|by Tom Uhlenbruck
The PGA Champions Tour will be held in Southwest Missouri, according to an announcement by the Missouri Department of Tourism. Big Cedar Lodge's Top of the Rock golf course, located about 10 miles south of Branson, will host the event on June 2-8, 2014, in conjunction with the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf/Bass Pro Shops golf tournament.
The tournament will be broadcast to more than 200 countries, with some 145 million households, according to information from the PGA Tour. The Champions Tour, which debuted in 1978 and is the longest running PGA Tour event, had been held the past 11 years in Savannah, Georgia.
PGA officials said Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Gary Player and Lee Trevino - all members of the World Golf Hall of Fame - have indicated they will play in the event.
Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, said the tournament will combine golf with other sporting opportunities available in the area.
“We’ll also have some fishing and shooting competitions,” Finchem said. “We hope to have an event that will bring a lot of legendary sportsmen together to see the beauty of the Ozarks.”
The tournament will be a two-man competition conducted over 54 holes on the resort’s par-3 Top of the Rock course, which was designed by Nicklaus. It also will be played at the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge course, formerly Branson Creek Golf Club, which has been redesigned by Tom Fazio. The tournament will be the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event to use a par-3 course in official competition.
Top of the Rock features a unique driving range designed by Arnold Palmer and the 70,000 square foot “Himalayan” putting course designed by Watson, who attended a news conference at Big Cedar Lodge.
Watson, a native Missourian, said he took a morning golf cart ride on the paths of the course and was struck by the surroundings.
“The beautiful woods, the waterfalls, the views of Table Rock Lake,” Watson said. “Where else in the world could you have something like this?”
The field will feature two divisions for players age 50-65 and 65 and older. The total purse will be $2.75 million. The tournament signed a five-year contract.
“If there ever was a par-3 course worthy of PGA tournament play, this is it,” Finchem said. “We believe the inclusion of this dramatic short course will demonstrate to a time-crunched world that par-3 golf is fun, entertaining and a worthy alternative for golfers.”
Watson said playing a shorter course “will inspire new golfers, who have limited time on their hands, to take up the game.”
“Families and kids barely have time to consider golf, but a nine-hole, par-3 course is a perfect option to get started in the game,” he said.
In addition to Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops, the State of Missouri and MasterCard will be sponsors of the tournament. The Champions Tour donates to charitable organizations and the College of the Ozarks will be the key beneficiary of the tournament.
For spectator information go here.