Branson area courses becoming golf legends themselves

Golfers competing this week in Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf got the opportunity to play one of this area’s newest courses.

Mountain Top, a new course designed by Gary Player, was used Friday and Saturday during the second and third rounds of the PGA Tour Champions event.

Like neighboring Top of the Rock, which until this year has been the only par-3 course used by the PGA Tour, Mountain Top only has par-3 holes. And it is even more unusual in the fact that it has 13 holes.

Kansas City’s Tom Watson said Mountain Top is a good challenge. Some of the holes have triple-level greens, and there are a variety of distances. The course is playing 1,927 yards for the tournament, with holes ranging from 82 to 221 yards.

“It’s a very good course,” Watson said. “It will test most of the clubs in your bag.”

In addition to Mountain Top, players in the tournament played the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge course and the nine-hole Top of the Rock course, where all of Sunday’s action will be held.

Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco will take a 1-shot lead into Sunday’s final round with a 19-under total after shooting 7-under 47 on Saturday at Top of the Rock.

Watson said the area benefits from having courses put together by some of the top designers in the industry.

Renowned course architect Tom Fazio helped Bass Pro Shops founder and conservationist Johnny Morris redesign Buffalo Ridge in 2014 in an effort to bring the players closer to nature, and Top of the Rock is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course with views of Table Rock Lake.

“I think when it’s all finished — let’s give him two years — I think it’s conceivable it’s going to be the best in the world,” Player said

In addition to those courses, golfers will be able to play two other 18-hole courses in the area by neat year. Watson credits Morris for bringing together top course designers.

Ozarks National, the latest course being designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, is on track to open Sept. 1 and Payne’s Valley, which is being designed by Tiger Woods to honor the late Payne Stewart, is expected to be open next year.

“It’s a golf destination,” Crenshaw said. “It’s right in the middle of the country. People can recreate here, obviously do a lot of other things other than play golf. There’s plenty of golf here, and there’s all sorts of levels of golf. I think it’s really great that a lot of the complexes a beginner can play, girls, boys, middle aged, old people. It’s golf, plenty of it here.

“We’re very proud of it, and we’re happy to join the group that have built courses here.”

While Top of the Rock and Mountain Top are good for beginners or golfers who don’t have time for a full 18 holes, the three other courses will test players of all skill levels.

“They can be tough,” Watson said, “but they also will be fair for average golfers.”

In addition to the new courses, Watson is involved in the design of a new putting practice complex near Mountain Top and Ozark National that he hopes will be ready to open around July 1.

Watson built the new putting course after the original one at Top of the Rock was damaged by a sinkhole. He said the new area will have a few more contours and will be more challenging.

Morris said he enjoys work with Watson since Watson shares Morris’ passion for the Ozarks and desire to showcase the area through golf.

“I put a few more contours in it than the one before,” Watson said of the new putting course. “I wanted to make it more challenging, more fun.”

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