Walking in the footsteps of current major champions is awesome. Being humbled by major tour courses provides context and generates even more respect for tour players. My destinations only followed the PGA Tour though. I wondered if I would have the same emotions walking in the footsteps of slightly older champions at a Champions Tour stop. I was not disappointed.
I took a trip to Branson, Missouri over the 4th of July holiday. My family planned to enjoy Branson’s many attractions, but my main goal was to play Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock. The 2 courses host the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Champions Tour event. Buffalo Ridge is ranked on Golf Digest’s most recent top 100 public course list. Top of the Rock is the only 9 hole par 3 course to host an event from any of the major tours. My sights were set on taking my progressing swing to another tour stop.
We had tee times on July 4th at Buffalo Ridge for 9am and Top of the Rock at 3pm. As we pull in to Buffalo Ridge at 8, lighting illuminates the sky and surrounding Ozark Mountains like a bad 1980s thriller. When we made it in the pro shop, they pulled everyone off the course. The lightning delay began.
For the next 3 hours, the sky opened and torrential rain came down. The clubhouse designer did an outstanding job. The entire back wall is a series of glass doors and windows looking out over the range and first hole. The first hole is a downhill par 5. When the rain let up, the fairway had no fewer than 3 independent streams of water running to the drain. I thought the course would be water logged for days. I just hoped we could still play both rounds.
The great staff at Buffalo Ridge moved our tee times around for both rounds. They let us warm up at Buffalo Ridge at 12 to begin play quickly thereafter. They moved our Top of the Rock time to 6. The courses are a few miles apart, so we built in enough time to pack up, get quick food, and still make it by 6. The timing ended up being perfect.
After warming up, we headed to #1.
I noted a couple things. First, the rivers down the fairway were gone. The drainage system worked great. The course was definitely wet from the multiple inches of rain in the short period of time. However, I never felt water logged or that it affected my play. The course was in great shape even with all the rain.
The second thing I noticed on 1, and throughout the course, was the size. The tour courses possess huge brawny fairways and greens. Buffalo Ridge’s fairways weren’t as big. The greens didn’t look as huge. However, players must still possess every shot in the bag. The bunkering is great tournament bunkering. Generous landing areas in spots, but if you take a risk to go long, bunkers protect everything.
My swing felt pretty good. I need to be able to repeat it more, but I am confident focusing on weight shift right now. My contact is improving. I hit my drive slightly left. I hit a solid 5 wood to wedge distance. Wedge on the green and 2 putt for par. Great way to start.
I hit the fairway on 2 & 3. Green in regulation on 3, so 1 over through 3. Double on the par 3 4th wasn’t ideal, but still on a good pace. I then walk to the par 4 5th. The view is outstanding.
Playing through the terrain is interesting. My vision of mountain golf includes the desert with manufactured greens. These are lush mountains with great vegetation. The golf course seems to just naturally flow through the landscape.
The elevated tee looks down to a hard to judge fairway going left. Water on the right. The miss is clearly left, but the large drop makes aiming difficult. I hit a good drive that missed left, but still playable. Hit it around a little to need a 1 putt for bogey, and it dropped. Other than a snowman on 8, the front 9 was on track with a 45.
Hole 14 is a nice par 5. The length felt like a medium par 5. However, most people can’t reach in 2. A creek crosses directly in front of the green. Carrying the creek and staying on the green is tough. Rock formations border the right with bunkers protecting short and long. The approach must be perfect. Mine was not. Beautiful hole. Sloppy bogey.
Hole 15 is another elevated tee with a great view. Small waterfalls from a creek are right. I aimed left to a generous landing area. I crushed a drive, but it was straight right. The line was unintentionally aggressive. My ball barely cleared the creek and ended up in the first cut on the right. Miss the green and bogey.
The rest of my round followed the same pattern, which I believe is a huge success. We then rushed to Top of the Rock. I don’t have a hole-by-hole because we were doing our best to get everything in before dark. While it is a par 3 course, the holes had great variety. Numerous water holes and an island green. The bunkering is insane for a par 3, but the Champions Tour can play this course for a reason. The course feels like a collection of great par 3s from around the country. Great experience.
While my score isn’t what it needs to be, I can see the consistency. On a Champions Tour course, I had 2 doubles and a quad. The rest were pars and bogeys. I can handle that for now. I shot an 89, hit 4 GIRs, and 7/13 fairways. The GIRs and fairways are gradual improvements. The process is moving in the right direction, and I am playing great golf courses. I would definitely recommend Buffalo Creek and Top of the Rock.