A new era in the long and storied history of the Legends of Golf adds a new chapter, beginning today. And one of the stars of this new storyline is Jack Nicklaus.
The Golden Bear will team with long-time friend Gary Player in a rare playing appearance, when the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf gets underway today on two golf courses in Branson, Mo., including Jack Nicklaus-designed Top of the Rock. Among the many unique subplots for this Champions Tour event is that this will be the first official PGA Tour-sanctioned event to incorporate a Par-3 Course in competitive play.
This reincarnation of The Legends of Golf, which debuted in 1978 and is credited with laying the groundwork for the creation of the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) 35 years ago, will play over the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge Golf Course, designed by Tom Fazio and Nicklaus’ Par-3 jewel at Top of the Rock.
The field features 44 teams in two divisions—players ages 50–65 and 65 and older. The first division will play Buffalo Ridge the first round and then two loops of Top of the Rock the final two rounds. The second or Legends division, featuring the Nicklaus-Player duo (who began play at 10:30 a.m. ET), will open at Top of the Rock, move to Buffalo Ridge for the second round and finish on Top of the Rock. Nicklaus and Player tee off Saturday at 11:48 a.m. ET. The total purse will be $2.75 million.
Fans can watch the Legends today on the Golf Channel from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. ET and 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. ET, and Sunday from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. ET and 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. ET.
Top of the Rock, a nature-based heritage preserve created by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, also features a spectacular practice facility with 18 target greens—all covered in synthetic Golden Bear Turf by Southwest Greens—and a remarkable 70,000-square-foot “Himalayan” putting course.
Incorporating Top of the Rock into the official format is part of the Tour’s initiative—as well as the golf industry’s—to introduce alternative ways to enjoy the game.
“This is a unique format that we’ll finish on a par-3 designed by Jack, and it’s designed to perpetuate the longest-running event on the Champions Tour, which is The Legends of Golf,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “But also to use par-3 golf to tell the story of why par-3 golf fits in the golf landscape, why it’s an attractive model for communities and businesses to look to be able to build golf facilities that take up less room and can be built at a lower cost, and there are thousands of them around the United States, and we want to encourage our fans to get out there and use these facilities in the communities where they already exist.”
Other Legends include Butch Baird and Al Geiberger; John Bland and Graham Marsh; Jim Colbert and Bob Murphy; Dave Eichelberger and J.C. Snead; David Graham and Tony Jacklin; Charles Coody and Dale Douglass; Allen Doyle and Hubert Green; Bruce Fleisher and Larry Nelson; Mike Hill and Lee Trevino; and Tommy Jacobs and Bobby Nichols.
“I played on Jack’s nine holes Tuesday and the golf course here Wednesday,” Gary Player said at a press conference held to kick off the event. “I have never been at a more beautiful place on the TOUR or anywhere. All the architecture speaks well for itself.”
This event will showcase the Buffalo Ridge course for the first time since a major renovation directed by Fazio and Morris. The course will highlight the beautiful Ozarks nature and bring players in contact with fields of native grasses and free-ranging buffalo relocated from nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.
“At Big Cedar Lodge you have all the elements to make the Legends of Golf a unique tournament and to show fans that golf, even for professionals at the highest level, doesn’t have to be played on long, 18-hole courses,” said Tom Watson, who helped design the putting course. “I’m proud to have lent a hand in the creation of such a special place and am enthusiastic about Top of the Rock and hope this innovative approach will inspire new golfers, who have limited time on their hands, to take up the game. Families and kids barely have time to consider golf, but a nine-hole par-3 course is a perfect option to get started in the game.”