An Early Look at Big Cedar Lodge’s New Cliffhangers Par-3 Course

Big Cedar Lodge’s golf offerings are getting bigger.

The resort in southwest Missouri, founded by Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris, has three 18-hole championship courses and is set to become the first golf destination in the U.S. with three different short courses.

Big Cedar has a pristinely manicured 9-hole par-3 course called Top of the Rock, which sits high atop Table Rock Lake and for years hosted a televised PGA Tour Champions event. There’s also Mountain Top, a picturesque 13-hole par-3 layout on the highest point at the main golf property.

The site for the new Cliffhangers par-3 course overlooks the 18th and 19th holes of the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley course at Big Cedar Lodge (photo by Erik Matuszewski)

And now Big Cedar is adding a wild, 18-hole par-3 course called Cliffhangers.

The other two short courses were designed by a couple of the game’s greats: major champions Jack Nicklaus (Top of the Rock) and Gary Player (Mountain Top). Cliffhangers is a passion project for Morris. Although he would probably prefer to fish and hunt over golf, Morris is heavily involved in the design process (consulting with his golfing son John Paul) and knows what he likes from an aesthetic standpoint. And there’s a lot to like at the site they’re working with.

The course routing is draped across almost 50 acres of dramatic cliffside, with about 400 feet of vertical descent in total. It’s a stunning piece of property, situated just beneath the Mountain Top clubhouse and overlooking the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley course.

Cliffhangers is decidedly more manufactured than minimalist, with significant earth moving—rock moving, actually—required to have the course step its way down the rugged limestone cliffside.

big cedar
(photo by Erik Matuszewski)

The original vision was to have a driving range at the site. But things can change almost overnight at Big Cedar, which is clearly a labor of love for Morris. Inspired by his own childhood memories at Table Rock Lake, the conservationist has continued to build and expand Big Cedar into a year-round destination that connects guests from the Midwest and beyond with the great outdoors. Golf is a growing component, with four—and soon five—of the courses located adjacent to one another about 15 minutes down the road from the main property.

When it opens, perhaps in late 2024 but more likely in early 2025, Cliffhangers will feature a variety of shot lengths, but most will be significantly shorter than the typical yardages at Top of the Rock and Mountain Top, which average 158 yards and 147 yards from the back tees, respectively, and have at least a couple of holes that stretch to 200 yards or beyond. Think well-placed wedges, although it’s all but a certainty that putting from the teeing area will be possible on a few of the downhill holes.

The tees themselves could be artificial turf, a likelihood given the somewhat limited area and the heavy play they’re sure to get. The vision on at least one of the holes is to have the teeing ground tucked back and beneath a rock overhang, making for a unique tee shot, although not the best spot to grow grass. The greens themselves will be natural grass, some of them sitting on the sides of steep drop-offs, atop a shelf over a pond, or alongside a water feature cascading down the side of the cliff. The design remains a work in progress, continually evolving, under Morris’s guidance.

(photo by Erik Matuszewski)

One certainty is that the closing hole at Cliffhangers will be adjacent to the 18th and 19th greens at Payne’s Valley, at the foot of the immense limestone wall that towers over the finishing holes of Woods’s design and hundreds of feet beneath the Mountain Top clubhouse. After finishing—Cliffhangers will be a riding-only course due to the severity of the terrain between holes—golfers will follow the same cart path as Payne’s Valley which winds up the cliff-face to the top. It’s a thrilling ride, one that requires guests to sign a waiver prior to the round, and Cliffhangers is guaranteed to be a thrill ride of its own.

Have you visited Big Cedar Lodge? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.