BRANSON, Missouri – Tiger Woods is about to debut a new course – Payne’s Valley – which opens later this month at Big Cedar Lodge near Branson, Mo.
Payne’s Valley is Woods’ first public daily-fee course. It’s Tiger’s tribute to the late Payne Stewart, an 11-time PGA Tour winner and a native son of the Ozarks.
When it opens later this month, Payne’s Valley will get the same scrutiny as everything else associated with the man who designed it. Payne’s Valley joins an ensemble of courses operated by Big Cedar Lodge that includes18-hole courses Ozarks National and Buffalo Ridge, and short courses Top of the Rock and Mountain Top.
The array of golf is just part of the story of Big Cedar Lodge, which was developed by Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris who has overseen the growth of Big Cedar Lodge into a destination that offers fishing, boating, shooting, shopping, hiking and biking. The resort calls itself “America’s Premier Wilderness Resort.”
Payne’s Valley will officially open on Sept. 22 with a televised charity match between Tiger and Justin Thomas against Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.
Payne’s Valley Takes Branson Golf to a New Level
Golf at Big Cedar Lodge is surprisingly affordable, ranging from $60 for the Mountain Top short course to $225 for a round at Payne’s Valley.
The peak rate for Buffalo Ridge is $135 and Ozarks National costs, $195, according to Big Cedar Lodge’s online reservations engine.
“(Branson) has always had golf courses, but I don’t think it has had any on this level,” said Matt McQueary, the Big Cedar Lodge director of golf sales and marketing. “I think this brings us into the fold when we talk about national golf destinations where you are willing to travel a little bit more to play, and I think this course – Payne’s Valley – is going to be a bucket list course.”
The 13 holes that were open for preview play this summer and a tour of the five remaining holes opening later this month suggest Payne’s Valley is about to become a “bucket list” item.
Everything about Payne’s Valley is expansive. The fairways are spacious and the greens are enormous. It is challenging and fun and difficult and scenic all wrapped into one course.
There’s even a 19th hole – a par-3 currently under construction leading to the clubhouse – that overlooks the 18th green in a spectacular setting.
“We certainly have high hopes for it once the ranking come out and people travel from all over come to play it. I think expectations are low for people traveling from the East Coast or the West Coast coming to the heart of the Midwest to play a golf course, but I think they are going to be surprised,” McQueary said.
You wouldn’t expect anything with Tiger’s name on it to be low-key, and Payne’s Valley certainly has a bigger-than-life quality. What’s key, however, is that all three 18-hole courses under the Big Cedar Lodge umbrella are distinctly different, and Tiger’s offering adds to the diversity.
The tragedy of Stewart’s death was national news. Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open in June of that year and died four months later when the pressurization system of the Learjet he was in failed shortly after takeover from Orlando.
The jet, on autopilot and its crew and passengers dead, flew more than 1,500 miles before crashing in northern South Dakota.
Strikingly Different from Other Big Cedar Lodge Courses
“The difference compared to Buffalo Ridge and Ozarks National is that Payne’s Valley stands out in its look and even in the way it plays,” McQueary said. “The style of sand, the style of Zoysia grass, the strand of Zoysia grass is different. You go to some destinations and the courses generally look the same from photograph to photograph. You might have to know what you are looking for to tell them apart.
“Here, you take a picture of a hole and you pretty can tell which course it belongs to – whether it is the par 3s or even the whole 18.”
McQueary said Tiger has been hands-on during the building of Payne’s Valley, making several site visits and being involved in the conceptual design of the course that will play 7,308 yards from the tips. The 19th hole will be a 202-yard par 3 from the back.
“From what I have been able to see, he has been very involved on the conceptual side,” McQueary said. “He is not usually here overnight. He’ll fly in – you’ll see the TW jet kind of flying in low and landing at the airport. It’s usually a half day.”
Woods made a site visit last fall shortly after undergoing knee surgery but still walked the entire 18 holes, including the final five that had yet to be sodded.
“He literally walked 14 and he decided he didn’t like the bunker on the left side, I think because the next hole has a bunker on the left side,” McQueary said. “On the fly, he took a piece of paper and scratched through this concept of changing the hole entirely and passed it on to his No. 2, who is Beau Welling, who was Tom Fazio’s No. 2 for years.”
The result is that No. 14 now has a bunker on the right side of the fairway.
“Tiger sees it as conceptual – ‘this is how I like to play but I want it to be playable for amateurs,’” he said. “‘This is what I see in a hole and this is what I want players to think about on their shots,’ and then Beau Welling and his team come in make it a reality, considering the drainage and all the things that go into making the golf course.”
McQueary said Payne’s Valley will hold a unique appeal in that you can play the course from one set of tees and it will beat you up, or play another set and have an enjoyable, fun-filled round in which you can shoot a good score.
“I think the average golfer is kind of tired of getting beat up,” he said. “You are coming here to play maybe one round – you aren’t playing your whole career here – and do you want to get your butt handed to you for 18 holes or do you want to have fun and keep the ball in play. If you are a decent golfer and you can travel to play, this is a course that you can probably come and play and shoot a pretty decent score on.”
If You Go
Big Cedar Lodge is about a hefty 21-hour drive from Boston, but three airlines – American, United and Delta – serve the nearest airport, Springfield-Branson.
There’s an array of lodging at Big Cedar Lodge, ranging from rooms at three different lodges to “glamping” campgrounds, cottages, log cabins and a villa and suite that each can accommodate 12-14 people.
For budget-conscious golfers, as a long-time tourism destination, nearby Branson has plenty of lodging options, including condos and lake cabins, hotels and motels.
One of the best, however, is the Hilton Branson Convention Center. It is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Branson and within easy walking distance of many of the shows and the ever-popular Branson Landing that features a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
The Hilton Branson Convention Center has 294 rooms, onsite dining and two bars, an indoor and outdoor pool, and a fitness center. It’s less than 10 minutes from Big Cedar Lodge and handy to Branson’s five other golf courses.