It's T-time at Tiger's course in the Ozarks

It's T-time at Tiger's course in the Ozarks

BRANSON, MO — I've heard the boasts from braggadocious tourist officials so many times — the grass is always greener at their latest new golf resort.
It’s an easy claim to make but one that’s hard to justify. Especially in North America, where so many legendary golf resorts, like those that make up Nova Scotia’s famed Cabot Trail or the ones in North Carolina, like Pinehurst and Sea Island, are so well established.
That’s not stopping some people, though, from comparing the fabulous collection of resort courses found in this “Las Vegas of the Ozarks” with those that are already well entrenched in golf folklore.
Their boastful claims are a pretty safe bet, however, considering the majority of Branson’s resort courses have been designed by golf royalty — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Gary Player, Tom Fazio and a guy named Tiger Woods.

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Above: Tiger Woods' Ozarks course even comes with a 19th hole.


Already known as one of the best vacation spots in North America, thanks to its Las Vegas-style nightlife and wholesome family entertainment venues, Branson’s resort courses are now drawing foursomes from far and wide.
With almost 10 million visitors a year now, Branson has been hard at work meeting the needs of all family members, especially those who’d prefer to give up their seat on the city’s famed Time Traveller rollercoaster for a spot in a golf cart.
Branson offers 10 championship courses and all are within easy driving distance of the main Strip. All are open to the public and range from luxury to daily fee venues.
The best collection of Branson golf courses are the five grouped together at Big Cedar Lodge, a massive resort complex carved out of the Ozark wilderness by Bass Pro Shops’ founder Johnny Morris.
The 4,600 acre complex is billed as “America’s premier wilderness resort” and there are few who would challenge that claim.

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Above: The Top of the Rock course at Big Cedar Lodge is a must play.


Morris’ crowning golf achievement — so far — was to persuade Tiger Woods to design his first public course at Big Cedar Lodge. After taking up the challenge, Woods sculpted a 19-hole  — not a misprint — masterpiece that weaves and winds through the wooded majesty that surrounds Big Cedar Lodge.
Morris christened Woods’ course Payne’s Valley in honour of the late PGA star Payne Stewart, a son of the Ozarks who was tragically killed in a plane crash shortly after winning the 1999 U.S. Open. Payne’s Valley doesn’t only stand as a living tribute to the popular PGA star, it’s wide fairways and greens and water features are also getting positive reviews from golf course critics and players, alike.
Now, back to that 19th hole, which is known as Big Rock at Payne’s Valley. Described by one course critic as an “insane” bonus hole, the 19th is a dramatic 202-yard par 3 featuring a narrow island green framed by a massive limestone outcrop and a waterfall. Morris was the one who actually insisted on adding the 19th and it’s a great way to decide who will pay for the adult beverages after a round. Few golfers will complain about spending extra time at Payne’s Valley.

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Above: No matter where you play in Branson, the natural splendour of the Ozarks will test your concentration.


Woods’ brilliant creation, along with four other Branson beauties — Ozarks National, Buffalo Ridge, Branson Hills and LedgeStone — were recently named the best five courses in Missouri by prestigious Golfweek magazine.
Big Cedar Lodge’s Top of the Rock, Buffalo Ridge, Mountain Top and Ozarks National are every bit as good as Payne’s Valley and just as unique.
For instance, did you ever think you’d see Jack Nicklaus design a par 3 course that’s championship worthy? Well, he did at Big Cedar and his Top of the Rock is top of the charts with most players.
Remembering that Branson is a family playground, Morris wanted to put the “fun” back in the game and Nicklaus was only too eager to oblige.
“We need to embrace innovation, new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking that inspires people to get off the couch and play this great game,” said Nicklaus when asked why he agreed to Morris’ par 3 request.
Top of the Rock is perched high above Table Rock Lake and the surrounding waterfalls, wandering creeks and bass-filled ponds certainly challenge a player’s ability to keep an eye on the ball instead of the natural brilliance. It also features a hole with an island green that is truly mesmerizing.
Morris’ commitment and love of golf is seen in some other quirky features offered at Big Cedar Lodge, like the 150-year-old barn that once stood in Arnold Palmer’s backyard.
Morris, at great expense, had the barn relocated from Palmer’s home in Latrobe, Pa., to Branson and converted it into a mini museum featuring lots of Palmer memorabilia. If that’s not quirky enough, consider this: Big Cedar’s aptly named Buffalo Ridge course is groomed by a herd of free-ranging buffalo.   

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Above:  Branson Hills Golf Course is a mature layout that tests every part of your game.


All the courses in Branson offer spectacular changes in elevation and the views one gets from most tee boxes are truly eye dropping.
Some of the other great courses in the Branson area that should be on every golfer’s must-play list include The Ponite, Thousand Hills, Ledgestone, Branson Hills and Holiday Hills.

JUST THE FACTS

Branson is a 15-hour drive from Toronto and easily accessed by air via Chicago from Toronto or Montreal.

For more information on Branson golf, go to http://explorebranson.com/golf or visit www.ExploreBranson.com

For information on Big Cedar Lodge, go to http://www.bigcedar.com

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