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Headlining acts: Five must-play golf courses in Branson, Missouri

Katharine DysonBy Katharine Dyson,
Special Contributor
LedgeStone Country Club
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You won't forget you are in the Ozarks while playing LedgeStone C.C. (Courtesy of Ledgestone)

Branson, Missouri may be known as the "Live Music Show Capital of the World," but with a dozen fine courses, golf is one of the main headliners.

Architects such as Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Cupp, Arnold Palmer and Chuck Smith have taken full advantage of the Ozarks' mountainous terrain with golf courses climbing up and down wooded hills, along valleys and over sparkling mountain creeks.

There may be no casinos in town, but if you want to play golf every day and take in a different live show every night, you really hit the jackpot with Branson. And hitting the ball along with local folks are stars and admitted golf addicts such as Shoji Tabuchi and "Mr. Banjo" Buck Trent, who said, "We just show up, play golf and go do our shows. Oh, yeah."

When you come with your family and pals, even if they don't play golf, there's so much to do here, they'll hardly know you're out on the course and not zip-lining through the treetops with them.

Due to a mild climate, courses are open to the public all year and at highly affordable rates -- in the winter less than $50 including a cart.

Here are five must-play golf courses in this pretty southwestern part of Missouri.

Payne Stewart Golf Club

Named by Golf Week as the No. 1 Course in Missouri for 2012, Payne Stewart Golf Club [Editor's Note: In June 2015, Payne Stewart G.C. changed its name to Branson Hills Golf Club], designed by Chuck Smith with Bobby Clampett, pays tribute to golf legend Payne Stewart, a Missouri native.

Each hole tells a different story. For example, hole No. 3, "Payne's Pit," is punctuated by a yawning greenside bunker recalling the golf legend's final hole at the Byron Nelson Classic in 1985 when he blew his lead by skulling his shot and making a double bogey (going on to lose in the playoff), while hole four, "Albatross," commemorates Payne's only double-eagle on Spyglass Hill.

The course is a beauty, challenging with carries over water and ravines along with scary bunker complexes as encountered on the 18th.

Branson Creek Golf Club

Tom Fazio's $22 million Branson Creek Golf Club -- characterized by exceptional par 3s and elevated tees -- is a beautiful, well-maintained track with wide, sweeping vistas of the Ozarks and well-framed greens. Here you can really rip your drives, and although the course baits you with risk and reward challenges, Fazio has included generous bailout areas.

To build the course, Fazio trucked in 1.2 million cubic yards of topsoil and blasted 1.6 million cubic yards of rock. Check out the cave in the limestone cliff behind the 17th green, uncovered in the construction.

Thousand Hills Resort & Golf Club

Thousand Hills Resort & Golf Club, a Robert Cupp design, garnered four stars from Golf Digest magazine in 2009 and was voted Best of the Ozarks for Branson Golf Courses.

A major amenity for the full-service resort where guests get special rates, Thousand Hills enjoys a prime location just off Highway 76 Country Music Boulevard.

Playing 5,111 yards with a par of 64, it's a shorty with just one par 5, yet it's a pleasure to play winding through stands of hard woods, meandering streams and interesting rock formations. In an effort to improve the flow of play, the course has renumbered the holes.

LedgeStone Country Club

LedgeStone Country Club winds through StoneBridge Village, but homes do not intrude. Designed by Tom Clark, the backdrop of the Ozarks can be distracting, but real trouble comes from super-fast, large and tricky bentgrass greens and forced carries over water.

Swales roll through tree-lined Zoysia fairways, so having a level lie is no safe bet even with a good drive, although mounding can funnel your ball back towards the center. This is a very pretty course, so bring your camera.

Murder Rock Golf Course

Deriving its name from a legend heard around the hollows of Branson Creek, Murder Rock is the site where Civil War bushwhacker Alfred Bolin and his gang ambushed travelers. Today this place is home to Murder Rock Golf Course, part of the Branson Creek Residential Community.

Murder Rock rises to plateaus where it's all about views of the mountains -- quite breathtaking. At a modest 6,749 yards and with roll-up greens, the course is fairly benign considering its notorious heritage -- unless you want to consider the wildlife. "We occasionally see wildcat tracks in our bunkers," said Chris Meade, golf professional, "but we seldom see any cats."

When Minnie Pearl was asked what was necessary to have a good show she said, "You gotta make 'em smile, make 'em cry and scare the hell out of them" -- kinda like Branson's golf courses.

For more information, visit ExplorerBransonGolf.com.

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Branson Creek Golf ClubBranson Belle Showboat

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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