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The Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Tournament starts April 17.
SBJ file photo
The Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Tournament starts April 17.

The Big Swing: Johnny Morris’ golf investments play role in shaping Branson tourism

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Among the minutia of airport profitability, one promising lakes-area behemoth is growing international notoriety to aid Branson Airport’s troubles.

It’s tourism, and golf is teeing off.

Ask Lynn Berry, Branson-Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce communications director, what’s new for the so-called Live Music Capital of the World, and the list is lengthy.

Silver Dollar City is growing, Berry said, with its new Time Traveler ride, which the amusement park touts as the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning roller coaster. For live performances, new also for 2018 is “Sampson” at Branson’s Sight & Sound Theatre. It’s a story of the “original superhero” set in biblical times, promising a world-class cast, special effects and live animals, both on and off stage.

The examples serve as only two making up the city’s greater tourism base. But they’re part of bolstering local airline travel, said Berry, who also recognizes the devastating impact of the 2014 loss of Southwest Airlines.

More tourists, she said, could mean more air travel, which could ease negotiations to bring in additional flights and airlines. That all comes atop ever-growing local efforts to bolster business travel to southwest Missouri.

Hole in one
A significant tourism boost for the lakes region – perhaps even for the airport as an easy local entry point for national and international travelers – could come via golf.

Lynn said Branson is quickly gaining acclaim as an international destination for the sport, and a significant player is billionaire Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge.

Its existing courses are Buffalo Ridge Springs, which reopened in June 2014 after a redesign by noteworthy golf architect Tom Fazio; Top of the Rock, which also reopened in June 2014 after a redesign by the famed Jack Nicklaus; and Mountain Top, which opened in August 2017 with help from another golf great, the South African Gary Player.

The resort already has attracted a returning PGA Tour Champions golf tournament, Legends of Golf, which this year starts on April 17. Among others, the annual tournament brings the likes of Tiger Woods, who will be offering a kids golf clinic.

The tournament is now in its fifth year, with three more tournaments on contract, said Steve Friedlander, vice president of golf for Big Cedar Lodge. Friedlander wouldn’t disclose the cost of redeveloping the Big Cedar courses, nor the added rounds as a result.

But, he said, “The golf courses continue to get more and more play, and as we open new golf courses, we add rounds. We didn’t spread them out.”

Getting bigger
Considered one of three upcoming “mind-blower” courses by the Branson chamber, golf mogul Coore & Crenshaw is expected in September to premiere its new course, Ozarks National, at Big Cedar Lodge.

“We anticipate even more people from around the world,” Friedlander said.

Under construction and set to open in 2019, another noteworthy addition will be Payne’s Valley. It’s the first public course by golf pro Woods’ TGR Design. And it’s not the only one coming.

“Once the Tiger Woods golf course opens, we will have five courses [with] three 18-hole golf courses capable of hosting championships,” Friedlander said of future PGA prospects. “People will come from around the world to play these golf courses, and then discover what the Ozarks have to offer.”

Plans also are in place for another TGR Design course at Big Cedar Lodge, where the crowd of business executives could play a pivotal role for Branson Airport’s stature as a specialist in charter flights.

“When you have the kind of golf that we have to offer at Big Cedar, you have a significant number of private aircraft coming in,” Friedlander said. “That airport is one mile from four of our golf courses.”

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