After the press conference at Big Cedar Lodge announcing the Champions Tour event, we spent a few minutes talking with Johnny Morris, Founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge and owner of Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge golf courses.
TMGP: Johnny, this is a great day in the history of Big Cedar Lodge, Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge, and the Champions Tour.
JM: First, thanks to you and the magazine for being here to cover this announcement. Yes, we’re very excited to have all of these legendary golfers and other sportsmen who are legends in their own fields, as well, be a part of this event. And great to know that Golf Channel will broadcast it, really all around the world, so people can see the beauty we enjoy here in this part of the Ozarks.
TMGP: I couldn’t agree more– that drive down 65 from Springfield to Branson is breathtaking with the elevation changes and vistas. This is going to be a unique event, especially at Top of the Rock, in that fans will get to see these legends up close, right?
JM: Yes, just the interactions that will happen between these legendary players and the fans and also the fact that we’ll have other competitions involving fishing, archery, and shooting legends who will be part of the overall event.
TMGP: Our mission, and I know one of yours, is to help grow the game. Seems this event will be really suited for families to attend.
JM: Yes, ideal for families. And Missouri native Tom Watson’s personal involvement in the tournament and in helping create the putting course at Top of the Rock is important. He said, “You know, Johnny, I want to create something really special and a ‘serious’ putting course—and yet one that’s also fun for kids and families.” Also, it’s very exciting for us that the Commissioner and the PGA Tour have selected Top of the Rock as the first ever par three course to be part of “official” play in a PGA Tour event. To your point about kids and families, seems with all of the time demands on families and parents today that taking a couple of hours to go play a fun 9 hole par three course is a good alternative.
TMGP: So, Top of the Rock will be open for play after the tournament by those staying at Big Cedar Lodge?
JM: (laughing) Yes! One of the good things about the event coming in June is that it’s given us a hard target date and forcing us to finish up our tweaking and “monkeying around” with Top of the Rock so we get it re-opened in plenty of time.
TMGP: Word has it that golf architect Tom Fazio is doing some work with you on Buffalo Ridge—the new name for the former Branson Creek course?
JM: Yes, Tom and his son Logan are going to rework a few holes and do some work on the bunkering. We think it can use a good enhancement and that’s what they’re helping us out with. And to the reason it’s now called “Buffalo Ridge”– we’re putting in some nice wood fencing around some of the fields adjacent to the course and will be introducing buffalo that will be ranging in those fields. They used to be native to this area years ago before they were eliminated and we think people will enjoy seeing them brought back to their native area.
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