All the biggest names in golf,
all in one place.
Signature golf may not have
universal appeal, but with so
many distinguished names,
Big Cedar will undoubtedly
begin to lay claim to money
that might have otherwise been spent at
one of its rivals. No, it won’t have Pinehurst’s history. It may never have a top-100
course or a must-watch PGA Tour event.
But it can be a landing place for golfers
who are simply looking for enjoyable,
high-quality golf, particularly those who
wish to take their families along.
Big Cedar is already viewed as the top
resort in the Midwest by the readers of
Travel + Leisure. It has a beautiful lake,
a nice hotel and attractions that include
swimming pools, restaurants, a natural history museum, a 10,000-acre nature park,
an arcade, a shooting range, the obligatory
spa and a NASCAR-themed go-kart track.
It even has more golf, in the form of an
Arnold Palmer-branded practice facility and a Tom Watson-branded putting
course. In years ahead, it will add a Woods-designed short course – “putt-putt on steroids,” Morris has called it – and a Payne
“We have it all here,” Friedlander said.
“We can appeal to golfers but also to hunt-
ers, fishermen, foodies and people who like
art. That’s what’s going to make us the next
great golf destination.”
It won’t happen overnight, and frankly,
the market will determine if it happens at
all. A great golf destination is, after all, more
than a collection of great golf courses. Golf
is a major part of it, but just as important
are the setting, the service, the people you
meet and even the journey there and back.
A great golf destination reminds a golfer of
the day he fell in love with the game.
So, a question lingers: On those deeper,
ineffable qualities, can Big Cedar deliver?
Robert J. Vasilak is a long-time golf journalist and a contributing editor at Golf Inc. He
blogs at WorldGolfReport.blogspot.com and
tweets at @RJVasilakGolf.
executive officer of KemperSports. “He
wants to build a world-class destination
with appeal to a wide audience, not just
Of course, Big Cedar must clear many
hurdles before Morris’ dream can become
reality. The resort won’t reveal how many
visitors it attracts annually, but Fried-
lander estimates that only about 10 per-
cent of them are golfers. As a result, the
27 holes Big Cedar operated last year rang
up only 30,000 rounds. By contrast, the
four 18-hole courses at Kohler got 85,000
rounds and the four at Bandon Dunes had
That being said, even competitors recognize Big Cedar’s potential.
“I was taken by the property,” said Dirk
Willis, Kohler’s general manager of golf,
who served as a consultant to Morris in
2015. “It’s a phenomenal setting.”
When it comes to Big Cedar’s future,
Morris isn’t flying by the seat of his pants.
He’s scouted the competition and hired the
highest-profile course designers, and he’s
listening carefully to advice from experi-
enced resort operators.
His advisers include Skinner, whose firm
manages Bandon Dunes, and Willis, who
worked with Herb Kohler to help formulate Big Cedar’s master plan.
“Morris didn’t have a true vision of what
he wanted to accomplish,” Willis recalled,
“so we spent some time with him and gave
him some ideas.”
In addition, Morris has bolstered Big
Cedar’s staff by hiring Friedlander, who’s
held top management positions at some
of America’s most popular golf venues:
Kohler, pre-Trump Doral, Grand Traverse
in Michigan, Ventana Canyon in Arizona
and Pelican Hill in California.
Morris understands Big Cedar’s limita-
tions. When it comes to drawing cards,
Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst
and Kohler all have at least one course
that’s ranked among Golf Digest’s 100
greatest in the world. Bandon Dunes has
four tracks on the magazine’s list of the
top 100 U.S. courses, Pebble Beach and
Kohler each have two, and Pinehurst and
Kiawah each have one.
Meanwhile, Golf Digest ranks Big
Cedar’s 18-hole course, Buffalo Ridge
Springs Golf Course, at No. 8 in Michigan
– a state that isn’t known for its golf.
America’s top golf destinations regularly
host the most consequential tournaments,
among them Ryder Cup matches, the U.S.
Open, the U.S. Women’s Open and the
Big Cedar hosts the Bass Pro Shops Leg-
ends of Golf, an event on the PGA Cham-
pions Tour. The Legends is played on Buf-
falo Ridge Springs, a Tom Fazio design,
and on the resort’s Top of the Rock track,
a nine-hole, par- 3 layout designed by Jack
To deliver on Big Cedar’s promise, Morris decided to double down on signature
architecture and create at least one course
capable of hosting a top-flight professional event. He commissioned the highly
regarded Coore & Crenshaw firm to design
Ozarks National, an 18-hole track that’s
scheduled to open next year. Friedlander
believes it will be “a phenomenal course,”
and Morris has said it represents “our best
chance to host a really major championship someday.”
Name recognition sells
In 2019, Big Cedar expects to unveil Payne’s
Valley, a Tiger Woods-designed track that
will commemorate Payne Stewart, who
grew up in the area and was a friend of
Morris. Friedlander thinks Payne’s Valley
“will be just as good” as Ozarks and also
capable of hosting a PGA Tour event.
Fazio, Nicklaus, Coore & Crenshaw,
Woods – with those architects alone, Big
Cedar will have a high public profile. And
when its new courses debut, they’ll be
complemented by a just-opened, 13-hole,
family-friendly track designed by Gary
“We’ll soon have courses by five of the
greatest names in golf,” Friedlander said.
“Who else can say that?”
If you listen carefully, you can hear Big
Cedar’s marketing campaign taking shape:
“There are probably less than a dozen golf destinations that people
from all over the world would fly to. We’re going to be the next one.”
STEVE FRIEDLANDER, VICE PRESIDENT OF GOLF, BIG CEDAR LODGE