Big Cedar Lodge: A New Golf Mecca in the Ozarks


Big Cedar Lodge: A New Golf Mecca in the Ozarks

I was eager to visit Big Cedar Lodge, after the recent additions to it’s golf portfolio and the general positive feedback about the beauty of the Ozarks, and it certainly did not disappoint. The thing that impressed me most was how diverse Big Cedar’s golf offering was. Payne’s Valley is a course on a grand scale with an experience that you’d expect to find in Las Vegas. Ozarks National is on complete opposite end of the spectrum with it’s more minimalist and natural approach. There is also the more “traditional” Buffalo Ridge as well as two par-3 courses that are very different from each other: the walking-only Mountain Top and cart-only Top of the Rock. Combine the golf with newly added onsite accommodations and solid dining options, and one must include Big Cedar Lodge in the top tier of golf resorts in the United States. I’ll break down the resort for you and provide valuable insights to help you get the most out of a golf trip to this new bucket list destination in the Ozarks. Thanks for reading!

Dubbed the “19th wonder of the world” by the resort, the 19th hole at Payne’s Valley is one of the most unique and memorable golf experiences in all of golf


Big Cedar Lodge was founded in 1987 when Bass Pro Shops founder, Johnny Morris, purchased the property overlooking Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks. The property is only 30 minutes from where Morris started his first bait shop 37 years prior and was originally intended for Bass Pro Shops customers to test fishing boats. Since then, the property has evolved into one of the most complete resorts in the Midwest, offering onsite lodging, restaurants, outdoor activities, and world-class golf.

The first course at the resort, Top of the Rock, was built in the mid-90s by Jack Nicklaus and the resort purchased nearby Buffalo Ridge Springs (formerly known as Branson Creek Golf Club) in the early 2000s, when it was originally part of a residential community. In the past 5 years, the golf offering at Big Cedar has seen significant growth and investment, with the opening of Mountain Top, Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley. What started as an outdoors retreat has evolved into one of the best golf resorts in the United States.


Top of Rock was the first course built at the resort and is located the closest to the main resort, about 20 minutes south of the main golf “hub”, which includes the four other courses. This Jack Nicklaus design can boast being the only par-3 course to be included in a professional tournament, when it hosted the PGA Tour Champions Legends of Golf. The 9-hole course is very scenic and has some thrilling holes, such as the dropshot #2 and island green #6. Top of the Rock is very busy with guests and tourists so give yourself extra time to arrive before your tee time. FYI – there used to be a really cool Arnold Palmer driving range at Top of the Rock but a recent landslide has wiped that out unfortunately.

The 2nd hole at Top of the Rock is a short, downhill par-3 with breathtaking views of Table Rock Lake

Buffalo Ridge Springs was the next course added to the Big Cedar portfolio. It is a beautiful and well manicured Tom Fazio design that routes around natural rock formations, creeks and lakes. The course is visually striking and has an excellent set of par-5’s. The course is located about a 5 minute car ride/shuttle from the Mountain Top/Payne’s Valley clubhouse, which is the “hub” of the Big Cedar golf offering.

The 14th and 15th holes at Buffalo Ridge are in a peaceful corner of the property featuring beautiful water features and are connected by an iconic covered bridge

Mountain Top may have been the most pleasant surprise of the trip. It is a walking-only par-3 course set atop the ridge next to the main clubhouse. The holes offer a good mixture of long and short holes, an interesting set of greens and mind blowing views. There are also a few holes that play next to and through unique limestone rock formations that add to the uniqueness and overall experience. I can probably only count on one hand the number of par-3 courses in America that would be better than Mountain Top – it’s that good!

Mountain Top takes the golfer on an adventure along the top of a ridge next to limestone rock formations amongst mind blowing views of the Ozarks. The main clubhouse at Payne’s/Mountain Top is in the background

The Watson putting course is located right next to the main Mountain Top/Payne’s Valley clubhouse. It’s certainly a good addition to Big Cedar’s golf offering but is not on the same level as some other putting courses at top resorts, such as the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes and Thistle Dhu at Pinehurst. It lacks the internal contour and character as those aforementioned. Either way, it is still a fun place to spend some time with a cocktail at the end of the day soaking in the sunset and views.

Ozarks National is a natural, “lay of the land” course built by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. The fact that Bill Coore was able to create a walkable golf course on this severe property goes to show how talented he is at routing. There are a lot of interesting risk/reward tee shots and some challenging approach shots to elevated greens. The course offers a fantastic set of par-3’s and incredible views on all holes across the course. Definitely consider a forecaddie at Ozarks National since there are a few blind shots and some big elevation changes around the course. Also, since the holes play along the top of the ridges, there are more forced carries than most Coore & Crenshaw designs, so I’d suggest bringing a few extra balls and play an appropriate set of tees! The driving range at Ozarks National is very good and is shared with Payne’s Valley (they are building a new one just for Payne’s Valley at the current moment). Ozarks National is located about a 5 minute cart drive from the main clubhouse at Payne’s Valley/Mountaintop but does offer a place to hang out post round for a drink and light snacks.

Ozarks National is an impressive addition to the already stacked Coore & Crenshaw portfolio

At Payne’s Valley, Tiger and company have built a course with scale that I have never seen before. There is tremendous width off the tee and only two cuts of grass making the course extremely playable. The greens are large and very interesting and make you think about how to approach them (the carts provide green contour maps which certainly help!). This might be the most unique experience in golf, too, with an island 19th hole, a 1 mile cart drive back to the clubhouse after the round that traverses up a mountain behind waterfalls and through caves, and the nicest turnstands that I have ever seen. The only negatives at Payne’s Valley were the pace of play – it took well over 5 hours – and the fact that it is essentially unwalkable. One would need a ride at the beginning and end of the round up/down the mountain where the clubhouse sits and there are a few longer green to tee transitions. The par-3’s are visually stunning and really fun – our group actually someone in a wedding party get a hole-in-one on the 10th hole!

Payne’s Valley is an inviting course with wide corridors of zoysia fairways and large greens to hit into, ideal for resort play


From closest to furthest from the main golf “hub”:

  • Cottages at Payne’s Valley or Mountain Top – these are in the best location by far and are walking distance to the main clubhouse which offers a great restaurant/bar, locker room and a billiard room. They have one and four bedroom options. There are a few cottages that are located on top of the waterfall at Payne’s Valley overlooking the course which include a putting green and a pool!

  • Cottages at Buffalo Ridge – There are two bedroom cottages available at Buffalo Ridge which is about 5 minutes down the road from the main clubhouse at Payne’s/Mountain Top. You would need to drive or take a shuttle

  • Angler’s Lodge – a new, economic option that is about 10 minutes from golf and closer to Branson. The lodge is removed from both the golf hub and the main resort

  • Main Resort – offers the most lodging but keep in mind that it is about 20 minutes from the main golfing area at Payne’s/Ozarks National/Mountain Top and that you would need to drive or take a shuttle

  • Local accommodations – you do not need to stay at the resort to play golf at Big Cedar. Nearby Branson offers the most accommodation options and is about 15 minutes from the main golfing hub. FYI – if you’re not staying at the resort, you must book your tee times 30 days in advance

The cottages at Payne’s Valley sit on top of a massive waterfall overlooking the course and are walking distance to the clubhouse


Mountain Top Grill is the main restaurant/bar serving those playing at Payne’s Valley, Mountain Top and Ozarks National. There are also plenty of turnstands on Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley, offering free bison hot dogs, snacks and candy! There is a patio bar at Ozarks National and Johnny’s Hot Dog Stand at Buffalo Ridge for drinks and light fare after your round. More dining options are available at Top of the Rock, such as the higher-end Osage steakhouse, and the main resort, which are about 20 minutes south of the main golf hub. One suggestion would be to play Top of the Rock in the afternoon and then stick around for the sunset festivities (bagpipes, canon firing) and dinner at one of the restaurants there. Also the Sunday Brunch at Osage is supposed to be legendary.


We only went for the golf but there are tons of activities if you are considering traveling with your significant other and/or family, particularly outdoors. Here is a list of what you can do at the resort. The Ozarks also offers a ton of outdoor activities.


Big Cedar Lodge is located in the Ozarks in southwest Missouri near the border with Arkansas. The nearest regional airports are Springfield-Branson (SGF), which is about one hour from the main golfing hub, and Northwest Arkansas (XNA), which is about two hours away. Here are driving times to Big Cedar from the nearest major cities:

  • Kansas City – 3 hours 30 minutes

  • Tulsa – 3 hours 45 minutes

  • St. Louis – 4 hours

  • Memphis – 5 hours

  • Dallas – 7 hours

  • Indianapolis – 7 hours 30 minutes

  • Chicago – 8 hours

The best time of the year to visit Big Cedar Lodge is mid April to June and September to October. All golf courses feature zoysia grass which starts to thrive in April and will start to go dormant in late October when the fall arrives. The resort posts an aeration schedule on their website so always a good idea to check on that before you book your trip.

To see more reviews of the individual courses at Big Cedar and/or find other courses on your way to/from Big Cedar, visit our website. It’s free to register and is an incredible resource to help you find courses, plan your next golf trip and track your golfing journey!

Stay linked.

Unlock the door to a world of golf courses just waiting to be discovered.