Branson/Lakes Area, Missouri Golf Guide
Golf's Ozark Mountain Oasis
By Brian Weis
A fine, refreshing spray wafted over us as we viewed the towering waterfall from inside the "Lost Canyon Cave" next to Top of the Rock Golf Course when the "Eureka!" moment hit me. This enchanting natural wonder has cascaded for centuries and was probably as mesmerizing to Native American Indians as it was to our group.
A similarly inspiring realization hit me as we sat in the Welk Resort Branson theatre watching Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash do their legendary thing in the excellent "Million Dollar Quartet" musical play - destinations are infinitely better when they've got after-golf activities the likes of this boutique town in southwest Missouri.
Branson is so unexpected, so eclectic and so good that you should consider it next time you're looking for a fun, different getaway. It is a rising-star golf destination to be sure, but its many off-course options make it a complete "place," where there are interesting things to do and see around the clock.
In Branson's case, these include entertainment and outdoor recreation, thanks to dozens of theatres, as well as museums, lakes, shopping venues and family-friendly activities. This is a place where leisure choices are plentiful and diverse.
The number of Branson golf courses is expanding quickly thanks to Bass Pro Shops Founder Johnny Morris. He owns two - Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge - and is building two others, all amenities of highly acclaimed Big Cedar Lodge. The first two were designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio, respectively, and the two to come are being "authored" by Gary Player and Coore & Crenshaw.
If the first two are any indication, the next two will be jaw-droppers; virtually everything Morris builds is first class, with no stones left unturned and exceptional experiences par for the course.
My group of six golfers played Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge. The first is a par-3 course perched hundreds of feet above Table Rock Lake. The views are stunning and the golf is professional grade; the Champions Tour players who compete on it each spring in the Legends of Golf tournament routinely give it top marks.
While the layout is both challenging and fun - with views as fine as exist anywhere - the practice facility is equally enthralling thanks to a spectacular, all-synthetic turf driving range designed by Arnold Palmer. A Tom Watson-conceived putting course called "Himalayas" - due to the mounds and undulations that comprise it - completes the facility, all capped with first-rate customer service from arrival to departure.
A multi-use structure that houses restaurants, wine and whiskey bars, golf and merchandise shops - even the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum - ensure that everyone leaves knowing that they experienced a special, unique place.
Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock are complementary in the extreme. Where TOR requires a series of precise shots, mostly irons, Buffalo Ridge is 18 holes of yawning fairways and large greens. Players who drive the ball well on this brawny layout will appreciate the benefits that affords their game, and everyone appreciates the ingenious design that includes waterfalls, creeks and acres of undisturbed terrain surrounding the course. There are even Buffalo that range adjacent to the course and can be seen from quite close.
The Branson/Lakes Area offers a number of other worthy golf venues - all open to the public - including LedgeStone, Branson Hills, Thousand Hills, Pointe Royale and Holiday Hills.
LedgeStone Country Club features tree-lined fairways, undulating terrain with significant elevation change, and large greens with speedy, true putting surfaces. Each hole is named and they form a compelling collection with great variety. Temptation, Sycamore, Deception, The Slot, Tough Love, The Quarry, Sidewinder, The Wall... the names are more than just catchy monikers, they're descriptive enticements that pay homage to the defining characteristics and decisions to be made.
Suffice it to say, LedgeStone leaves players feeling like they took an 18-hole journey with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, a completely engaging round in the aggregate and one of Branson's finest. The club is part of the StoneBridge Village residential community and has an impressive clubhouse, practice facility, pool complex, tennis courts, and more. It's a country club experience for public golfers - the best of both worlds.
Branson Hills Golf Club is a must-play golf course and where we stayed in the outstanding, 4-bedroom villas, each with their own bathroom and a finely appointed kitchen, living room and deck for grilling and relaxing with a woodsy view. There are also 2-bedroom villas, condo units and a Hampton Inn adjacent to the course for other lodging options.
Formerly named Payne Stewart Golf Club - after the major champion and area native - close family friend and fellow tour professional Bobby Clampett offered his expertise in designing the course along with chief architect Chuck Smith.
The first two holes quickly set the tone for what's to come. The par-4 1st hole isn't long, per se, but it requires precision, both off the tee and to the smallish, tiered green. It's followed by a stout, uphill par-3 measuring 227, 215 and 208 yards, respectively, from the three longest teeing areas. It's a player's course that is as challenging as it is beautiful.
Ranked No. 1 in Golfweek's "2015 America's Best Courses You Can Play" by state, Branson Hills showcases natural rock outcroppings, creeks and tee box yardages ranging from 7,324 to 5,323 yards. A Troon-managed facility, the course and restaurant are both excellent and the customer service is friendly and pleasantly professional.
Pointe Royale is a popular course in a development where many of Branson's entertainers live. Twelve of the 18 holes have some type of water hazard on them. Recently renovated, the 6501-yard, par-70 layout has rolling Bermuda fairways meandering among mature hardwoods. Bent grass greens assure players of a firm and true roll, and gleaming white sand bunkers provide an excellent surface from which to blast.
Thousand Hills Golf Resort is renowned for its superb design, its in-town location near many Branson theatres, its immaculate playing conditions and the value-packed "Platinum Experience" stay-and-play package. Each qualified reservation includes a booklet to experience some of Branson's most popular shows, attractions, activities and restaurants free or at reduced rates - a $750 value.
While Thousand Hills is shorter than some championship courses, it is every bit the equal in quality and excellent holes providing variety of design and shots required. The first and last hole of the closing nine are par-4s that exemplify the rousing test of golf found throughout.
No. 10 has deep bunkers that drop off the left side of the fairway, while the right side is framed by trees. If you find the fairway, you've got a relatively straightforward shot to a large green. The closing hole is thrilling - a good drive leaves the crucial approach shot, often from a downhill lie to and uphill green which is tucked into an amphitheater like setting. You won't soon forget it.
Holiday Hills Resort & Golf Club is Branson's first golf facility and it's a player-friendly venue that is part of a timeshare development welcoming public play.
Dining in Branson is appealing whether you're looking for gourmet cuisine or down-home food. Either way, your culinary wishes will be satisfied. For breakfast, don't miss Billy Gail's Cafe for the hubcap-sized pancakes, omelets, and piping hot coffee that the great service-providers regularly refresh during your meal. Billy Gail's is located near LedgeStone.
For a very memorable dinner experience, don't miss the Level 2 Steakhouse, located downtown in the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel. Choices include aged Midwestern corn-fed beef, fresh seafood, locally raised produce and scrumptious, house-made desserts. The kitchen boasts a 1,600-degree infrared broiler which sears the meat and speeds up the cooking process, yielding a moist and tender steak no matter how you order it. Presentation and service is top of the line. Level 2 even has an extraordinary eating implement program. The Cut Club allows regulars to have their names engraved on preferred custom knives. New guests are treated special too - they can use one of five signature knives chosen according to your dinner entree. For more information, go to www.level2steakhouse.com.
For more information about Branson Golf, visit www.exporebranson.com and at www.facebook.com/bransongolf.
Revised: 12/01/2015 - Article Viewed 20,762 Times
Written By: Brian Weis
Brian Weis is the Publisher of GolfTrips.com, a network of golf travel and directory sites including GolfWisconsin.com, GolfMichigan.com, ArizonaGolfer.com, GolfAlabama.com, etc. Professionally, Brian is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA), International Network of Golf (ING), Golf Travel Writers of America (GTWA), International Golf Travel Writers Association (IGTWA) and The Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG). In 2016, Brian won The Shaheen Cup, an award given to a golf travel writer by his peers.
All of his life, Brian has been around the game of golf. As a youngster, Brian competed at all levels in junior and high school golf. Brian had a zero chance for a college golf scholarship, so he worked on the grounds crew at West Bend Country Club to pay for his University of Wisconsin education. In his adult years, his passion for the game collided with his entrepreneurial spirit and in 2004 launched GolfWisconsin.com. In 2007, the idea for a network of local golf directory sites formed and GolfTrips.com was born. Today, the network consists of a site in all 50 states supported by national sites like GolfTrips.com, GolfGuide.com and GolfPackages.com. It is an understatement to say, Brian is passionate about promoting golf and golf travel on a local, regional, national and international level.
On the golf course, Brian is known as a fierce weekend warrior that fluctuates between a 5-9 handicap. With a soft fade, known as "The Weis Slice", and booming 300+ drives, he can blast it out of bounds with the best of them.
Contact Brian Weis:
GolfTrips.com - Publisher and Golf Traveler