By Ken MacLeod
Following a rainy Thursday morning that washed out most of the scheduled pro-am, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore stepped onto the porch of the brand new though still rustic clubhouse at Ozarks National, their brilliant new creation near Branson, Mo.
Behind them the press and other visitors could see the fairways running off in various directions, dipping and swooping as they rode the ridgelines of Johnny Morris’ latest addition to his Big Cedar Golf destination.
Although it’s been in a soft opening phase since last fall, the course officially opens today, April 29. It joins Top of the Rock, the nine-hole spectacular by Jack Nicklaus, the Springs Course at Buffalo Ridge by Tom Fazio (formerly Branson Creek) and the Mountain Course by Gary Player, which rings the clubhouse that will serve it and the still-under construction Payne’s Valley, the first public course by Tiger Woods.
That will make five courses in the Big Cedar fold, making it a rival to the nation’s top golf destinations.
Coore and Crenshaw are known for their minimalist architecture accentuating the natural landforms and offering golfers choices on how to play each hole and each shot.
It’s not often that the landform is quite as dramatic as the upper reaches of an Ozark mountain. The long-range views often come at a tradeoff of terrain that is not ideal for golf, but Coore said this site is unique.
“Generally when you talk about long-range vistas, you’re talking about huge elevation changes and that can be a red flag for us,” Coore said. “If you’re going to have all these long-range vistas and elevation changes, how can that accommodate golf to where it’s enjoyable to play?
“But when we came here we said it’s amazing, you can actually ride the top of the ridges which radiate out in different directions. We were able to build golf holes on top of the ridges. We were not only able to create all kinds of vistas, but maybe more importantly from our standpoint, created different wind angles throughout the course.”
Crenshaw said he was extremely pleased to hear his fellow pros, and particularly their caddies, tell him how much they enjoyed the course during the Bass Pro Legends of Golf.
“I particularly listen to the caddies, because they tell the truth,” Crenshaw said, drawing a round of laughter. “We’ve very proud of what we’ve created. What you see is the culmination of a lot of hard work and time.”
Having played it once, the ridges that Coore and Crenshaw mention so fondly can both benefit and work against the golfer. On the par-4 first hole, for example, any drive that is not center to left side of the fairway will roll right all the way off the canted fairway into a hazard.
Learning the course’s nuances will require more than one undertaking, which both architect’s said was a good thing.
“It’s public access golf, but if you have a course that reveals everything the first time, how can it maintain your interest the next time,” Coore said. “We strive for long-term interest as well as short term.”
A few other Ozarks National features:
- 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.
- An old house called, “The Stone House,” located between the 5th and 16th greens. It sits in front of an irrigation lake stocked with bass. The home has been completely refurbished, including an indoor fireplace, outdoor patio and fire pit, and will be a lodging option for guests.
- Morris is also developing plans to create a natural habitat for dozens of ring-necked pheasants to inhabit Ozarks National.
- Like nearly all of Coore & Crenshaw’s designs, Ozarks National will be walkable. It was built with larger golf events in mind, with tees in close proximity to the greens and a test for some of the best players in the world. Its modern layout offers a variety of views for galleries, with ample space surrounding the fairways for spectator viewing and hospitality spaces.
For more information, go to www.bigcedargolf.com.