HOLLISTER, Mo. – This week, as PGA Tour Champions players compete in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, viewers watching on TV might catch a glimpse of the Midwest’s next must-visit golf destination.
If Golf Channel’s cameras scan behind the 13th tee of Mountain Top, the 13-hole par-3 course that is part of the tournament rota, they might catch a glimpse of Payne’s Valley, a Tiger Woods design that is slowly taking shape. Woods is visiting Tuesday for a clinic and to check in on the progress of the course.
The first hole, a par 4, swoops downhill just beyond Mountain Top’s 13th tee. That hole and the next two are shaped and grassed. Down in the valley, several hundred feet below the Mountain Top clubhouse, heavy equipment is grading the rest of the layout. Payne’s Valley is expected to open sometime in 2019.
You won’t have to wait that long to see Ozarks National, which sits on the other side of Mountain Top. Ozarks National is the latest Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw collaboration, and its opening is set for Sept. 1.
All of this construction is being driven by Johnny Morris, the entrepreneurial founder of Bass Pro Shops and owner of Big Cedar Lodge, the sprawling resort just down Interstate-65 South.
Morris is a spare-no-expenses visionary, and that’s evident in all of his business – his retail stores, resort and his golf courses.
It is only within the past six years that Morris started buying courses, including Buffalo Ridge Springs, located about a mile from Mountain Top. Now it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that he is reshaping the golf landscape in this part of the country.
Branson Airport is two miles from Mountain Top. While there’s little commercial service into that airport, one could easily imagine private planes filled with golf travel bags landing at the airport in the coming years to play the newest designs from Woods, Coore-Crenshaw and Tom Fazio (who designed Buffalo Ridge Springs, formerly known as Branson Ridge).
Ozarks National is routed along windswept ridges as a series of out-and-back loops. As such, players probably will find that most of the trouble is on the left. But Coore and Crenshaw have given the routing an unusual amount of width to enhance playability.
There’s no water to speak of on Ozarks National, but there are some forced carries – most notably on the par-3 eighth, and the drive on the par-4 13th. The latter includes one of those architectural flourishes for which Morris is famous: a 400-foot-long wooden bridge over a river to reach the fairway.
Ozarks National eventually is expected to be used in the Legends of Golf tournament, according to Steve Friedlander, the industry veteran who was brought in to manage Morris’ fast-growing golf operations. It certainly will have the kind of practice facility the pros would expect: a 15-acre range, 33,000-square-foot Himalayas-style putting course, and two more practice greens totaling 17,000 square feet. Though Ozarks National is just a short cart ride from Mountain Top, Morris is likely to build a new clubhouse just to service that course.