Big Cedar Lodge has all the expected trappings of a lakeside mountain retreat. Log cabins with stone fireplaces are scattered throughout the 800 wooded acres; antler chandeliers dangle above dining tables. Stuffed critters are sprinkled about. In the lobby, a bear stands up on two legs, and a raccoon clutches Cracker Jacks on a beam. Guests may find a peacock or the head of a moose, ram or deer on their room’s walls.
But Big Cedar, in southern Missouri, is no flea-bitten resort past its prime. Nor is it full of theme-park kitsch. Since 1987, the property has been owned by Bass Pro Shops, the world’s leading outdoor retailer.
The company’s perfectionist owner, Johnny Morris, is so exacting that Bass Pro has its own fabrication shop where rustic but exquisitely made furniture, fire screens and amber light fixtures embellished with delicate metal twigs, birds and deer heads are churned out.
Being on 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake makes Big Cedar a sportsman’s dream. Its Grandview Conference Center and its location, about 10 miles south of Branson, make the resort a meeting planner’s delight.
“The center has significantly boosted our meeting business,” said Jodie King, senior sales manager. So has the 2009 opening of the Branson Airport, she added.
A destination for decades
Even before Grandview’s 2008 opening, Big Cedar attracted meetings. Consider that the Missouri Academy of Family Physicians held its 19th conference at Big Cedar in November.
“We do two conferences a year, and the one at Big Cedar is the most well attended,” said Jennifer Bauer, executive director.
In part, credit the scenery, which in the 1920s drew entrepreneur Jude Simmons and railroad executive Harry Worman to the site. Simmons built an Adirondack-style log mansion; Worman opted for a Tudor-style home. In 1947, a real-estate developer and hotel owner bought the land to open Devil’s Pool Guest Ranch, named for the spring-fed pool on the property. According to legend, the Osage Indians thought the pool was so deep that it could reach the devil below. The damming of the White River in 1958 created Table Rock Lake.
When the property went up for sale, Morris’ wife, Jeanie, saw the classified ad and told her husband about it. Morris has made substantial changes, yet the resort pays homage to the past. The Worman House is now a restaurant with lake views; a banquet room with a patio leverages the vista. The Devil’s Pool Restaurant and the Buzzard Bar are in Simmons’ former home.
Morris restored the original lodges, now considered the property’s value option. Association groups favor the centrally located rooms, said Cristi Lee Parker, director of catering. “They want to be close to everything, and they’re budget-conscious.”
Incentive groups and high-end corporate groups, meanwhile, go for the well-appointed cabins.
“Organizers want them to feel like it’s their home away from home,” Parker said.
The cabins have a full refrigerator, kitchen supplies, a whirlpool bathtub and a separate shower with multiple jets. All guest rooms are dressed with a signature decor that manages to be lodgelike and luxurious at the same time. Taxidermy-free rooms are available.
No matter the room’s location, guests use a complimentary shuttle to get to meetings, restaurants and the other property sites.
Grandview makes for grand meetings
Meeting guests often spend most of their time in Grandview Conference Center. And no wonder. “It’s gorgeous,” Bauer said.
Above the center’s entrance is written: “Be Inspired by the Beauty of the Ozarks.”
A spacious lobby is outfitted with leather sofas, towering stone fireplaces, gleaming wood floors and banks of three-story windows. “It’s warm and rustic and really speaks to the area,” King said.
The conference center has its own reception desk. Its meeting rooms are as inviting as its lobby, with custom carpets, rough-hewn logs on some walls and bucolic views.
At 10,974 square feet, the ballroom can hold 1,000 theater-style or serve as a trade-show floor. The property also hosts plenty of board meetings and corporate strategy sessions.
“They love this environment,” King said. “It gets them to think outside the box.”
Although the resort’s restaurants have private rooms, many groups have their meals in the conference center. A commercial kitchen on site provides food service for the center and the banquet service.
If groups eat together outside the center, they’re typically having Big Cedar’s Chuck Wagon meals. Horse-drawn carriages or boats take guests to a lakeside setting, where chefs grill steaks to order and cowboy singers entertain.
The Missouri Academy of Family Physicians, however, lets physicians spend evenings with families and spouses, who often accompany the doctors.
Big Cedar’s spouse programs include off-property shopping excursions, garden tours, culinary demos and arts-and-crafts sessions. There are two spa locations, including one in a mountain cabin. Then there are the trails, the lake and the tennis courts.
Big Cedar’s location lends itself to team building, which may include canoe races, the “Ozark Olympics” — seed spitting, anyone? — and a four-hour outing that includes a scavenger hunt, a fishing excursion and a cooking competition.
Summer is the high season at Big Cedar, and business is brisk through the holidays.
“We have lots of families here every year for Thanksgiving and for Christmas,” said Jana Daughtery, marketing director. “They request the same cabin and the same room — that’s their holiday tradition.”
Meeting planners like Bauer have also made Big Cedar a tradition, due as much to service as to scenery.
“The staff are the same year after year; they recognize you,” she said. “You can tell that they take pride in their job.”