Inside Payne’s Valley, Tiger Woods’ first public golf course

The opening hole at Payne's Valley.

The opening hole at Payne's Valley at Big Cedar Lodge.

Evan Schiller

From Mamaroneck, N.Y., we move this week to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where the fairways will be wider than they were at Winged Foot and the birdies are bound to come in bunches when play gets underway at the Payne’s Valley Cup. The event, set for Tuesday, is a televised Ryder Cup-style charity match pitting Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas against Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose (3-7 p.m. ET on Golf Channel).

The venue is Payne’s Valley, at Big Cedar Lodge, where Tiger should enjoy a home-field advantage. After all, he designed the course, the first public-access layout in the United States credited to his firm, TGR Design. Whether Woods will benefit from his insider knowledge remains to be seen. Either way, though, the rest of us might profit from some intel on the place. Here are nine things to know about Payne’s Valley in advance of it glittery debut.

The 4th and 5th holes at Payne's Valley.
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1. It pays tribute to Payne

The course is named for the late Payne Stewart, a three-time major champion and Missouri native. Tuesday’s event will nod to Stewart, too, with proceeds going to the Payne Stewart Family Foundation, which supports a number of organizations that Stewart valued, including Kids Across America, the American Junior Golf Association and the First Tee.

2. It’s not the first course at the resort (far from it)

A golf mecca in the Ozark Mountains? Big Cedar Lodge has emerged as that. Payne’s Valley joins four existing courses at the resort, all of which have big-name designers behind them, too. They are Buffalo Ridge Springs (Tom Fazio); Ozarks National (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw); Top of the Rock (Jack Nicklaus); and Mountain Top (Gary Player).

The 5th hole at Payne's Valley.
The 5th hole at Payne’s Valley. Evan Schiller

3. It doesn’t end on 18

If matches end all square on the 18th hole, not to worry. Payne’s Valley has a bonus 19th hole, a bet-settling par-3 designed by Big Cedar Lodge owner (and Bass Pro Shops founder) Johnny Morris. Nicknamed “Big Rock at Payne’s Valley,” the hole leaves a memorable impression: it plays to an island green backed by a limestone outcrop with a waterfall running down its face.

4. It tips out at the Tiger Tees

In a fitting bit of symmetry, Tiger and Co. will be pegging it on Tuesday from the Tiger Tees, which stretch the course to its full distance of 7,370 yards. For everyday golfers, though, there are multiple alternatives (four teeing options total). From the most forward tees, the course plays roughly 5,900 yards.

5. It’s plenty forgiving

Tiger will be arriving at Payne’s Valley by private jet. But you could land an ocean liner on some of the fairways, which were dreamed up with everyday play in mind. Though there’s plenty of challenge from start to finish, this much is clear: with more than 85 acres of fairway on the course in total, Woods and his design team want you to be able to find your ball.

6. It offers Ozarks eye candy

Water, water, not exactly everywhere, but in a lot of places. Designed to celebrate its unspoiled surrounds, Payne’s Valley winds through a landscape beautified by natural water features, most notably, perhaps, on the 5th hole, where a dramatic bridge leads players over a lake on their path from tee to green.

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7. It’s a sweet walk, and a scenic ride

Though the course is walker-friendly, it finishes a fair distance from the clubhouse. So a shuttle service will pick up golfers at the island-green 19th and ferry them back to where their day began. It’s quite a ride, along a winding, cliff’s-edge trail that spills through a labyrinthine natural cave system.

8. It’s friendly to the ground game

A player of Tiger’s caliber can attack a green almost any way he wants. The rest of us? Not so much. But Payne’s Valley offers leeway for those of mortal skill with large, open-fronted greens that are receptive to bump-and-run approaches, not just majestic aerial assaults. The greens also give way to tightly mown runoffs and collection areas, so you can putt from almost anywhere around them.

9. How you can play there

On Thursday, two days after the Payne’s Valley Cup wraps up, the course will open to the public. Greens fees will be $225 throughout September and October, then drop to $195 in November and December. Rates for the 2021 season have not been finalized, but are expected to be in the $225 range. For tee times, call 800-225-6343.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.