By Ken MacLeod
HOLLISTER, Mo – The burgeoning golf empire of Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris took another leap forward Tuesday with a press conference introducing Tiger Woods as the architect of a course to be named Payne’s Valley in honor of Missouri native Payne Stewart.
On the eve of the Bass Pro Legends of Golf event on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, Morris said he selected Woods for three reasons, he has known him and been impressed with him as a person since Woods bought a Tracker Bass boat from Morris’ after he won his first Masters in 1997, he was impressed with design work Woods’ team put forth at the recently opened Bluejack National in Houston, and because the cachet of having Woods’ name associated with his Big Cedar empire will bring worldwide attention.
“He’s the greatest golfer in the world ever,” Morris said of Woods. “Just his passion for the game and what we saw at Bluejack National was outstanding. Also his name. Tiger Woods, he’s known outside Green County. He’s going to help shine the spotlight.”
Woods will join Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player and the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore as architects of record at Big Cedar. Nicklaus designed the par-3 Top of the Rock and Fazio the Buffalo Ridge course (formerly Branson Creek), the two sites of the senior event. Player has designed a magnificent short course that is scheduled to open later this summer. In the same area is the much anticipated Ozark Course, designed by Crenshaw-Coore, set for a 2018 opening, while the Payne’s Valley Course will utilize land lower in the valley beneath the former Murder Rock clubhouse.
Rough shaping and dynamiting to create various passage ways has already begun by course builders Medalist Golf of Cumming, Ga. Owner Wayne Massey said the builders hope to have four holes grassed by late this summer. The course is tentatively scheduled to open in 2019.
Much like Morris could have selected any architect he chose for the project, Woods has opportunities across the globe, but said he is spending time in the Ozarks because he fell in love with the land and he likes and trusts Morris.
“I have opportunities to do things on a global level,” Woods said. “I’ve traveled and played all around the world. It comes down to people you want to work with. Johnny and I go way back and you like spending time around people you want to work with. It means so much to me to have this opportunity.”
This will be Woods’ first public course. He is also slated to design a short course at the Big Cedar Lodge that Morris said will be like “Putt Putt on steroids.”
Questioned by Tom Lehman, who moderated the interviews with Woods and Morris, about what design features he plans to incorporate, Woods said the bunkers will be visually striking, but also emphasized that he plans to use the slopes and elevation changes to create ground options and ample opportunity for creativity around the greens, with limited forced carries anywhere on the course.
“My favorite golf in he world is played on the ground,” Woods said. “The ground is your friend. I like using a variety of shots around the green, getting creative again. I enjoy all that and to be able to have a piece of property like this, my job is not to screw it up. I’m going to give it my best, give it my all. Everyone knows I’m pretty dedicated to the things I care about, and this is one of them.”
Morris is building a destination meant to rival places such as Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst and Whistling Straights among the premier golf destinations in the U.S. It will be fascinating to watch what transpires as the courses all come to fruition. For Morris, golf is just part of the region’s allure, as his primary life’s mission has been fishing and all that goes with it, along with hunting and outdoor conservation in general. He also has built amazing facilities for those pursuits as well, including a state-of-the-art shooting center and the renowned Dogwood Canyon nature center and fly fishing retreat.According to the company website, the TGR Design firm has four courses open worldwide. In addition to Bluejack National, there is El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; The Oasis Short Course in Cabo San Lucas and Jack’s Bay in Rock Sound, Bahamas. All are private courses.
Courses in various stages of construction are The Oasis Course, a third offering in Cabo San Lucas, Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, Pacific Links National Golf Club in Beijing, and the restoration of two courses in Chicago – the South Shore Golf Course and Jackson Park Golf Course.