How Tiger Woods and Johnny Morris Built a Golf Oasis in Branson, Mo.

The Fazio-designed golf course, now known as the award-winning Buffalo Ridge, opened the same day as Top of the Rock. The rest of the courses opened gradually, starting with a Gary Player-designed course called Mountain Top, which opened in 2017, then Ozark’s National by Coore/Crenshaw, which opened in 2019. “Those guys are considered in the top 2% of the bell curve in their craft,” says Shepherd. “They’re in big demand and their work is universally esteemed. It’s not unusual for their courses to end up on all of the best in kind lists that are produced in the industry.”

Big names and celebrity visitors—Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg, Kid Rock—aren’t the only draws of Morris’ courses: his fusion of nature and golf, what is usually seen as a buttoned-up, country club sport, is unlike any other. “There are things that you’re not going to find anywhere else in the world,” Shepherd says. Top of the Rock, on its own, features a number of unique attractions, like a replica of a giant, 1,358-pound black marlin that Jack Nicklaus once caught, and the Cathedral of Nature, a massive cave system that was exposed and explored by Morris when land adjacent to the course and a Tom Watson-designed practice facility fell into a sinkhole in mid-2015. And that’s in addition to The Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail Cart Tour, which is a 2.5 mile journey through the Ozarks hills, featuring waterfalls, sweeping panoramic views and an underground  bar in a cave. Not to mention Big Cedar Lodge, the very first property Morris owned in the area. The family-centric resort, purchased by Morris in 1987, features more than five restaurants, five pools, two marinas, a spa, hiking trails, a shooting academy and more. Big Cedar Lodge has been named among the top resorts in the Midwest by Travel+Leisure and was named North America’s No. 1 family resort by Golf magazine in 2020.