Tiger Woods and Big Cedar Lodge took the phrase “grand opening” to a whole new level in unveiling Payne’s Valley—the Missouri resort’s newest course and Woods’s first public design in the U.S. named in honor of legendary golfer and Ozarks native Payne Stewart.
The grandiose resort’s newest course joins its four existing layouts designed by a who’s-who of golf course architects. Payne’s Valley is the third 18-hole course (well, technically 19 holes) alongside Buffalo Ridge Springs (Tom Fazio, 1999) and Ozarks National (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, 2019). Two picturesque par-3 layouts, the 13-hole Mountain Top (Gary Player, 2017) and 9-hole Top of the Rock (Jack Nicklaus, 1996), provide exceptional variety.
Woods and Justin Thomas secured a win for the Americans over Europeans Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy in the Payne’s Valley Cup—marking the first official play on Tiger’s thrill ride in the Ozarks. Nicklaus and Player were also on-site to take a shot at the course’s previously mysterious 19th hole—a short par three dubbed the “Big Rock at Payne’s Valley” set on a lake at the bottom of a limestone wall approximately 200 feet in height.
The 19th hole is among several unique design elements worth detailing about the 15-time major champion’s triumphant layout—here’s five you should know.
1. Tiger marks
Woods idea for Payne’s Valley was to make it “friendly”—approachable for the average golfer and challenging for the scratch player, specifically back at the Tiger tees listed at more than 7,300 yards. But don’t let the 80-yard wide plush Zoysia fairways fool you—this course has some serious teeth. Missing the fairway is costly—the Kentucky bluegrass rough is rather sticky, and extremely wayward shots are near impossible to find in the native vegetation. Particularly tough is the stretch from 13–15 that climbs back towards the Mountain Top clubhouse from the lowest point on the course—even without the wind blowing in your face, as it was for me during a stretch of bogeys-or-worse. You’ll need Tiger-like drives to have a chance at the 653-yard par-five 13th followed by back-to-back uphill par fours more than 400 yards apiece.
2. Nature golf
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, the man behind the outdoors exploratorium that is Big Cedar Lodge, shares a fondness to connect visitors to nature with his design partner in Woods. The layout weaves between natural rock outcroppings and rushing waterfalls, with magnificent views of the Ozark Mountains throughout your round. The takeaway, Woods hopes, is that players will stay off their phones and embrace the nature around them—that he “created something you will all remember as an experience.”
3. Perfect par threes
The par threes at Payne’s Valley are something out of a dream. Three of the four par-three holes have tee boxes perched on top of vistas, requiring you to dial in an adjusted distance to account for the large drops in elevation. The 10th hole is a favorite, playing towards a scene that feels straight out of a video game over water with a waterfall backdrop. Like the 10th, the 2nd and 16th landing areas slope right-to-left, providing a forgiving bounce for slicers of the golf ball. The signature peninsula par-three 5th is reminiscent of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass without the wooden planks. Intimidating? Perhaps. Enjoyable? Absolutely.
4. Ode to legends
Payne Stewart’s son Aaron hit the opening tee shot at the course dedicated to his father in a fitting homage to the Springfield, Mo., native. The routing of Tiger’s tribute, in his own words, is a tip of the cap to the way Stewart curved the ball and the rhythm of his swing. The course’s immaculate bentgrass greens and splashed-up white-sand bunkers seem Augusta-inspired—or “Alister MacKenzie-esque,” as noted by McIlroy. In the post-match press conference, Woods said that MacKenzie, A.W. Tillinghast, and Pete Dye were among the architects that have influenced his design style.
5. The 19th hole
You may have thought you’d seen it all on a golf course—until you saw the Big Rock at Payne’s Valley. This vision from Morris is a bet-settler that plays no greater than 140 yards, but a dramatic amphitheater of limestone and water give it a setting unlike any other. After you’ve crossed the bridge overlooking the 18th hole and putted out on the island green, your zig-zag path up the rock face back to the clubhouse is nearly a mile in length with the view of Payne’s Valley getting better at every turn.
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Payne’s Valley by Tiger Woods is now officially open to the public—get out to Big Cedar Lodge and let us know about your experience.