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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.