RIDGEWAY – In the first five years of the Bass Pro Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, the one thing that could not be controlled was the weather.
In each of the first five years, there were rainy conditions and challenging days for the PGA Tour Champions event.
Not this year.
This year’s tournament featured virtually perfect conditions throughout the week, capped by sunny and gorgeous conditions for Sunday’s final round.
It was a bow on the week that included appearances by celebrities, record-setting tournament play by the tour pros, and the biggest crowds that have been seen at Top of the Rock.
“From celebrities to caddies to golfers, the people who do get to travel and see a lot of beautiful places, they love this place,” said Johnny Morris, the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops.
“And I do, too.”
In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, standing on the ninth green following the trophy presentation, Morris wasn’t ready to close the door and look ahead to 2020.
“I’ve got a few mushrooms laid back,” Morris said. “I’m going to go eat some fried mushrooms, and wash them down with something good, and that’s what I’m going to do right now. We look forward to continuing to host everyone.”
PLAYER HOLDS COURT
Gary Player played in the celebrity events on Saturday and Sunday at Top of the Rock, and the South African – never at a loss for words – had plenty to say about the tournament, the surroundings in the Ozarks and the state of the game.
He clearly enjoyed playing in a grouping with recording artist and actor Justin Timberlake, plus social media influencer Paige Spiranac.
“It’s terrific, that’s the thing I’ve enjoyed about my life,” Player said. “I think I think I’ve traveled more miles than any human being that’s ever lived. The variety of people that I’ve met in different parts of the world, I have such respect for people.
“That’s what I’ve enjoyed, aside from being a great education, it’s the respect for people that I’ve grown to have. And also freedom – freedom is dying.”
Player said he went fishing early in the week with his son, and they reflected about how little the area has changed since the days when Native Americans roamed the area, and the way they lived their lives then, compared to today.
“I think Johnny Morris has got conservation in his heart, and the way he has developed this area has been quite remarkable,” Player said. “He should be given a medal – he might have been already, for his contribution to this particular state. “I really can’t imagine living in a better place in the United States than right here.”
Player also had an interesting outlook when someone mentioned how golf is supposed to be fun.
“To a degree,” Player answered. “If you play for a living, I don’t know how much fun it is. There’s a big difference between playing golf socially and playing for a living.
“Because then if you make mistakes, you don’t eat.”
HALL OF FAME HOCKEY PLAYER
The Legends of Golf field is annually filled with World Golf Hall of Famers.
The pro-am field this year included a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Bernie Federko, who played in 1,000 games in a career spent primarily with the St. Louis Blues and had his number retired by the franchise in 1991, was on site for pro-am rounds on Wednesday and Thursday.
He struck up a relationship with Tournament Director Kirk Elmquist when Elmquist was with the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and Federko was inducted in that group in 2002.
He didn’t have to be asked twice if he was interested in playing in the pro-ams.
“This is magnificent,” Federko said. “It should be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. To be able to take something, this piece of property, and to make it into this, is absolutely unbelievable. The colors that you see here, now to get the chance to go through the caves.
“It’s too hard to even imagine that someone could have the vision to do that and to be able to have this (tournament). It’s not just a gem for the state of Missouri, the rest of the world needs to see this and how great and beautiful it is.”
Federko, who does TV work on Blues’ telecasts throughout the season, also checked in on the team’s progress and chances of winning its first Stanley Cup.
“I think the Blues find themselves in a great situation, where they are as good as everybody else right now,” Federko said. “I think there’s a legitimate chance that when we get to June, they could still be playing and hopefully the Cup will be theirs.”
BACK HOME AGAIN
Kansas City native Tom Watson – playing with Andy North – always is a popular figure at the Legends of Golf.
The team shot a 4-under 50 on Friday at Top of the Rock to move into contention, before falling back on the weekend and finishing in a tie for 29th.
Watson said he considers this to be something of a home tournament for him.
“I love the Ozarks, always have,” Watson said. “It’s special to me. I like to hunt and fish, I grew up doing that. In fact, I have a turkey hunt here in a couple of weeks with some of my best friends up around Kansas City, so I’m looking forward to that.”
North is known by many golf fans these days for his television work, as the lead golf analyst for ESPN. As a player, North won the U.S. Open in 1978 and 1985.
He plays a very limited schedule these days, but one constant is the Legends of Golf. He has a strong strategy in picking his partner.
“You go find the guy who’s the best player in your generation, and partner with him,” North said. “That helps.
“But we’ve been friends a long time. It helps to understand that the other guy’s trying hard, and if he screws up, that’s OK, you know that he’s trying.
“We’ve had an awful lot of fun.”
The 2020 Legends of Golf are expected to be the same time in April, two weeks after the Masters, during the week of April 20-26.