By Jason Deegan, Senior Writer
RIDGEDALE, Mo. – Except for the first tee shot by Tiger Woods, the Payne’s Valley Cup was, no doubt, a successful debut of Payne’s Valley, Woods’ first public design in America.
Woods lost his tee shot left into the tall stuff, a miss dripping with irony considering how wide the fairways are at Payne’s Valley, the newest and shiniest of all the golf toys Johnny Morris has built at his sprawling Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains. That the Cup was won by Woods and Justin Thomas, beating Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose on the 19th hole, is a mere formality when compared with the showmanship of Morris and the deft creativity of Woods’ design team that was broadcast to a national audience on Golf Channel and GolfPass.
Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, choked up at the opening ceremony when he began talking about Payne Stewart, the local legend whose name graces the course. Stewart’s wife, Tracey, and son, Aaron, were on hand, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, each of whom has designed a short course at the 77-hole resort. Payne’s Valley is an apt tribute to the flamboyant, knicker-wearing Stewart. The layout feels epic in scale. Everything is oversized from the bunkering to the greens. Its personality comes from the rock formations and dramatic water features that added eye candy to the telecast and should attract golfers who might have never realized how special this part of Missouri is.
It was Morris, though, who came up with the idea of the 19th hole, an extra 140-yard par 3 where an island green rises from Lunker Lake in the shadow of a waterfall spilling off of 250-foot rock cliffs. It was here where the match was decided after a six-some of major champions teed off … with Nicklaus and Player joining Woods, Rose, Thomas and McIlroy. Thomas made birdie to end it, but all the participants went home with a commemorative trophy. “Everybody’s a winner,” McIlroy joked.
If you play Payne’s Valley, you’ll certainly feel like one, too. After the round, golfers drive up the “Cliffhanger Trail,” a nearly mile-long trek that switchbacks through a cave and within splashing distance of the waterfall to return back to the clifftop clubhouse. It’s the final fun and interesting experience at a resort, and course, filled with them.
“The water features, they were already here, but we obviously expanded them to have that flow,” Woods said. “The whole is idea is to be a part of nature to have the sound and the visuals of being out there, as I said earlier, being away from your phones, being out there, hearing the streams, hearing the breeze in the trees. Hopefully everyone got the chance to experience that (today).