Branson, Mizzou

Contrary to popular belief, Branson, Missouri is more than just a showplace where entertainers have performed family-friendly hits/routines before appreciative mature audiences for 100 years.

Payne Stewart Golf Club Aerial Course View

Sure, Branson’s theme is indeed family friendly and spectators do include throngs of appreciative seniors. However, during a recent group trip to this lovely Ozarks town in southwest Missouri, we discovered timeless stars and contemporary performers thrilling fans — young and old.

While Branson’s 50 live performance venues and 100-plus regular shows are the main reason more than 8 million annual visitors flock to this small town of 8,000 residents, there’s another reason to visit the “Live Music Show Capital of the World.”

Branson is a red-hot golf destination.

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In fact, despite the Midwest’s drought, Branson’s rounds played continued to increase in 2012. Yes, our group was incredibly impressed with Branson’s golf scene (, whose most-popular courses include Branson Creek Golf Club, Payne Stewart Golf Club, Murder Rock Golf Club, LedgeStone Country Club, Thousand Hills Golf Resort, Pointe Royale Golf Village, and Holiday Hills Resort and Golf Club. Discover Branson can match tee times with hotel accommodations and even area shows. Tee time links and online packages can be found online.

These courses — plus the great diversity and flavor of Branson’s lodging, entertainment, outdoor adventure, restaurants, internationally-renowned Silver Dollar City theme park and related attractions — make heading for the Ozark hills a must-take, value-packed trip for savvy golfers seeking a place to also bring their families.

Thousand Hills Golf Resort Hole No. 7

Golf is played year round in Branson, giving golfers more bang for their buck than most golf destinations. While January and February can be chilly, it rarely snows and you can tee it up for less than $70 (in most cases, less than $60) including cart.

While completely distinct in style and design, the courses offer stellar hospitality and course conditions amid the Ozark Mountains’ dramatic elevation changes and rock outcroppings. Additionally, Branson Creek, Payne Stewart and Murder Rock have earned annual recognition in numerous publications’ “Best of” rankings.

Payne Stewart Golf Club, designed by Chuck Smith, is a unique concept course dedicated to the life and legacy of the late major champion who hailed from nearby Springfield. Each hole at this scintillating par-72 course, measuring 7,324 yards from the tips, recalls one of Stewart’s traits of style, character, good humor and PGA Tour experiences. The clubhouse showcases Stewart’s major championship and Ryder Cup memorabilia, his trademark outfits and golf shoes, and photos and paintings.

Tom Fazio’s Branson Creek is also a beauty with exceptional par 3s, roll-up greens, elevated tees and generous bailout areas. While most holes are laid out in front of golfers, risk-reward holes provide constant temptation on the 7,036-yard, par-71 gem.

LedgeStone, another dandy, offers constant three-putt potential thanks to large, fast, roller-coaster greens. Architect Tom Clark carved the 6,879-yard, par-71 beauty through dense woods atop hilly terrain, and added to the challenge with 10 water-affected holes.

Murder Rock, named for the notorious place where Alfie Bolin and his gang attacked, robbed and murdered travelers on westward-bound stagecoaches, is a 6,727-yard track designed by Landmark Land Company Inc. Its deceptive, lightning-fast greens complement the exceptional golf experience.

Speaking of getting robbed, it seems Alfie is alive, well and wearing a logoed golf shirt. Our group participated in a team scramble, in which my tee shot on the 184-yard 13th hole — the closest-to-the-pin hole — finished four inches short of an impossible rear hole location cut as far right as possible on the water-hugging green. Someone in the final group, playing directly behind us, claimed to have made an ace to snatch my sure-fire prize.

Thousand Hills, designed by renowned architect Bob Cupp, appeals to players of all abilities and is located in the heart of Branson. This winter the course is renumbering several holes to improve the flow. The undulating terrain and greens, and superb conditions make for a fun round.

Pointe Royale is home to many of Branson’s stars — don’t be surprised to see a world-famous entertainer — thanks to a scenic design which traverses rolling hills and offers tree-lined holes and nestled below the bluffs of beautiful Lake Taneycomo.

The Top of the Rock nine-holer, which hopes to open in 2013, and the upscale, amenity-rich Big Cedar Lodge resort both majestically overlook scenic Table Rock Lake.

Holiday Hills traverses flat to gently rolling terrain, and small- to medium-sized, undulating greens. Water impacts seven holes, and the five par 3s range from 120 to 195 yards.

Our group discovered one of the great things about Branson — you might be paired up with one of its star entertainers, many of whom are diehard golfers. Our group ended up playing with the likes of Shoji Tabuchi, a Japanese-born fiddler who stars in Branson’s most sought-after show, and country legend Buck Trent, star of the “Buck Trent Country Music Show.” I enjoyed riding with Buck, a former regular on the “Porter Waggoner Show” and “Hee Haw,” at Payne Stewart Golf Club.

Besides the golf courses, award-winning theme park and 50 live performance theaters, this unique family vacation destination also boasts dozens of attractions, activities, shopping and lodging options. Branson’s shows are performed morning, afternoon and night in venues seating between 200 and 4,000 spectators, with value-packed ticket prices generally costing between $20 and $50.

The cool new Branson Airport (BKG) — I absolutely love its general store-style interior design — is also surprisingly easy to get to. Major carriers are AirTran (until March 8, 2013), Southwest (starting March 9, 2013) and Frontier. Direct flights into BKG are available from Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver and Orlando, with more expected in 2013. BKG is Southwest’s 79th U.S. destination, giving travelers unlimited direct-connection options into Branson. Springfield International Airport is also less than an hour’s drive from Branson, which, for non-flyers, is less than a day’s drive for one-third of Americans.

I’m not sure if there’s another golf destination as convenient and attractive to such a wide range of folks — from families to golfers on trips with their pals. Where else can you play golf, see a different live show(s) and enjoy so many wide-ranging activities every day of your vacation — without emptying your bank account? And where else does the airport ground crew wave goodbye to every departing flight from the tarmac? Nowhere else, which is why a return visit to Branson sounds like music to my ears.

The Lowdown: Branson, Missouri

Where to Play

Branson Creek Golf Club, Hollister:; 417-339-GOLF (4653)
Holiday Hills Resort and Golf Club, Branson:; 417-334-4838
Murder Rock Golf Club, Hollister:; 417-332-3259
LedgeStone Country Club, Branson:; 417-335-8187
Payne Stewart Golf Club, Branson:; 417-337-2963
Pointe Royale Golf Village, Branson:; 417-334-4477
Thousand Hills Golf Resort, Branson:; 417-334-4553
Top of the Rock Golf Course, Branson:; 417-339-5085

For a complete list of courses and links:

Where to Stay

Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale:; 417-335-2777;
Hilton Branson Convention Center, Branson:; 417-336-5400
Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, Branson:; 417-336-5500
Maybee Lodge at Keeter Center, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout:; 417-239-1900

Where to Eat

Billy Gails Café, Branson: 417-338-8883
Branson Café, Branson:; 417-334-3021
Cantina Laredo, Branson:; 417-334-6062
Level 2 Steakhouse, Branson:; 417-243-3433
Maybee Lodge at Keeter Center, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout:; 417-239-1900
Texas Land & Cattle Steakhouse, Branson:; 417-337-8200
The Worman House at Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale:; 417-339-5200
Truman Coffee & Café at Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale:; 417-335-2777

Branson CVB:; 800-296-0463
Discover Branson:; 800-768-3892