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|The Tom Fazio-designed Branson Creek Golf Club is one of the best courses in Missouri. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)|
BRANSON, Mo. -- There's something interesting in the parking lots of the theaters and restaurants in Branson. Look at any 10 cars. Chances are you will count at least eight states among the license plates. Folks come all over to visit this place for the shows, the grub, the hospitality, and believe it or not, the golf.
It's not that the Branson area has a slew of golf courses -- there are fewer than a dozen that you can play -- but they're pretty good and reasonable. Three of them are outstanding, and when you combine the golf with the wholesome entertainment, great service and feeling of innocence you get here, it just makes for a feel-good golf vacation.
Depending on your point of view, either Branson Creek Golf Club or Payne Stewart Golf Club [Editor's Note: In June 2015, Payne Stewart G.C. changed its name to Branson Hills Golf Club] are the best golf facilities in the Branson area. They are, in fact, arguably the best public courses in the entire state.
What Payne Stewart has over Branson Creek, however, is a magnificent clubhouse, the best part of which is a museum dedicated to the late Stewart, who grew up in nearby Springfield. His family donated scores of artifacts from Stewart's great career, including Ryder Cup bags, mementos from his U.S. Open victories and, of course, pieces of his signature plus fours wardrobe.
The course, which was designed as a tribute to Stewart, is one hard golf course from the wrong tees. Hardly anyone should tackle this beast from the back tees. Not only is it long at more than 7,400 yards, but also on many of the holes the landing areas are hard to find. And if you miss some of these greens, finding the ball, much less playing it, can be problematic with all the trouble around them.
The course, though, is certainly beautiful, with plenty of elevated tees, a few blind shots and cascading water and ponds throughout. Play the right set of tees, and it's an enjoyable experience.
Branson Creek is just the opposite. Plans call for a permanent clubhouse someday as well as a hotel, but that won't come until the economy turns around. In the meantime, golfers can enjoy a terrific Tom Fazio layout with wide fairways, plenty of Fazio signature deep bunkers and one spectacular vista after another. You get that look on the first tee and it continues throughout.
"This is the kind of course you can play over and over again," said Mark Ophoven, director of golf, "and never get bored with it."
There are other courses in Branson, too. LedgeStone Golf Club is a 6,800-yard par 71 that opened in 1994. It recently received a couple of tweaks on the 10th and 18th holes, making it a little bit easier to manage, but make no mistake, this course requires accuracy off the tee and to the greens.
Still, LedgeStone is a gorgeous ride with plenty of elevated tees, water and views of the Ozarks.
Another course in Branson worth checking out is "John Daly's" Murder Rock Golf and Country Club, where you can blast it off the elevated tees. (The course wasn't designed by Daly. It was just endorsed by the long hitter.) The clubhouse sits on the highest point in the Branson area with great views of the course. And you can also play golf at Pointe Royal, Top of the Rock G.C. and Thousand Hills Resort & Golf Club.
"The nice thing about Branson golf," said Ophoven, "is that there's a course for every taste and every budget."
There are plenty of hotels in Branson, including the Hilton, Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Grand Victorian, just to name a few.
But one option you might want to consider is staying in one of the many condominiums that are available to rent. Owned by others as family vacation homes, you can often get these well-appointed and comfortable digs at reasonable prices, especially if you have a family or a foursome.
A great example is the Village at Indian Point Resort and Conference Center. These log cabin style units sit right above Table Rock Lake, offering great fishing, boating and terrific sunsets. It's also just two miles from the Silver Dollar City theme park and five miles west of the theater and shopping district.
This is the opposite of Las Vegas. There are all kinds of shows, from the classic Presley's Country Jubilee to the terrific Legends show at the Dick Clark Theater. You can also catch plenty of live acts from stars such as the Oak Ridge Boys, Bill Cosby and a really energetic revue show called No. 1 Hits of the 60s.
But don't expect to buy a beer at any of these places. It's soda, popcorn and hot dogs all the way.
That's not to say that Branson is dry, but there aren't a whole lot of bars or saloons. You'll find a little of that at Branson's Landing, a waterfront collection of restaurants and shops near the Hilton Convention Center.
You'll also be struck by the enthusiasm and warmth of the people who live and work here. While you're not likely to find any fancy dining here, they all take pride in their work, even among the chains. The IHOP and Steak 'n Shake there may be the best in the country. And don't pass up Famous Dave's Barbecue. It may be a chain, but the award-winning ribs aren't to be missed.
May 14, 2012
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.
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