What a difference two years can make. In post pandemic glory, we returned to Branson for the rest of the story, as they say. Of course, the biggest deal was playing Payne’s Valley which only had a few holes built in 2019. Now, it is everything it’s cracked up to be and more!
Tiger Woods fulfilled his design dream with Payne’s Valley, paying tribute to the late, great, Ozarkite Payne Stewart. The contouring variations and dramatic contrasts between greenery, rock work and water make 18 holes of pure spectacle and fun. It culminates with a bonus 19th par 3 island green below tall cascading falls over a limestone canvas where a hole in one wins a $1k gift card. Cliff Hanger Drive ascends from the 19th hole for a mile up the winding trail skirting caves and waterfalls to the clubhouse perched atop the ridge with a wraparound patio for panoramic views of many holes. The “19th wonder of the world” claim is spot on. Still, big boys with their real life tonka toys are excavating, moving dirt and rocks by the truck loads to make way for Payne’s practice range and rumored three story snack shack. Progress never ends at Big Cedar.
Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge, America’s Premier Wilderness Resort is HUGE. In our first story, we had played the other four courses, Mountain Top, Top of the Rock, Buffalo Ridge Springs and Ozarks National. This year we drove the long entrance to Big Cedar Lodge on Nature Drive for the first time, passing Summit Overlook and crossing streams with little falls, setting the stage for wilderness fun in all parts of the 4600 acres. Walls at registration are lined with animal trophies and the giant shop is filled with everything you didn’t know you need. Many grand lodges and Camp Long Creek offer a variety of rustic décor and views with modern amenities. There is no shortage of activities at Fun Mountain, the Marina, Beach, Brushy Creek water park and the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum.
The Lost Canyon Cave Trail is a golf cart excursion like no other through waterfalls and a cave with a drive-up Bat Bar inside. You can read our words or anyone else’s but you must sense it yourself, feel the cooling mist of the falls, smell the sweetness of the vegetation and florals, hear the water, and jokes, and belly up to the bat bar in your golf cart. Holy cocktail, Batman! Manager Holly Hart is reassuring, “Don’t worry, it’s a loop so you can’t get lost.” Humorous roars are heard in the caves. The geological anomaly is dug, scraped, and cleaned by hand, transitioning the rocks into a form of art. Bridgework is a nod to Amish craftmanship. We were zipping through with a tee time deadline but recommend frequent stops for photos, video clips and to fully sense the wonder. Johnny Morris, Founder of Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar is amazing!Next trip we hope to be at Top of the Rock’s Buffalo Bar for the special bagpipe and canon ceremony at sunset, overlooking Table Rock Lake. And we’d like to see the magnificent wine cellar below which opens at 5 for viewing. Johnny Morris is the wizard of wilderness business and fun.
We returned to the Hilton Branson Convention Center (HBCC) to retire in our comfortable bed in a spacious room with a 4th story balcony bird’s eye view of Historic Branson and River Landing. 15 minutes from Big Cedar, it is a short walk to the train station, riverfront shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Visitors may also get a bird’s eye view from the zip line crossing the river or from the Paradise Pete’s balloon simulator. HBCC is famous for their Pool Splash Party and Level Two restaurant which serves a breakfast buffet starting at 6:30 and converts to a fine steak house for dinner where guests choose from a selection of knives.
Our back to Branson stay was constrained to a mere 20 hours due to scheduling. That’s part of the travel writing “gig” that people don’t get, and we are not complaining because it was a wonderful getaway. We know though, that we will never get the “rest of the story” no matter how long we stay because there are too many venues, too many profiles, too many pages of memories to make in Branson. That is what makes it a repeatable destination and we will be happy to return again and again.
For more info visit: www.explorebranson.com