It takes only one visit to Missouri’s Big Cedar Lodge to understand what the resort’s owner and developer, Johnny Morris, has set out to accomplish. From the private one- and two-bedroom log cabins set along the wooded shoreline of Table Rock Lake, to the resort’s Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail and the nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park spanning 10,000 acres, Morris has created a destination where guests can easily connect with the natural beauty of the Ozarks.
Golf represents another outlet through which Big Cedar guests can explore the region’s diverse and idyllic terrain, and Morris has wholeheartedly embraced that opportunity, too. When the resort’s second 18-hole championship course, Ozarks National—a Coore & Crenshaw–designed masterpiece—opens this month, Big Cedar Lodge will feature 58 diverse golf holes that introduce players to the Ozarks in unique ways. (The resort is already home to two short courses: a nine-hole par three layout designed by Jack Nicklaus and a 13-hole short course designed by Gary Player.)
Set upon a series of ridges that offer sweeping views of the lower elevation hillsides that envelop the area, Ozarks National serves as a stark contrast to the resort’s other layouts, which are accented by exposed rock formations and—in some places—partially excavated caves and sinkholes. By contrast, the new course is more natural due to the unique piece of land upon which it is built. It’s also a testament to how Coore and Crenshaw approach all of their projects
“We try to find property that looks and feels like golf in its natural state,” Coore explains. “Properties that don’t require extreme alterations. Then we let the natural characteristics of those sites be the guide to create the character and strategy of those courses.”
The layout at Big Cedar Lodge that emerged from that approach features undulating fairways and punchbowl greens, which means players sometimes have to hit blind shots over hillsides. In fact, golfers familiar with the early American courses built by Charles B. Macdonald—like the challenging National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.—will find many a similarity with Ozarks National.
“It creates a sensation and an experience that just very straightforward, stereotypical golf cannot provide,” Coore says of the course. “Maybe the golf course looks intimidating, but after you play it you’ll find that it looks much harder than it really is.”
Some of the courses at Big Cedar Lodge, specifically the Tom Fazio–designed Buffalo Ridge Springs and Nicklaus’s Top of the Rock, conform to the conventional American strategy of playing shots primarily through the air. However, Ozarks National provides a stage for golfers to incorporate a more Scottish links approach if they so choose.
“The thing that’s going to be the most important of all is having the ability to improvise and maybe think a little differently,” Coore says, acknowledging that most Americans are accustomed to playing a round where they only envision high-arching shots that land soft. “If you have an adventurous or inquisitive spirit, you’ll go out there and discover ways that you can be successful. To us, that’s interesting and fun.”