Tom Watson part of field for new Champions Tour golf event near Branson

The Champions golf tour is coming to Missouri this spring — with a couple of unusual twists.

Tour officials announced Tuesday that the Legends of Golf tournament will be played June 6-8 on courses at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., which is just south of Branson, near the Arkansas state line.

It will be the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event to use a par-3 course as part of the tournament, and the four days before the start of the tournament will feature other outdoor competitions as well as golf pro-ams.

Bass Pro Shops will be the title sponsor of the two-player team tournament. Players will see action on the resort’s Top of the Rock par-3 course, which was designed by

Jack Nicklaus,

as well as the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge Course, which was recently redesigned by

Tom Fazio.

“Today’s announcement that the Legends of Golf is coming to Missouri is great news for this region and for our state,” Missouri Gov.

Jay Nixon

said. “Missouri is the ideal location for this world-class competition. We look forward to hosting Champions Tour players and fans and showcasing Missouri’s many attractions during this outstanding event.”

The golf tournament will feature divisions for players 50-64 years old and for players 65 and older. Nicklaus,

Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Gary Player


Lee Trevino

are among the players who have committed to participate in the tournament.

The Legends of Golf began in 1978 and has been played in Savannah, Ga., for the last 11 years, but a new sponsor was needed after Liberty Mutual’s sponsorship ended last year.


Tim Finchem

hopes using a par-3 course will help educate golfers on their advantages. He said the nation’s 800 par-3 courses are especially good for teaching and for play by juniors and others who don’t have time for a full round on a regular 18-hole course.

“This will help move the needle on growing the game of golf,” Finchem said. “We need to think in terms of shorter, faster and more fun.”

This event also will allow the participants to have fun competing in fishing, shooting and other outdoor competitions as well as golf.

“We want to showcase everything the Ozarks has to offer,” said

Johnny Morris

, founder of Bass Pro Shops.

Watson, a Kansas City native, said he was excited about having a Champions Tour event in his home state. He designed the 70,000 square-foot “Himalayan” putting course at Top of the Rock.

Watson said Nicklaus might have an advantage when it comes to fishing, but he is looking forward to doing some shooting.

He recalled sitting in a duck blind with his father on a very cold day when he was 7 years old.

“I stayed out there and learned to love hunting,” Watson said. “One of the things that drives me is my love for the outdoors.”

| Tom Smith, tomsmith@kcstar.com.