- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) - A southwest Missouri tourist community has landed the oldest, richest event on professional golf’s senior tour for at least the next five years, with some of the biggest names in the sport expected to draw massive crowds over its weeklong run.

The Legends of Golf often is credited as the driving force behind the creation of what is now Champions Tour for professional golfers age 50 and older, thanks to the tournament’s television popularity in the late 1970s, the Springfield News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/1jA90VA) reported.

Its sponsor for the past 11 years, Liberty Mutual, decided not to continue its sponsorship of the event in Savannah, Ga. The timing was perfect for John Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, to bring the event to the Ozarks, where he purchased the former Branson Creek golf course in November and renamed it Buffalo Ridge and Big Cedar Lodge.

“It’s something that was just fate,” Morris said after Tuesday’s announcement that the Legends of Golf event was moving to Branson. “We learned about the event, and I thought, what an awesome opportunity to have people in our area get to meet all these legends of golf.”

The tournament, now known as the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf presented by Bass Pro Shops, will be held the week of June 2-8 at Buffalo Ridge and a par-3 course, Top of the Rock. It will be televised in more than 200 countries by the Golf Channel.

“We see a significant, long-term opportunity here,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said at a news conference Tuesday. “We look at this not only as a one-week impact, which will be significant in the millions of dollars, but ultimately a long-range view of this area so that folks and their families can come back … to continue to expand this and to recognize what a tremendous opportunity we have here to continue to grow that economy.”

The complete list of competitors has not been released, but the event already has received commitments from Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, some of the biggest names in the history of golf.

With a $2.75 million purse, this year’s event is the richest of any events on the Champions Tour schedule.

“Say again?” golf legend Tom Watson joked after hearing the dollar amount at the news conference. “Wow.”

Both courses are closed and being renovated in advance of this summer’s event.

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