RIDGEDALE, Mo. – After the narrow fairways, high rough and impeding tree lines at Winged Foot’s West Course in the U.S. Open, the top players in the world surely could use a little relaxing width in a golf course.
Four of them will get plenty of opportunities to swing away Tuesday, as Tiger Woods welcomes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose to the opening of his new Payne’s Valley layout at Big Cedar Lodge. That foursome will tee off at 3 p.m. Eastern (on Golf Channel) in the Payne’s Valley Cup on Woods’ first public-access design in the United States.
Named in honor of Ozarks native Payne Stewart, the three-time major winner who died in a plane crash in 1999, Payne’s Valley will be the third 18-hole course at Big Cedar. The resort’s Ozarks National, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design, is the No. 1 course in Missouri on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access courses. Tom Fazio’s Buffalo Ridge Springs at the resort is the No. 2 course in the state on that public-access list.
Big Cedar also features two par-3 courses, Top of the Rock and Mountain Top. And the resort has hosted several PGA Tour Champions events, most recently with Phil Mickelson winning his first over-50 event, the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National in August.
Now comes Woods’ chance to show his design chops. His TGR Design company has built a handful of courses around the world, including Bluejack National north of Houston and El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Woods has said his intent at Payne’s Valley is to present a fun, playable layout that can be enjoyed by families as well as serious players. The fairways are wide, presenting opportunities to swing away without too much fear of lost balls. But within all that width are strategic opportunities for players who properly chart their way around the course.
What little rough there is serves to keep balls from rolling off mountain ridges more than to punish wayward shots, and the layout features dramatic rock outcroppings that required dynamite for shaping. The challenge for talented players comes in the shaping of the greens and surrounds, which present a wide range of options for recovery. Payne’s Valley also features a bet-settling, par-3 19th hole designed by Johnny Morris, founder of the resort as well as Bass Pro Shops.
All in all, it should be a relatively relaxing round for the major-winning foursome on Tuesday. Take an early peak at the course with the photos below.