Located in the picturesque Ozark region of Missouri, the tree-lined layout at Buffalo Ridge Springs (formerly Branson Creek Golf Club) is a Tom Fazio design that’s rated as one of the best public access courses in the United States.
It’s one of a number of courses at the Big Cedar Lodge resort in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, where families and friends have the opportunity to connect with the great outdoors. Founder Johnny Morris lined up several big-name architects – including Tiger Woods (Payne's Valley) and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (Ozarks National) – to deliver top-class golfing layouts ranging from a short 9-hole par three course to full-length 18-hole courses.
Buffalo Ridge Springs is configured as two returning nines, laid out in a figure of eight, where some of the fairways come into close contact with free-ranging buffalo from the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Starting and ending with testing par five holes, this layout can be stretched to just over 7,000 yards from the back tees, with par set at 71.
The name Johnny Morris may not resonate globally but his impact in golf in America is on the same page with the likes of Mike Keiser of Bandon fame. The founder of the hugely successful Bass Pro Shops, Morris went full bore in bringing to life his massive resort in the southwest corner of Missouri in the immediate Branson area.
Big Cedar Lodge believes in truth in advertising because Morris makes it a point to be sure that everything at the resort is indeed BIG.
Formerly, Branson Creek Golf Club, Morris engaged the service of architect Tom Fazio and the course reopened in 2014. A number of modifications were included into what constitutes the 18-holes today.
The course amplifies the general Fazio approach. The vistas are certainly present - courtesy of a property that starts from a high point where the clubhouse that gaze upon the countryside for miles and miles. Fazio has provided his usual deft touches -- the "how it looks" mantra is alive and well as the course is in quality shape.
The 1st hole -- a long par-5 -- begins with a major descent downhill. Interestingly, there are buffalo fenced off just to the left of the 1st fairway. Morris wanted to ensure a close connection with the inhabitants.
The long par-4 2nd is a top tier challenge -- both off the tee and with the approach. The par-4 3rd is also done well -- the tee shot must fit the rolling nature of the land here. The par-4 5th is a testament to how the Fazio team can make for an eye-catching hole that's also imbued with a few strategic elements to ponder.
The outward half is the better of the two sides. The inward side is not helped by a singular march of holes in one direction -- #10 thru #13 -- followed by a march in the opposite direction -- #14 and #15. The short uphill par-4 16th is quite good and the ending series of holes is merely perfunctory.
There have been comments that Buffalo Ridge Springs is among America's best public courses. My only answer to that is those spouting such comments need to invest in a compass and roadmap and head out and play more golf in the States. Buffalo Ridge Springs is a quality course and at specific times is engaging, but more often than not, the architecture is vapid.
What will be interesting to see is the plans Morris has put into motion with a forthcoming Ben Crenshaw / Bill Coore layout and the first open to the public design by Tiger Woods -- planned to open in 2019. The Morris vision is certainly one in constant motion and given the nature of where the overall golf industry is today the impact from his efforts are indeed resonating with golfers and general vacation seekers.
by M. James Ward