A course built by Tiger Woods might seem enough to gain a foothold in the thriving market of traveling golfers, but the buddies trips of today are a much more discerning lot than in years past. A big name designer isn’t enough to grab traveling golfers’ attention these days, even if he’s one of the greatest to ever play. Luckily for Big Cedar Lodge and its founder, Johnny Morris, Tiger’s course, named Payne’s Valley, in honor of the late U.S. Open Champion Payne Stewart, is just but one gem in the resort’s golf portfolio.
Nestled away, just south of Branson, Missouri, Big Cedar Lodge is both homage and economic engine to Morris’s home state. While it was conceived of as an outdoors paradise with plentiful fishing and ATV trails, leaning on Morris’s Bass Pro Shops heritage and clientele, the golf offerings at Big Cedar have become a showcase unto themselves and a quickly growing destination for golfers because of the variety of its offerings. Aside from Payne’s Valleys, which features a unique “bye” hole—an extra hole some courses have after the 18th—that asks golfers to hit a 112-yard shot to a small island green in a rock cavern with a cascading waterfall as its backdrop, there is also the splendid Ozarks National, Buffalo Ridge, and a pair of par 3 courses, Mountain Top and Top of the Rock.
Each of these courses takes into account the natural beauty of their surroundings with Ozarks National being the darling of the golf course architecture community, whose small numbers belie their outsized influence. Ozarks National was designed by the duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and while causal golfers are drawn to Crenshaw’s credentials as a two-time Masters champion and Ryder Cup captain, his design chops are just as sterling. The duo has built some of the world’s most astonishing and celebrated courses, which are known for taking advantage of a site’s natural terrain and topography. Whereas Payne’s Valley and Buffalo Ridge have, to some, a more polished look and feel, with tightly mown bunker edges and razor straight edges, Ozarks presents itself more naturally, with large swaths of native grass at its edges and more unkempt (but not necessarily untidy) complexes. All three of the big courses present golfers with serpentine, rumpled fairways, often with elevated tee shots that allow the ball to tumble forward.
In the evening, or while settling up that day’s bets, either Top of the Rock or Mountain Top offer a way to keep the fun going in a more relaxed way. Par 3 courses are growing at a surprising rate across the country and, predominantly, at resorts like Big Cedar but these aren’t your father’s executive courses where he fit in an evening 9 after work. Like their regulation 18 siblings they now offer a variety of challenges and interesting putting services as well as big name architects attached to their designs. Top of the Rock was designed by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player took the reins on Mountain Top. These courses aren’t just great for squeezing in a few more holes with your friends, they are a great introduction to golf for beginners or children. And that brings us to one of the more unique aspects of Big Cedar Lodge. It’s really for everyone. Voted by Golf Magazine as the Best Golf Resort for Families, Big Cedar is able to accommodate the diehard golf trip but can easily pivot to a family adventure or even a couples getaway.
For golf visitors, the Lakeside Cottages and Private Log Cabins are perfect for groups. The cottages can accommodate as many as 12 people in a 3,500 square foot, four bedroom house to as few as a single person in a one-room cottage with fireplace that tops out at 480 square feet. The cabins provide rustic charm with the largest being a two-bedroom with a loft that is a little over 1,500 square feet and can sleep 8-10 people. Pricing varies, of course, according to the season, and the resort offers plenty of diverse golf packages to book.
And not to be missed, of course are the restaurants. Caloric intake will be vital as you traverse the resort’s winding trails and roads. Luckily, no less than 13 different dining options are available, including a wine bar, not to mention room service for some of the accommodations. Of note are Harry’s Cocktail Lounge and Bar, which offers small plates and a very long list of great bourbons and house cocktails along with cigars. The Osage Restaurant is the resort’s upscale dining experience and offers panoramic views of the property. A bison tomahawk and the lobster mac and cheese should keep you well sated until the next day’s round. And if you’ve got the kids with you then try the relaxed atmosphere of the Blue Fin lounge, which has plenty of eats for kids and nice selection of seafood for the adults.
For a day off from the course or meandering through the woods, the resort rounds itself out with offering three pools for its guests. The Lakeside Pool offers an infinity edge pool that seems to tumble into the Table of the Rock Lake. Heated to 84 degrees, this pool stays open through end of October and the nearby hot tub is the perfect way to work out the kinks in your back, if not your swing. Big Cedar Lodge may play up its frontier spirit and aesthetic, but it’s all just a mask for what is really a luxurious getaway in one of the country’s most underrated and naturally scenic areas.