News & Opinion

It’s party time in Ozarks for geezer golfers

RIDGEDALE, Mo. – Last week's #SB2K17 at Baker's Bay in the Bahamas – the annual "bro-cation" of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman documented on SnapChat and other social-media outlets – proved that just like in the movies, the sequel never is as good as the original. 

Perhaps the biggest LOL moment was none other than a reply tweet from the 81-year-old ageless wonder Gary Player, pictured alone on a beach, still waiting for his invite.

Well played, Mr. Player. But the Black Knight should know better that his SB2K17 was still to come. This week's PGA Tour Champions stop at Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozarks has become the biggest party of the year in senior golf. Count Player, who has designed a 13-hole par-3 course scheduled to open later this year, among the competitors in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf who are bowled over by the endless array of activities, from fishing to hiking to shooting to horseback riding and water sports. 

"Is there a better resort in America?" Player said. "Look at the things he's got here. Every time I come back, there's something new."

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris calls it his "hoop-de-doo," and he has set the bar high over the past three years with celebrities from the worlds of fishing (Bill Dance, Kevin VanDam and Woo Daves, to name a few), racing (Tony Stewart) and pool (Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee). This year, Morris upped the ante with a concert featuring Hank Williams Jr. and special guest Kid Rock.

Big Cedar is a sprawling resort, complemented by golf courses, a marina, multiple restaurants, a spa, stables, shooting range, and the list goes on. Steve Stricker, a newcomer to the Ozarks, marveled at the spectacle.

"I took so many pictures going around nine holes today, just to send back to show my wife and my daughters, just to show them what this place is all about," he said. "It's unbelievable. I mean, a woolly mammoth inside the clubhouse. Who has that, right?”

Davis Love III, a first-time competitor last year, is a fast learner. He packed his fly rod, waders and shotgun this time. The tournament is a favorite of fishermen, including Jack Nicklaus, who was fly-fishing for rainbow trout in the same streams at Dogwood Creek while a novice such as myself gave it a go with a spinning rod.

“Am I really going to catch one?” I asked.

My instructor guaranteed it. Just that morning, another newbie had hauled in 15 in 90 minutes. I didn’t reel in quite as many, but it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Later, I witnessed Nicklaus hook a rainbow trout alongside his grandson during the pro-am shindig at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, and he told Player that his granddaughter reeled in a 9-pounder in the Honey Hole.

In his own down-home, folksy way, Morris is every bit the carnival barker that Jim Justice is at Greenbrier Resort on the PGA Tour. Morris' approach was summed up the time he famously said, "If money is an issue, we have no issue."

"He's giving people pleasure," Player said. 

As for #SB2K18, Player awaits the pleasure of his invitation.

"I'm already doing some extra push-ups and sit-ups,” he said, “just in case.”

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email:; Twitter: @adamschupak