Bass Pro Shops founder to receive Old Morris award

Johnny Morris, founder of Big Cedar Lodge and its five golf courses, has been named the recipient of the 40th GCSAA Old Tom Morris Award. Morris will be honored Feb. 9 at the GCSAA 2023 Conference and Trade Show Kickoff Celebration in Orlando.

The Old Tom Morris Award is given to an individual who, through lifelong commitment to the game of golf, has helped shape the well-being of the game in a way and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris. Old Tom Morris was a four-time British Open winner and 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,” said GCSAA CEO. Rhett Evans said. “His dedication to the environment, his 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 outdoors. The resort, located in the Ozark Mountains, prides itself on being environmentally conscious in everything it does.

Morris used golf as an avenue to get people to enjoy nature. After purchasing the Big Cedar property in 1987, he had Jack Nicklaus Top of the Rock design in 1996, prompting more access to the beautiful area that overlooks Table Rock Lake.

“On behalf of the Big Cedar Golf team, I am honored to accept this wonderful award,” said Morris. “We are proud of the welcome given to our nature golf experience by golfers from six continents who have come to play with us. Our golf courses are a wonderful way to connect friends and families with nature and each other.

Renovation was carried out 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 course, Gary Player-design, to the Big Cedar Lodge family in 2017. Bill Coree and by Ben Crenshaw Ozarks National opened in 2019 and Payne 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,” said Woods. “Johnny’s passion for the Ozarks and connecting people with the outdoors is infectious. It was an honor to help 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 moved from Arnold Palmer’s backyard in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. There is also a Thomas Watson-designed a putting course at Mountain Top. Palmer (1983), Watson (1992), Fazio (1996), Crenshaw (1997), Nicklaus (2005) and Player (2020) are all former recipients of the Old Tom Morris Award.

From 2014 to 2019, Big Cedar hosted the PGA Tour Champions’ Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, which included rounds on Ozarks National, Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock.

His decades in the golf industry developed Morris’ deep appreciation for superintendents and the work they do.

“Our superintendents and our golf team take great pride in the way they maintain these courses and really put their hearts into making them exceptional. We all share a passion for maintaining our courses to world-class standards and doing things with respect for the environment. We are very proud of our Audubon Signature status,” said Morris, a former recipient of the prestigious Audubon Medal.

Not only do Morris golf courses connect people to nature, they have contributed to Morris’ philanthropic deeds. The College of the Ozarks was the beneficiary of The Legends of Golf tournament proceeds. Morris 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 across the country.

Morris was born in Springfield, Missouri, and graduated from Drury University. He started selling fishing tackle out the back of his father’s liquor store when he was 21. This business would eventually become Bass Pro Shops.

Michael C. Ford