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Spring 2018

Luxury Lifestyle Magazine From ClubCorp, the World Leader in Private Clubs

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ON A MISSION One determined billionaire’s quest to build the country’s next great golf destination at his Missouri resort ­­­— with help from the biggest names in course design BY JOSH SENS From Springfield, Mo., drive about 50 miles south on U.S. Highway 65, through a green pastiche of cornfields and pasture, and the land around you begins to rumple. Pine-capped ridges rise into view. Roadside billboards point the way toward Branson, famous for its theaters and live music. But you’re headed for a different kind of entertainment, in the craggy folds of the Ozarks about 10 miles south of Branson, at a destination whose owner is bent on developing the country’s next must-see golf retreat. That Big Cedar Lodge, an outdoorsy resort in an unassuming swath of the Show-Me State, could earn such an honor might seem unlikely. But so is the story of the man behind the plan. Johnny Morris, an up-from-nothing billionaire, grew up in this region, loving its wildness and never feeling an urge to leave it. At 69, he still resides here and remains true to his humble roots, which means he isn’t big on talking about himself. But a good deal about him is well-known. In 1972, in his early 20s and earning a modest keep in the emerging sport of pro bass fishing, Morris had a bootstrapping business idea. Struck by the fact that average anglers couldn’t easily buy the equipment used on the tournament circuit, he started selling lures and bait from a counter in his father’s Springfield liquor store. He called his operation Bass Pro Shops, and though the space it filled was barely larger than a closet, it had enormous appeal. Like the fabled fish-that-got-away, the shop got bigger every year. As Bass Pro Shops expanded — now more than 100 retail locations in the U.S. and Canada — Morris branched out into other business interests. Among his acquisitions: Big Cedar Lodge, which had gone through other owners and iterations but held a place in Morris’ heart because he had hunted and fished in the surrounding wilderness as a kid. When Morris bought the property in 1987, he looked at it as he looks at everything: through the lens of his love for the outdoors. The resort would be committed to conservation, its grounds a wonderland of unspoiled places where visitors could reconnect with nature. All manner of activities would be encouraged, so long as they involved getting out in the fresh air. At this juncture of the story, golf comes in. Morris discovered the allure of golf the first time he walked a course as a young man. Golf transported people to stunning places, and left them there for hours in good companionship. In that way, it resembled fishing. Golf could be a celebration of the natural world — and Big Cedar could be a showcase for it. “Everything Johnny has done out here is driven by his love of the Ozarks and his eagerness to share it with the world,” says Steve Friedlander, Big Cedar’s vice president of golf. “How do you get people outside, experiencing and appreciating the beauty of this area? One way is by creating the world’s next great golf destination. That’s what Johnny is out to do.” To bring his vision into being, Morris has done a lot of his own heavy lifting. But he has also enlisted help from several of the game’s most prominent figures. Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player have all designed courses at Big Cedar, and Arnold Palmer built a world-class practice facility. Every spring the resort also hosts the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, a popular team event on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. That’s a lot, but there’s more to come. Tom Watson has crafted a putting course set to open by fall. (In 2015, a sinkhole claimed the first one he designed for Big Cedar.) An 18-hole layout by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw is slated to open in September. Then, another blockbuster will follow a year or so later: the first fully public course designed by Tiger Woods. No wonder the buzz. Turn the page for a closer look at the courses.

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