world-class 13-hole short course that delivers an unparalleled experience. The course routes through unforgettable rock formations and includes some of the most dramatic views in the Ozarks. Thousands of hours of painstaking pick and shovel excavations revealed 300-million-year-old limestone formations, creating an over-the-top experience that golfers will never forget.

Big Cedar Lodge, located about 20 minutes south of Branson in the heart of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, is and ideal place to call home on any visits to the area. Recognized as America’s premier wilderness resort, and the passion of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, the 4,600-acre lakeside retreat connects families to the outdoors with a variety of nature-based experiences including fishing, boating, hiking, spa and wellness offerings, hosting 2.4 million guests annually. Signature attractions include Top of the Rock, home to world-class golf, dining, and entertainment; and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre non-profit wildlife nature park. Named “Number One Resort in the Midwest” by the readers of Travel + Leisure, the resort offers genuine Ozarks hospitality.

If you have never been to Branson, you do not for a minute want to overlook all that this amazing destination has to offer. And YES, there is much more world class golf to be had as well.

I have yet to play them all but a couple that I have and you will want to play as well.

Branson Hills Golf Club is a Chuck Smith design with the collaboration of PGA Professional Bobby Clampett.  It’s fairways wind you through natural rock outcroppings, waterfalls, creeks and wooded areas.  Great and fun, all downhill on the starting hole – one that you (like me) will never forget. Yardages vary from 7,324 to 5,323, offering five distinct teeing areas providing a challenge to all calibers of golfers.

LedgeStone Country Club – 17th

Maybe the best kept secret in the Ozarks, and it is semi-private so no wonder they keep it a bit of a secret, is Ledgestone Country Club. Wow factor visuals within an impeccably maintained layout, this course is described by Golf Digest as a “masterpiece of mountain golf architecture.” Need I say more?

Branson is a one-of-a-kind family vacation destination, never a dull moment unless you are one yourself! Nestled in the lakeside beauty of the Ozark Mountains — and an incredible value too — with dozens of live performance theaters, three pristine lakes, an international award-winning theme park, dozens of attractions and museums, a Historic Downtown district, a Town Center-style shopping complex, a full range of dining options, and a host of hotels, motels, resorts, RV parks, campgrounds and meeting and conference facilities. Branson is less than one day’s drive for one-third of America’s residents.

I have stayed at both of the Hilton’s right downtown, on the Promenade you can walk to all kinds of shopping and dinning. That’s my thing – it might be yours too.

Rivercut Golf Course

One last thing, OK maybe two, just about an hour north of Branson in Springfield, MO is home to another Johnny Morris creation, Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. The name pretty much says it all – voted America’s Best new Aquarium and Best New Attraction by USA Today.  When I was first told I was visiting I suggested that 1.5 hours would be enough time for me.  Ha-ha, wrong! I have been twice now and honestly have no problem spending the good part of a day there.

Also in Springfield is a damn fine golf course – Rivercut Golf Club which, when we played, was a ridiculous $30 green fee for a really nice track.  It might just be worth an overnight in Springfield.  And guess what? Johnny Morris can take care of that for you too!  His Bass Pro Shops, Angler’s Lodge is right across the street.

I personally can tell you that it is comfy cozy!

Can you tell that I love everything about Branson and the surrounding area?