Buffalo Ridge is the Best of Branson
By Dave Daubert
Inspired by a deep desire to connect to nature, Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, has set out to create one of the greatest golf experiences in the country. Growing the game of golf while incorporating the stunning beauty of the Ozarks into every shot, Big Cedar Lodge offers "Nature's Finest" courses designed by some of the greats in golf.
Acclaimed as one of the Ozarks' top golf courses, Buffalo Ridge has been transformed by the guiding hands of visionary Morris and one of golf's greatest architects, Tom Fazio. Together they have redesigned the layout to bring players in close contact with nature, native grasses and free-ranging North American Bison from nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. The 18 hole championship course showcases the beauty of the Ozarks with natural limestone rock formations, caves, creeks, ponds and waterfalls throughout the routing of one of Missouri's finest golf courses. In fact, Golf Magazine has selected Buffalo Ridge as the "No. 1 Course in Missouri."
Buffalo Ridge may be the prettiest design at Big Cedar Lodge, not as extreme as the other two 18 holers, but a happy middle ground with plenty of challenges while still being fun to play. Tom Fazio says, "...this property at Buffalo Ridge is even grander than what anyone could have imagined. I'm shocked...every time I come here I am amazed."
Buffalo Ridge was the first full-length course at Big Cedar. The new additions, Ozark National by Coore & Crenshaw and Payne's Valley designed by Tiger Woods are more talked about, but the conversation takes nothing away from the quality of Fazio's design. If you are coming to Branson for a golf trip, Buffalo Ridge is not the one to skip.
As you drive into the parking lot at Buffalo Ridge, you have a view of the extensive practice facility set just beneath the clubhouse. There is a huge driving range with a panoramic view of the peaks and valleys of the Ozark Mountains. Adjacent to the range is a course-style chipping practice area complete with a pitching area and sand bunker work. There are two putting greens.
As you begin your round, Tom Fazio's artistry is very apparent with this visually appealing course. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone, golfer or not, who doesn't find a walk around Buffalo Ridge to be a peaceful, engaging experience. The course sits between Payne's Valley and Ozarks National in many ways, and one of them is aesthetically. It is not as manicured and manufactured as Tiger's design nor as rugged as the Coore & Crenshaw layout.
The holes have a great variety of looks and it all begins at the tee. There are some holes where you'll feel like you couldn't miss the fairway on your worst day. Others will have you second-guessing a big swing with the driver. The course does not have that tree-lined congested feel at any point, but the fairways can look narrow and daunting due to the slope, doglegs and hazards.
Unless you launch your tee shots into parts unknown you should draw a reasonable lie for your second shot.
The fairways are bordered by a friendly first cut and the primary cut of rough is not thick or long. The slopes in the fairways tend to be gentle, so you are likely to get a good result that is widely different than you deserve. Your stance should be similarly unbothered thanks to the soft slope
Duffers will appreciate that the slopes around the course tend to be friendly toward them. The greens aren't punchbowls, but there are a lot more opportunities for a ball to kick in a favorable direction than an errant one. Most of the greens are welcoming targets with a clearly defined "good miss" or preferred line of play. No. 10 is a good example-with a large rectangular green accepting of misses short, long, left or right. Favoring the right side is clearly the better play as you'll avoid the rough and bunkers left, and potentially use the slope to bring your ball into the green. Buffalo Ridge doesn't play particularly firm or fast, but there are opportunities to run the ball into most of the greens if you prefer the ground game.
There is rough near the greens which adds an element of chance to the short game and gives you another thing to consider when choosing your approach shot and target. The defining characteristic of the green surrounds are the large bunkers that are neither deep nor steep-faced. If you are competent in the sand, they will not be a major concern. The putting surfaces are above average size, but like the rest of the course, the slope of them is gentle. This could be a mixed blessing as it removes the possibility of roller-coaster breaks but it also makes the greens more difficult to read. With the subtleties, only good putters will make long ones, but no one should be three-putting too often.
One more thing-there is a beautiful little cabin on the lake which houses Johnny's Hot Dog Stand. Take advantage of the drive-up window to keep your round moving, or stop, grab a bite, and admire the view. This is a snack shack you're not going to forget. Buffalo Ridge is a course you will love playing time and time again. Please visit BigCedar.com for tee times and reservations, and Go Play!
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Revised: 01/17/2022 - Article Viewed 860 Times
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About: Dave Daubert
David has been writing about golf since the turn of the century. He was Managing Editor at a regional golf magazine for 11 years, published in Canada, the IAGTO and a Staff Writer for The Georgia Golf Trail. His insightful perspective brings golf to life.