My Day with the PGA Tourney Organizer

Eric Olson, SBJ EditorWorking for self-made businessman, conservationist and visionary John Morris often puts you in the middle of the improbable. So it is with Kirk Elmquist.

The very job he agreed to in late March is making history on the PGA Tour stage, of all places. Since Big Cedar Lodge signed on as title sponsor of the PGA Champions Tour event in late February, Morris and his team set out to tackle what the PGA commissioner is calling the quickest turnaround ever for a PGA tournament. They basically had 90 days and some change to pull it off.

At the center of this frantic effort is Kirk, the handpicked tournament director for Morris’ Legends of Golf dreams.

With competitive play set for Top of the Rock golf course on June 6-8, the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf represents the first par 3 course in a PGA-sanctioned event.

Kirk is preparing for the inaugural Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf at Table Rock Lake.

Kirk is preparing for the inaugural Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf at Table Rock Lake.

That’s the stuff Morris is made of. Leave it up to him, first of all, to have connections with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson that leads to talks with PGA officials and, second, to reopen “The Rock” in this fashion. The course has been closed for eight years as Morris and crew plotted and tinkered for his new vision.

On the day I spent with Kirk, just two weeks before 104 PGA players arrive, there is a ton of work to do, so much so that the clubhouse/restaurant/museum/pro shop has the smell of freshly cut lumber, and loosely placed tables and chairs are covered by boxes to unpack. Meanwhile, there is stunning work already accomplished. Most noticeably are the huge stones collected from farms in Arkansas and perfectly placed, some in Stonehenge style. At one point, the stones look dangerously awesome as they seemingly teeter over the cart path.

Then, there are the striking colors of the golf course greens popping against Table Rock Lake’s deep blue waters, and the impressive new restaurant and clubhouse, dubbed Arnie’s Barn. Palmer and Morris selected an 1862-built Amish barn from Latrobe, Penn., to be dismantled and reconstructed around the existing Top of the Rock. If you’ve dined there before, it’s only slightly recognizable.

Another structure, a chapel, provides the most pristine lake view through a rear glass wall. The chapel was reportedly repositioned six or seven times at Morris’ directives. When Kirk was asked about the shifting chapel on a midday tour with KOLR reporters, he shrugged it off. But I caught a reaction by a craftsman on break from staining the wooden pews: an affirming nod and a big grin.

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A chapel at Top of the Rock has a great lake view.

“John’s all about visuals,” Kirk said.

It’s clear. At one point, Kirk looked at me and said, “You run out of adjectives to describe this place.”

It’s true. In 13 pages of written notes in my steno book, there are many adjectives, but Top of the Rock and the encompassing Ozarks Heritage Preserve are to be seen and experienced.

Kirk dialed Morris’ office just once while we were together, speaking to his assistant and letting her know his call was “low priority.”

As Kirk talks throughout the day, and there’s a lot of it in his role and with his personality, I can’t help but notice his 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring. He talks with his hands and the large ring flashes in the light.

Kirk wears a 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring.

Kirk wears a 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring.

“It’s a tremendous conversation starter,” he says, reminiscing about the day he received the ring from President Mark Lamping during a dinner at Gilardi’s restaurant downtown.

The ring represents a high point of a sports-themed career, from the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame to Millwood Golf Course and on down U.S. Highway 65 to the Branson resort.

Now, he’s focused and committed to the Legends.

“We have the world coming to our stage,” he said.

The world arrives next week.

See more photos from the day in the online gallery.

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