RIDGEDALE, Mo. — Tiger Woods has always said that he wants to build courses that everybody can play. With his newest design, he will finally do just that. Not that his previous courses haven’t been walkable and playable for all abilities — they have. But his new layout in progress in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri will be the first Woods design open to the public.
GOLF.com got a sneak preview this week of the TGR Design project called Payne’s Valley at Big Cedar Lodge, a 7,300-yard layout that honors the late Payne Stewart, a favorite son of the Show Me State. As shotmakers go, there were few better than the beknickered Stewart, so it’s no surprise that the course will demand thoughtful decision-making and sound execution from better players.
Woods says the course will be defined by its bunkering.
"We're going to really flash up the bunkering," he told GOLF.com. "If you look at Augusta National, how the bunkers are pretty flashy, some are in play, some aren’t, but they're eye-catching. If we do it right, the bunkers here will be eye-catching — but then again, I want your eyes to be pulled to the scenery, pulled into the trees and the surrounding areas.
"That's the trick that's going to have to happen, using a lot of the rock that’s already existing here. The rocks are natural and indigenous and while we’re dynamiting some of it in order to create some holes, I don't want to get rid of it all. The rocks will make for eye-catching design features."
As with other Woods designs in Houston and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, among others, he wants this course to play firm and fast, with contours that move the ball around.
“Brown is okay,” Woods says of the turf conditions. “It doesn’t have to be perfectly green. I want the ball running, I want it traveling, I want it moving on the ground. We have some amazing elevation changes, some amazing slopes and I think we can create some interesting options and enjoyment for a lot of players.”
Only three-and-a-half holes are grassed, the par-4 1st, the par-3 2nd, the par-4 3rd and half of the par-5 4th, but the results bear the imprint of the Woods philosophy. The bunkers pop and the slopes surrounding the greens will help higher handicaps, while forcing stronger players to think — fly it in, or bounce it in?
Of the holes that resemble holes, the 331-yard, par-4 3rd is most compelling. A very slight dogleg right, the 3rd is drivable — under most conditions. But the landing area is flanked by bunkers and there’s another bunker that noses into the green’s center, with the wings of the green exposed left and right. Should you go for the green and miss, say, left-short, when the hole is cut on the right, you’ll face a brutal flop shot over sand from a tight lie to get it close. That’s what makes the hole superb risk/reward.
Johnny Morris, the legendary Bass Pro Shops founder, who hosts the PGA Tour Champions Legends of Golf event at his Big Cedar Lodge, greenlighted the Tiger Woods/Payne Valley project, not just because he and Tiger are old fishing buddies, or because Woods might help sell some extra tee times. He visited what Woods and his team — including Bryon Bell, Beau Welling and Shane Robichaud — accomplished at Bluejack National, near Houston, and came away impressed with how TGR Design treated the land. That’s what he wanted for Payne’s Valley.
“I love this land,” Morris says. “And I know Tiger’s going to treat it right.”
With the expectation that TGR Design will have 10-12 holes ready to go by season’s end in 2018, Payne’s Valley should open in 2019.