Johnny Morris, founder of Big Cedar Lodge and its five golf courses, has been named the recipient of the 40th Old Tom Morris Award presented by the GCSAA. Morris will be honored Feb. 9 at the Send-Off Celebration at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando.
The Old Tom Morris Award is presented to an individual who, through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris. Old Tom Morris was a four-time British Open winner and the legendary greenkeeper at St. Andrews in Scotland.
“Johnny Morris and Old Tom Morris share the same sense of ingenuity and love for the game of golf,” GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans said. “His dedication to the environment, respect for superintendents and his contributions to the growth of the game make Johnny a perfect choice for the Old Tom Morris Award.”
Morris, who founded Bass Pro Shops, is a conservationist who created Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri, as a destination for families and friends to connect in the great outdoors. The resort, located in the Ozark Mountains, touts being environmentally conscious in everything they do.
Morris used golf as an avenue to get people out to enjoy nature. After purchasing the Big Cedar property in 1987, he had Jack Nicklaus design Top of the Rock in 1996, enticing more access to the beautiful area which overlooks Table Rock Lake.
“On behalf of the Big Cedar Golf team, I am honored to accept this wonderful award,” Morris said. “We are proud of the reception our nature golf experience has received by golfers from across six continents who have come to play with us. Our golf courses are a wonderful way to bring friends and families closer to nature and to each other.”
Renovation was done on Nicklaus’ 9-hole, par-3 creation and it reopened in 2014. At the same time Buffalo Ridge, another Big Cedar Lodge course eight miles down the hill, was renovated by Tom Fazio.
Morris added Mountain Top, a 13-hole, Gary Player design, to the Big Cedar Lodge family in 2017. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Ozarks National opened in 2019 and Payne's Valley, a 19-hole Tiger Woods design, debuted in 2020.
“Being able to design Payne’s Valley, my first public golf course, with Johnny was a dream come true for me and my TGR Design team,” Woods said. “Johnny’s passion for the Ozarks and connecting people with the outdoors is infectious. It was an honor to be part of helping Johnny make Big Cedar Lodge one of the next great golf destinations.”
The 4,600-acre property also includes Arnie’s Barn, a 150-year-old barn relocated from Arnold Palmer’s backyard in Latrobe, Pa. There is also a Tom Watson-designed putting course at Mountain Top. Palmer (1983), Watson (1992), Fazio (1996), Crenshaw (1997), Nicklaus (2005) and Player (2020) are all previous Old Tom Morris Award recipients.
From 2014-19 Big Cedar hosted the PGA Tour Champions’ Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, which included play on Ozarks National, Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock.
His decades in the golf industry have developed Morris’ deep appreciation for superintendents and the work that they do.
“Our superintendents and golf team take great pride in the way they maintain these courses and really put their heart into making them exceptional. We all share a passion to maintain our courses to world-class standards, and to do things right by the environment. We are very proud of our Audubon Signature status,” said Morris, a past recipient of the prestigious Audubon medal.
Not only do Morris’ golf courses connect people to nature, but they have helped in Morris’ philanthropic deeds. The College of the Ozarks was The Legends of Golf tournament’s recipient of proceeds. Morris has also paid for war memorials honoring veterans and their families at the college. Bass Pro Shops hosts an annual Tournament of Champions high school basketball tournament, which features teams from around the country.
Morris was born in Springfield, Missouri, and earned a degree at Drury University. He began selling fishing equipment in the back of his father’s liquor store when he was 21 years old. That business would eventually become Bass Pro Shops.