RIDGEDALE, MO. – Lee Trevino walked off the final green at Top of the Rock, the nine-hole par 3 course co-hosting the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf, and let owner Johnny Morris know exactly what he thought of his place.
“Johnny, this is the hardest golf course I’ve ever played,” Trevino said. “It’s so hard it took me 8 hours and 22 minutes to play.”
Then he broke into laughter. Despite more than 4 hours of weather delays, the first round of the tournament was completed with the two-man teams of Billy Andrade-Tommy Armour, Jeff Sluman-Fred Funk and Russ Cochran-Kenny Perry sharing the first round lead with best-ball scores of 10-under 62 at sister course, Buffalo Ridge Golf Course.
But diehard golf fans can tune into to see those 50-somethings practically every week on the Champions Tour. What makes the Legends so special is it has always been golf’s version of old timer’s day(s). Who doesn’t love seeing the starters on Thursday morning at the Masters, right? Well, you know what’s better? Seeing a couple of them hit more than one shot for three straight days.
There was Gary Player walking into his follow through and Nicklaus deliberate as ever crouched stock-still over a putt. There was Trevino still yapping and Tom Watson flashing his gap-toothed smile. Add in Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Tony Jacklin and Nick Faldo and it was a Ryder Cup captain reunion.
“They still want to see us,” Trevino said of the fans that cheered his arrival at every tee. “If they had 10 tournaments like this, I’d play all 10 of them and I think the other guys would too.”
For those who love nostalgia, there is no better event in golf. Barbara Nicklaus was still in her husband’s gallery, but instead of Jackie on the bag such as when Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters it was grandson Jackie III, 23, who called him “P-pa.” Trevino had his oldest son, Rick, caddie for him and grandson Dillon, 14, watching from outside the ropes. Doug Tewell? He cherished having his 8-year-old granddaughter Kennedy see him play in competition for the first time.
Each team will play one round at each course over the first two days of the 54-hole competition before the final round takes place at Top of the Rock, a Jack Nicklaus signature design. The event marked the first time a par 3 course was used at a Tour sanction tournament, and Trevino, for one, said it was a stroke of genius.
“We can still play and still hit shots, but we don’t hit as far,” he said before the tournament. “We can play with (Phil) Mickelson (at Top of the Rock). I wouldn’t be scared of him on a par-3 course.
“I know we don’t play like we used to. But you watch us on a par-3 course and I’m going to tell you something, we’re going to look like we’re 30. We can still play. The only reason we can’t compete (on the PGA Tour) is we don’t hit it far.”
Watson and Andy North combined to shoot a 5-under 49, leading Watson to remark, “I’ve never shot 49 before. Maybe a couple of times in pro-ams where we had some sandbaggers in there we shot 49, but never a 49 when it really counted.”
Thank goodness for Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, who saved the Legends from the scrap heap after its 35-year run with Liberty Mutual ended. His team deserves a bow for putting the event together in a mere 3 months. If the cedar floors smell new, it’s because they are. The pavement is fresher than the flowers. Quite an undertaking and the players showed their appreciation by attending the pro-am party to take photos with each team and sign autographs.
The sprawling wilderness resort combines the golfers many loves of the great outdoors. As one of the original competitors of the Legends of Golf once put it, “The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so I could afford to hunt and fish.”
“The Black Widow” Jeanette Lee, a world champion pool shooter, seven-time Bassmaster angler of the year Kevin Vandam, and marksman George Digweed, a multiple world champion clay pigeon shooter, were among the celebrities that showed off their talents during tournament week.
Player was on the mark with his 15-foot birdie putt at the last and it tied he and Nicklaus with Trevino-Mike Hill at one-over 55 in the Legends Division for golfers 65 and over. It was like old times, according to Trevino, except that Nicklaus missed his 6-foot birdie putt on 18. “I’ve seen him make it a million times there,” Trevino said.
Over the weekend, Nicklaus gets another shot at one million and one.