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Ridgedale, MO. - A seven-year collaboration between one of the nation's most passionate conservationists, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, and three of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport has resulted in the creation of a spectacular new golf course that will now host one of golf's most beloved events.
The Champions Tour's newly-named Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf presented by Bass Pro Shops, a two-man team competition conducted over 54 holes, will be played June 2-8, 2014 on the resort's Par-3 Top of the Rock course, designed by Jack Nicklaus and the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge Course (formally Branson Creek GC), freshly redesigned by Tom Fazio. The tournament, which debuted in 1978, was held in Savannah, Ga., the past 11 years. This will be the first PGA TOUR - sanctioned event to use a Par-3 Course in official competition.
Top of the Rock, a nature-based heritage preserve created by Morris, also features an Arnold Palmer - designed practice facility with 18 target greens and the remarkable 70,000 square-foot "Himalayan" putting course designed by Tom Watson.
The announcement was made today during a press conference at Big Cedar Lodge that featured Missouri Governor Jay Nixon; PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem; Morris, Founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and owner of Big Cedar Lodge; and Watson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and Missouri native. In addition to Big Cedar Lodge, the State of Missouri, Bass Pro Shops and MasterCard will be sponsors of the tournament. Champions Tour member John Cook was also in attendance.
"The Legends of Golf and Champions Tour both share a history of being innovative and engaging properties, and that legacy will certainly continue here at Big Cedar Lodge with the introduction of a Par-3 golf course in official competition," Finchem said. "If there was ever a Par-3 course worthy of PGA TOUR tournament play, Top of the Rock is it. It truly is an outstanding venue and a wonderful complement to the newly redesigned Buffalo Ridge course. We believe the inclusion of this dramatic short course will demonstrate to a time-crunched world that par-3 golf is fun, entertaining, and a worthy alternative for golfers. We thank Johnny Morris, Governor Nixon, and MasterCard for their support of this popular event and are excited to present a refreshing new concept to our players and fans."
The field will feature two divisions for players age 50-65 and 65 and older. Following Friday and Saturday rounds at Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock, all contestants will play at Top of the Rock in the final round. Eligibility will be announced in the near future. The total purse will be $2.75 million.
World Golf Hall of Fame members including Nicklaus, Watson, Hale Irwin, Gary Player and Lee Trevino have already indicated they will play in the event. Other World Golf Hall of Fame members who actively compete on the Champions Tour include: Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Tom Kite, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Larry Nelson, Nick Price, Vijay Singh and Curtis Strange.
"We're very pleased to announce the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf," Morris said. "We thank and welcome all the great partners that have made this event possible – and are especially honored to salute a great institution in America, the College of the Ozarks, also known as 'Hard Work U,' as the key beneficiary for the event. Top of the Rock offers a one-of-a-kind experience and I'm very proud that I had the opportunity to work closely alongside golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnie Palmer and many other talented Ozarks craftsmen to create something special for golfers everywhere. More and more, people are becoming aware of all our beautiful Ozarks region has to offer including world-class fishing, nature and golf."
Buffalo Ridge has been rated the Number One Public Golf Course in Missouri by GOLF Magazine and has been named one of the Top 10 Missouri Courses by Golf Digest for 11 consecutive years. This event will showcase the course for the first time since a major renovation directed by Fazio and Morris. The course will highlight the beautiful Ozarks nature and bring players in contact with fields of native grasses and free-ranging buffalo relocated from nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.
"Today's announcement that the Legends of Golf is coming to Missouri is great news for this region and for our state," Gov. Nixon said. "Home to a rich array of outdoor recreational opportunities, Missouri is the ideal location for this world-class competition. We look forward to hosting Champions Tour players and fans and showcasing Missouri's many attractions during this outstanding event."
"At Big Cedar Lodge you have all the elements to make the Legends of Golf a unique tournament and to show fans that golf, even for professionals at the highest level, doesn't have to be played on long, 18-hole courses," Watson said. "I'm proud to have lent a hand in the creation of such a special place and am enthusiastic about Top of the Rock and hope this innovative approach will inspire new golfers, who have limited time on their hands, to take up the game. Families and kids barely have time to consider golf, but a nine-hole par-3 course is a perfect option to get started in the game."
"Big Cedar Lodge should be a wonderful host site for the tournament and I look forward to seeing how Top of the Rock is received by some of the best players in today's game," Nicklaus said.
"Johnny Morris has been very passionate during the development of the course, and we're pleased with the golf experience created. I hope my friends and fellow pros on Tour will find it to be an enjoyable test of golf."
An important and unique component of the Big Cedar Legends tournament is that it will have two pro-am days featuring multiple sporting events including golf, shooting, archery, and fishing with Legends from these sports scheduled to compete as well. Top of the Rock is also home to world class dining, and Arnie's Barn - a classic 150-year-old barn that was moved from Latrobe, Pa. to Top of the Rock by skilled artisans, is now a stunning restaurant, bar, and pro shop.
The Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf signifies two PGA TOUR-sanctioned events in Missouri in 2014, with the Web.com Tour's Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr. Pepper, one of four original events on that Tour, being played for the 25th consecutive year at Highland Springs Country Club in Springfield, Mo., August 4-10.
The Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf will be televised on Golf Channel, the exclusive cable provider of the Champions Tour.
Q: Will playing a nine-hole par-3 course configured into an 18-hole competition round diminish the Champions Tour and professional golf?
A: With everyone playing the same golf course under the same conditions, we are confident that the players, fans and television viewers will conclude that "golf is golf" and this event will demonstrate to a time-crunched world that par-3 golf is fun, entertaining and a time-saving alternative for golfers. There will be an adequate variety of club selection and no small amount of skill involved, even at the professional level, to make for an interesting and viable competition even without par-4 and par-5 holes. Golf is golf, no matter where it's played.
Q: Will this development be the catalyst to create more unique and interesting opportunities in professional golf?
A: We hope so. With Bass Pro Shops support and involvement with this event, another unique aspect to the tournament is to incorporate several other sporting competitions such as fishing, shooting, archery and hiking during the pro-am days of the event and make it a multi-sport competition for not only the professional golfers but the sponsors and guests as well.
Q: How much of a risk is it to undertake this operation?
A: Almost any undertaking involves risk. When one introduces any form of change, that element of risk will almost always increase. Without risk, an action or a product cannot improve or evolve. We think this innovation will help this tournament evolve in an upward direction.
Q: The Champions Tour has always tried to find the right balance between competition and exhibition. Doesn't hosting this championship on a nine-hole, par-three course push the balance toward exhibition?
A: This historic team event not only maintains that balance but also highlights the Champions Tour as a leader for innovation among professional golf. We believe in continuing to evolve and try innovative approaches to make the game fresh and interesting. The Champions Tour was the first Tour to feature a season-long points competition and the Charles Schwab Cup, now in its 14th year, is always at the forefront of every leading players mind when he begins his season. Walk and talk television interviews during play also happened regularly on the Champions Tour and they continue today. Fan-friendly initiatives such as ‘gallery in the fairway' and ‘honorary observers' were also instigated by the Champions Tour. It would be satisfying for people to give this concept a chance and see how it evolves. They may identify with it more than how they currently perceive golf…..slow and expensive. A round on a par-3 course will generally be faster and less expensive than on a typical 18-hole course.
Q: What impact will this have on the Web.com event in Springfield?
A: Fans in this area will now have the opportunity to witness not only the future stars of the PGA TOUR on the Web.com Tour but also the Legends of the game, names that many fans recognize, many of whom are in the World Golf Hall of Fame and still actively competing. From a business perspective, we believe having another Tour event in the region will boost awareness of the area as a golf destination.
Q: Does the short lead time cause any concern for the organizations involved?
A: There will be challenges but we have experienced this situation before, and while it would be preferable to have a greater lead time we feel confident with the partnerships we have established that we can make this happen.
Q: Will there be a charitable component as with other TOUR events?
A: Yes. Details will be forthcoming but local charitable organizations will benefit from the tournament being hosted at Big Cedar Lodge.
Q: What do the leading professionals think of this development?
A: With the turnout today of Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Tom Lehman, John Cook, etc, we think it is clear that our members are excited about the possibilities of the event.
Note: According to the National Golf Foundation, there are 797 par-3 courses in the United States, roughly 5% of the total number of golf facilities in our country.
Q: How will you get the field around a nine-hole par-3 course without delays?
A: If the field is 70 players, say 30 in the Legends Division and 40 in the Champions Division, then 40 players, or 10 groups of 4 players each, is doable on a 9-hole course. The Champions will play the 18-hole Branson Creek course the first day while the Legends will play the Top of the Rock, then they switch the next day. The final day will see the Legends play the Top of the Rock in the AM and the Champions in the PM.
Q: How will eligibility be determined for the tournament?
A: Eligibility is still being defined. We're determined that the games Legends will embrace this event. Selecting a partner, as players traditionally do for this team event, now takes on a new and different dynamic given that two of the three rounds will be played on a par-3 course which will create interest leading into the event.
Q: Why play two rounds on the Top of the Rock Par 3 course and only one round on the Buffalo Ridge 18-hole course?
A: This event is a unique way to show the fans that golf is golf no matter where it's played. With many discussions today focused on the time it takes to play, and the expense of the game, we like the fact we can showcase a professional competition on a superbly maintained and challenging Par 3 course.