Buffalo Ridge Golf Course Review

50 Words or Less

Buffalo Ridge at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri may be the prettiest course on the property.  Not as extreme as the other two courses, but a happy middle ground with plenty of challenge and fun.

Introduction

Buffalo Ridge was the first full-length golf course at Big Cedar Lodge.  The newer additions from Coore & Crenshaw [Ozarks National, review HERE] and Tiger Woods [Payne’s Valley, review HERE] have become more talked about in the last couple years, but that takes nothing away from the quality of this Tom Fazio layout.  If you’re making the trip to Branson, this is not a course you want to skip.

Practice Facilities

As you pull into the parking lot at Buffalo Ridge, you get a great view of the practice area.  There’s a large range with elevated tees and a panoramic view of the surrounding area.  Adjacent to the range is a short game area and one of the two practice greens.  The entire practice area is next to the clubhouse and a short drive from the first tee.

Customer Service & Amenities

The Buffalo Ridge clubhouse is perched in a prime location overlooking the course and the surrounding landscape.  Inside you’ll find a wide array of logo’d soft goods to commemorate your round.  There’s also a full bar with snacks where you can recount your best shots when you’re done.

That beautiful little cabin on the lake is actually Johnny’s Hot Dog Stand, the namesake being Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge.  Whether you’re taking advantage of the drive thru window to keep your round moving or stopping to admire the view, this is a snack shack you’re not going to forget anytime soon.

Beauty & Scenery

Some in the “golf course architecture intelligentsia” like to poke at Tom Fazio for various reasons, but the man knows how to make a visually appealing golf course.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone, golfer or not, who doesn’t find a walk around Buffalo Ridge to be a peaceful, visually engaging experience.

Buffalo Ridge sits between Payne’s Valley and Ozarks National in many ways, and one of them is aesthetically.  It’s not as manicured and manufactured as Tiger’s course nor as rugged as Coore & Crenshaw’s.  That “happy medium” – rich with natural water features and 300 million year old limestone – makes Buffalo Ridge arguably the prettiest course on the property.

Tee Shots

Astute readers have already picked up on the idea that Buffalo Ridge is not an extreme course like its counterparts.  The other trend you’ll find in this review is variety.  Much like Chicago weather, if you don’t like a particular hole at Buffalo Ridge wait five minutes, the next one will be different.

That variety starts on the tee.  There are some holes where you’ll feel like you couldn’t miss the fairway on your worst day.  There are also a few holes that will cause you to think twice about a big swing with the driver.  Buffalo Ridge doesn’t have that tree-lined, congested feel at any point, but the fairways can look narrow due to the slope, doglegs, and hazards.

One thing that recreational golfers will appreciate about Buffalo Ridge, especially if they’ve had a rough go at Ozarks National, is that the slopes around the course tend to be friendly toward the golfer.  The greens aren’t all punchbowls, but there are a lot more opportunities for a ball to kick in a helpful direction than a harmful one.  Also, the slopes in the fairways tend to be gentle, so you’re not likely to get a result that’s wildly different from what you “deserve.”

Approaches

Unless you launch your tee shot into parts unknown, you should draw a reasonable lie for your second shot.  The fairways are bordered by a friendly first cut, and the primary cut of rough is not that thick or long.  Your stance should be similarly unbothered thanks to the gentle slopes.

Most of the greens at Buffalo Ridge are welcoming targets with a clearly defined “good miss” or preferred line of play.  The hole above, #10, is a good example.  The green is large and rectangular, accepting of misses short, long, left, or right.  Favoring the right side is clearly the better play as you’ll avoid the rough and bunkers left and potentially use the slope to bring your ball onto the green.  Buffalo Ridge doesn’t play particularly firm or fast, but there are opportunities to run the ball into most greens if you prefer the ground game.

Greens & Surrounds

Unlike the other two Big Cedar Lodge courses, you can find rough near the green at Buffalo Ridge.  This adds an element of chance to the short game and gives you another thing to consider when picking your approach target.  The defining characteristics of these surrounds are the large bunkers.  As you can see above, they don’t tend to be deep or steep-faced, so they shouldn’t be a major concern if you’re competent in the sand.

Though not quite as large as the greens at Payne’s Valley or Ozarks National, the putting surfaces at Buffalo Ridge are above average in size.  Like the rest of the course, the slopes on the greens are gentle.  This can be a mixed blessing as it removes the possibility of roller coaster breaks, but it also makes the greens more difficult to read.  With these subtle breaks, only good putters will make long ones, but no one should be three-putting too often.

Conclusion

Some people are already calling Payne’s Valley a bucket-list course, largely on the strength of Tiger’s name.  Coore & Crenshaw loyalists will trumpet the brilliance of Ozarks National.  But I think a solid percentage – maybe a majority – will walk away from Big Cedar Lodge remembering Buffalo Ridge as their favorite course.

Visit Buffalo Ridge HERE

Matt Saternus
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3 Comments

  1. Susan Van Horn

    Played all three courses the first week of October, 2022. Amazing and yes a bucket list. The awesome beauty and uniqueness is almost undiscribable. Only birdied the 19th hole at Payne’s Valley, but the cart ride back to the clubhouse was awesome.

  2. Randall Fisher

    I played this course this week (early October 2023) and the greens were lightning fast. Contrary to the review, some of them do have extreme slopes and mounds that make putting very difficult. Hole number 9, in particular, is extreme.

    The course is visually stunning and was in perfect condition. It is a tester, though, and you have to bring your A-game of you want to score well. Strategically playing for the best miss can save a lot of strokes.

    I found Payne’s Valley to be easier and more fun, but I liked Buffalo Ridge enough to go back for another try a few days later. I scored better the second time around, using what I learned from the first round to keep myself in better places. I also finally got the hang of the very fast greens.

    Overall, a beautiful layout and a course not to be missed.

  3. I played all three course July 2022. The views are killer. Buffalo Ridge was my favorite. Payne Valley was in the best shape. It was perfectly manicured zoysia. They don’t have tee boxes as there is one cut of grass so they can put the tee boxes anywhere. That was kind of neat. You could play that course at any yardage. I just don’t like the grip it and rip it courses that offer no trouble off the tee. Payne Valleys fairways are 50-80 yds wide in some places. So if you’re with a big group of various hdcps then Payne Valley is the one. The views are insane. From Payne Valley you can see Buffalo Ridge to the North below you and to the east you can see Ozark National. I found Buffalo Ridge more challenging than Ozark National. I just didn’t get the reverence for it. I’m a scratch golfer and found Buffalo Ridge to be the best test of golf. You just couldn’t rip and grip it on every hole like Payne Valley. If you haven’t played all 3 then you definitely need to put it on the bucket list.

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