Payne’s Valley named best new public course by Golf Digest

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RIDGEDALE, Missouri. December 27, 2021– Golf Digest has named the highly anticipated fifth course at Big Cedar Lodge, Payne’s Valley, as the 2021 Best New Public Course in North America. Named in honor of golf legend and Ozarks native Payne Stewart, the course was developed in partnership between Tiger Woods and Johnny Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge. Payne’s Valley is the first public access design by Tiger Woods and his design firm, TGR Design.

“We are honored to have received this ranking from Golf Digest, one of the oldest and most respected golf publications in the sport,” said Morris. “We envisioned this course to provide an immersive journey that combines a high level golf experience with the natural wonder of its surroundings. The course layout showcases the breathtaking beauty of the Ozarks and provides a way for golfers to experience nature as they enjoy the game. This new golf course is everything we dreamed of and more. We are proud and very grateful to Tiger for what he and his remarkably talented team helped us create here at Payne’s Valley, we are humbled to see that so many others feel the same.”

The first 18 holes of Payne’s Valley represent a collaborative vision between Woods and Morris that reinforce the “Nature Golf” concept. The walkable course is challenging yet player friendly. The experience is highlighted by a one-of-a-kind, mile-long finish that transports players through a breathtaking natural, spring-fed cavern system, over bridges that span 250-foot cliff faces and through ancient waterfalls. The experience from the first tee to the clubhouse spans not just an incredible golf course, but a journey through natural beauty.

Often referred to as the “19th Wonder of the World,” perhaps the most dramatic moment in the Payne’s Valley experience was envisioned and designed entirely by Johnny Morris. Those who have had the privilege to play the bonus 19th hole at Payne’s Valley claim that its beauty rivals the world-renowned 7th hole at Pebble Beach or the 16th at Augusta. A showcase of the natural heritage of the Ozarks, the 19th hole provides a unique test of skill that is unlike anything else in the world of golf.

Home to the top three 18-hole courses in Missouri and two of the most recognized short courses in the world, Big Cedar Lodge is redefining the golf landscape—and establishing the Ozarks as a top tier destination in the sport. Payne’s Valley joins Big Cedar’s award-winning line up of top-rated courses– Buffalo Ridge Springs (Tom Fazio), Ozarks National (Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw), Mountain Top (Gary Player) and Top of the Rock (Jack Nicklaus). Ozarks National and Buffalo Ridge Springs claimed the top two spots in Golfweek’s 2020 annual rankings of the “Best Course You Can Play in Missouri.” The award for Payne’s Valley marks the second time that Golf Digest has recognized a Big Cedar course with Best New Course in North America. Ozarks National was recognized as Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course of 2019.

America’s Premier Wilderness Resort, Big Cedar’s five course offering ranks favorably with any golf experience in the world. Morris’ “Nature Golf” concept has enthralled players from around the globe and affirmed his reputation as one the leading voices of conservation in the United States. Each Big Cedar course has received the prestigious Audubon Sanctuary designation for environmental stewardship. Johnny Morris has been awarded numerous conservation honors, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award, the Audubon Medal and lifetime achievement awards from the likes of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and others.

In process of determining the awards, select members of the esteemed Golf Digest course ranking panel traveled the U.S. and Canada to conduct evaluations of 58 new and newly renovated courses from 2020 and 2021. One panelist said that at Payne’s Valley, “the par 3s are beautiful and have some of the course’s grandest water features, including lakes, streams and waterfalls along with significant elevation changes.”

Since opening, Payne’s Valley has continued innovating to improve player experience. In 2021 the course introduced its highly anticipated caddy program that allows golfers to more thoroughly enjoy the stunning beauty of the Ozarks. The course now offers the option to rent the exclusivePayne’s Valley Cottages, located on the ridge below the Mountain Top clubhouse. A stay in the cottages brings the hospitality experience full circle, complete with panoramic views of the course and the hills that surround it. In the spring of 2022, Payne’s Valley will open a new comfort station at the turn.

For more information or to book a tee time at Payne’s Valley or any of Big Cedar Lodge’s award-winning courses, visit

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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source