Insider: How par-3 course arrived on Champions Tour
Many discussions took place before Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf event came to fruition
June 04, 2014
By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM
- The entire field will play the nine-hole, par-3 course during the final round in Ridgedale, Missouri. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
When negotiations move swiftly, logic dictates there comes a seminal moment when the light bulb burns brightly and announces to all that this is something definitely worth doing.
With the Legends of Golf on life support, a final search for a solution began in late October. Four months later, on February 25, the announcement was made: The Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf is back on the Champions Tour schedule for 2014.
The Legends of Golf is a historic event and this week at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri, it will add another significant chapter to that history when, for the first time, a par-3 course is in a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event.
The Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf presented by Bass Pro Shops will be played over two courses - the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge and the Top of the Rock, a Jack Nicklaus Signature course consisting of nine riveting par-3 holes.
The two-man team competition will be over 54 holes on both courses. Buffalo Ridge, formally known as Branson Creek Golf Club, has been redesigned by Tom Fazio. The entire field will play the nine-hole Top of the Rock in the final round.
For 35 years, the Legends of Golf has been a centerpiece event for the Champions Tour. When Liberty Mutual Insurance discontinued its sponsorship after last year’s tournament, the future of the event was at a crossroads. Things began to happen when Champions Tour President Mike Stevens and a close friend, Gary Verble, got together for a round of golf.
“We talked about how the Legends was available and Gary said Johnny Morris might have an interest in that,” Stevens said. “Gary introduced me to Johnny and that led to the meeting.”
Morris is the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and the Big Cedar Lodge. And, yes, he was interested.
“We met for four hours,” Stevens said. “We talked about the Champions Tour and what the Legends of Golf is all about. Bass Pro Shops was thinking about venturing into golf. One thing led to another and it came together very, very quickly.”
Stevens acknowledged a watershed moment.
“Funny you ask that because there was one,” he said.
“Originally, the thought was simply to use the par-3 (course) in the pro-am, to make it kind of a special and unique element of the pro-am. But when I came (to Ridgedale) and saw Top of the Rock – you have to see it to understand this – it’s unbelievably impressive. When you think par 3 you immediately think of Augusta National’s par 3. This is nothing like it. It has nine solid par-3 holes.
“I knew from the reaction on John’s face that the pro-am idea was not going to fly. I knew he was thinking of something big to kick off the Top of the Rock. When I was flying back I got to thinking of all the things that Jack (Nicklaus) and a lot of other people have been talking about, how things had to change in golf, the time it takes, the cost of real estate, having more fun, and all that.”
It dawned on Stevens the impact it might have to hold a sanctioned event on Top of the Rock.
“By using this par 3 in official competition we could be making history,” he said. “So I called Johnny back and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for you.’ I hadn’t gotten it approved by Commissioner Finchem or the players but I said to Johnny, ‘How would you feel if we conducted the event using par 3 as part of the official competition?’ He said, ‘If you could do that we would have not only a deal but something historic.’
“I figured if anybody could do it, the Champions Tour could. When I first presented the idea to the commissioner I don’t want to say he was overly excited - I had to sell it a little bit. He bought into the whole premise of using this as kind of a platform to showcase this new era of golf.”
Just like that any thought of putting the Legends of Golf on hold for a year and taking it up again 2015 was vacated.
“I think we’re very lucky,” Stevens said. “It’s not to say we would not have found a sponsor for this year but it was getting to a point where had to make a decision – whether to take a period of transition.”
Stevens said the players’ reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They absolutely love it,” he said. “The idea initially took a little bit to sell. You have to see this place to completely understand what we’re doing.”
Stevens said he has already heard talk that in the future the entire tournament could be played on the par-3 layout.
“We’ll take a lot of notes this week,” he said. “We’ll take everything under consideration and see where it goes.”
With a five-year contract and an option for five more, there’s plenty of time to do that.
“Everybody has worked unbelievably hard,” Stevens said. “It’s shocking how much work John Morris has put into this.
“You have to know the man to understand. He’s honest and sincere and kind of embraced me right from the start. His goal here is to establish Top of the Rock and Big Cedar Lodge as a destination. It’s a grand experiment to get Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock notoriety. I know it’s working.”
This will be the 37th Legends of Golf, making it the second oldest event in senior golf behind only the 75-year-old Senior PGA Championship. The first Legends of Golf was played at Onion Creek Country Club in Austin, Texas, in 1978, two years before the start of the Champions Tour, and is the event which sparked a senior professional tour. The Legends of Golf moved to The Club at Savannah Harbor in 2003 and remained there through last year.