By Kary Booher
For Golf Oklahoma
BRANSON – Not far from a spectacular view of Table Rock Lake, where blue water fingered into the quiet coves of a sun-splashed afternoon, the man with the smile couldn’t say enough.
Golf legend Lee Trevino, who won six majors and was beloved as "Merrymex" for his upbeat personality, took a long look at the driving range and shook his head in amazement at what’s called Top of the Rock.
With its elaborate and gorgeous view of the lake, Top of the Rock and recently renamed Buffalo Ridge Golf Course (formerly Branson Creek) will soon host the Legends of Golf, part of the PGA’s Champions Tour.
It’s certainly an all-out effort. Scheduled to play are Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and many of the sport’s biggest names, including Trevino, who in the early 1960 was an assistant golf pro in El Paso.
"How can it get any prettier than this? You’ve got all the water and all these beautiful trees," Trevino said, pointing to Top of the Rock’s Nicklaus-designed driving range, before delivering his punch line. "I lived in El Paso for 11 years. You know what’s there? Sand. You might as well go out in the sand bunker and play."
Legends of Golf was rescued over the winter by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris after the previous title sponsor, Liberty Mutual, stepped aside.
It’s now rolled into a new format – par 3 – as well as relocated to the Ozarks, with the event set for June 4-8.
It also appears a natural fit for Morris, who for years invested heavily in building Top of the Rock. Its putting green was designed by Watson and sits not far from a stone church that overlooks the lake, too.
Clearly, it’s been a multi-million dollar effort.
However, a quick turnaround – the event originally was announced in mid-February – raised questions if both sites could be operational in time.
Morris emphasized it will be, going so far as to schedule a media day on May 5 in which he flew in Trevino but also Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri.
"We’re gonna get it through. We’re gonna get it done," Morris said.
Clearly left on the to-do list are paving pathways and firming up other parts of the Top of the Rock, such as the top level of the driving range platform.
At Buffalo Ridge, located about 5 miles north of Top of the Rock, under construction are the clubhouse, pro shop and restaurant. Resurfacing parking lots and access points also are being finished, said tournament director Kirk Elmquist.
Fortunately, wayfinding signs will be posted on Highway 65 out of Arkansas and from Springfield. Buffalo actually will be on site, too, although fenced in.
Parking is in abundance all over the area, and shuttles are planned, Elmquist said. Parking will be free, the way Morris wants it.
"They’re doing in three months what other people take 12 months at least, sometimes 15 months, to do. So it’s not an easy feat," said Bill Oakley, the tournament director of business affairs for the Champions Tour.
"And even though they are on a very past pace," Oakley added, "the quality and the attention to detail they’re giving the event is indicative of what we expected."
A website also is ready — www.bigcedarlegends.com – where fans can purchase tickets. If purchased in advance of May 19, tickets are $25 for June 4 and June 5, and $35 on June 6 and June 7. A weekly pass is $75.
Add $10 to those prices if a ticket is purchased after that date. A weekly pass is transferrable to a friend. However, final round tickets on Sunday are limited availability.
Proceeds will go to support College of the Ozarks and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
"We were very interested in getting this tournament back," Trevino said. "The saddest news was when we found out Liberty Mutual had canceled our tournament. We look forward to this as much as any tournament we play in. Now that we’re has-beens, it’s very difficult to get these pros back together again.
"We can still play. We can still hit shots. We don’t hit as far. Like that shark game over there, we can play (Phil) Mickleson. I wouldn’t be scared of either one of them on that Par 3 course. But we get back together."