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|The 16th is a tough and picturesque par 3 that plays around a lake at Payne Stewart Golf Club in Branson, Mo. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)|
[Editor's Note: In June 2015, Payne Stewart G.C. changed its name to Branson Hills Golf Club]
BRANSON, Mo. -- When you play the new Payne Stewart Golf Club you need to bring your reading skills.
Not green reading, mind you. Just reading.
Because this golf course wasn't designed by Payne Stewart; it's simply about the late U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup great who hailed from Springfield, Mo., which is less than an hour north of Branson.
At each hole, you'll find a placard with a story about Stewart. All of them are interesting, but they take a couple minutes to read, so a little Evelyn Wood speed-reading course prior to playing might be helpful to keep pace.
Seriously, though, if you play the golf course without reading the anecdotes, you cheat yourself out of a significant part of the experience.
You learn, for example, that Stewart hated sand-filled divots, that he had an enlarged heart, and that he was more interested in the people around him having a good time than himself. The stories paint a picture of the man the club honors. They also offer hints on how to play the holes.
Payne Stewart Golf Club, managed by Hilton Golf, was designed by golf course architect Chuck Smith with an assist from player consultant Bobby Clampett. With many of the holes you'll find nuances that hearken back to the career of Stewart, who died in a plane crash in 1999, just after winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
If you're paying attention, you learn that in honor of Stewart, you get relief under a local rule if your ball finds a sand-filled divot. Or that, like Stewart, who rediscovered his old draw in 1999, you'll need a draw on the par-3 12th, appropriately named "Draw Back."
Or that on the ninth hole, there's a sandbar in the hazard similar to the one Stewart got up and down from on the 13th at Augusta National to make birdie in the 1991 Masters.
The tribute, as one might suspect, goes way beyond the golf course. Inside, there are all kinds of Stewart memorabilia, from the Plus Fours that made him instantly recognizable from a distance, to his Ryder Cup bags to the scores of photographs that adorn the clubhouse and its restaurant and pub, the Many Faces of Payne Grill.
Many of the artifacts were donated by Stewart's widow, Tracey Stewart, who was there for the club's grand opening on June 6. Other family members attended as well. And Stewart's son, Aaron, who plays golf at his father's alma mater, Southern Methodist University, played the course and liked it, said T.J. Baggett, Director of Golf at Payne Stewart Golf Club.
"It was pretty moving to see the family walk through the clubhouse for the first time," Baggett said.
With all that's going on here, it would be a shame to not dedicate six hours to walking through the museum, having a Guinness in the pub and playing a round of golf.
The golf course is Branson's newest and one of its most intricately designed. It meanders up and down hills, through fairways cut through forest and around several large lakes that come into play often.
The course is anything but easy. From the back tees, this par 72 plays 7,324 yards. While the yardage isn't overly long by today's standards, the course is full of trouble.
Wayward tee shots will find forested areas or tall fescue, where finding your golf ball is iffy at best. And that means doubles and triples loom for anyone who sprays it off the tee.
There are also all kinds of hazards on the course. There are plenty of strategically placed bunkers and several lakes and streams that come into play. The slick bentgrass greens can also be tricky.
"We've got to be careful when we put out pins," Baggett said. "And we need to talk to customers about playing the right set of tees."
Branson's newest is also one of its finest golf courses. There are four sets of tees, and it is imperative that you play the right set to have fun. Because not only can the course play long; the approaches on many holes are harder with a long iron or fairway wood in your hands.
There are many excellent holes and cool views from elevated tees. No. 4 is a picturesque dogleg right par 5 around a lake. The ninth is a long par 4 with a creek and waterfall that runs by the green. And the par-3 16th, with a lake down the right side, is one of the prettiest and most daunting holes here. You'll also love the views on 17, a par 4 that plays over a lake, and the vantage point from the fairway on 18 of the surrounding hills.
Payne Stewart Golf Club also features a well-maintained putting and chipping green. There's no driving range, which might make you a little nervous on the first tee shot, a dogleg left around some intimidating bunkers. Get past that, however, and you're good to go. And you'll want to play this golf course again to figure out some of its nuances.
July 24, 2009
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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