Thursday, October 29, 2015

On Location: Branson, Missouri

Buffalo Ridge GC

Sitting in Billy Gail's Cafe in Branson with a hubcap-size blueberry pancake, two eggs over-easy and a steaming hot cup of coffee, I was thoroughly convinced this was the ultimate pre-game meal before hitting the first tee at the Tom Fazio designed Buffalo Ridge course.

Ah yes, I was totally immersed in the "Branson Good Life"-- an enviable lifestyle highlighted by live entertainment shows, phenomenal fishing, exciting and challenging golf, down home dining and stunning lake views.

Branson has evolved in the past few years by expanding its golf, shopping, dining and RV offerings.

Better still, Branson will get even better in the coming years with a $100 million downtown revitalization program and new golf courses under construction.

GOLF OVERVIEW
Top of the Rock Par 3

The Branson area has eight golf courses and four other golf opportunities. Listed below are the courses I played on my visit.

According to Lynn Berry of Explore Branson, late spring and summer are popular times for golf.

"Fall is a spectacular time of the year for golf when the leaves change color and the temperatures are  moderate with many Indian Summer days," says Berry.

She's excited about Branson's golf offerings and says the white dimpled ball menu will expand.

Expected to open by late 2017 are a new Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed championship layout and a 12-hole family-oriented course by Gary Player.

Branson Hills Golf Club--The name might be a bit confusing. This course recently changed its name from the Payne Stewart Golf club. Highly regarded, it was voted the No. 1 golf course in Missouri by Golfweek 2012-2015. Managed by Troon Golf and superbly maintained, the course incorporates elevated tees, dramatic drops tee to green, wooded areas, natural rock outcroppings, waterfalls and creeks. It was designed by Chuck Smith with consultation from PGA Tour pro Bobby Clampett.

Buffalo Ridge Golf Course--I love Tom Fazio courses and Buffalo Ridge quickly became one of my favorites not withstanding the double bogeys dotting my scorecard. From the interesting approach shots, engaging water features and all-out-fun downhill tee shots to the buffalo grazing on nearby land, the experience is top notch.

Ledgestone Country Club--A beautiful setting where you get the full force of the photogenic Ozark surroundings. I love the grasses--Bentgrass greens and Zoysia fairways. There are dramatic elevations from tee to green, 48 bunkers and water in play on 11 holes.

Top of the Rock--I've teed up at hundreds of courses around the world, but this is the absolute best par three I've ever played. The first Jack Nicklaus Signature par three ever built, the course debuted in 1996. It's part of the PGA Champions Tour Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf Tournament. The park-like setting has native grasses and trees and beautiful wildflowers everywhere. There's also a 70,000 square-foot putting complex designed by Tom Watson and an Arnold Palmer designed practice facility.

Thousand Hills Golf Club--Near the 76 Strip and the live music shows, this resort course is a 4 1/2 hour excursion through rolling fairways, hardwood forests, rock formations and streams.

10 Little Things I Liked

1. Seeing the "Million Dollar Quartet", a broadway style show about Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis

2. Dining at Arnie's Barn at Top of the Rock, which has Ozarks cuisine with a Mexican flair and pictures of Arnold Palmer dotting the walls. I had the "Dos Equis Battered Cod Tacos" for lunch...scrumptious.

3. The affordable ticket prices for the live shows in Branson. The top ticket price is $55 and the average is around $38.

4. Some of the amazing panoramas possible at the elevated tee boxes at the courses.

5. The Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail at Top of the Rock, where you can enjoy a cocktail, beer or wine in the middle of the tour. Cheers!

6. The genuine down home midwestern warmth and friendliness from everybody I met.

7. The absolutely amazing country style breakfasts I enjoyed at several locally owned restaurants.

8. The walkability of downtown and Branson Landing.

9. The phenomenal Kansas City Strip steak topped with peppercorn sauce accompanied by cheese noodles and asparagus I had at Level 2 Steakhouse.

10. Strolling the aisles of Dick's 5 & 10 in downtown Branson, a throwback general store (opened in 1961) with more than 70,000 items.

ACCOMMODATIONS

I stayed in the golf villas (4-bedroom) at Branson Hills Golf Club, which had a well-designed floor plan for golfers with a television in each of the four rooms, a comfortable and beautifully appointed common living room, a fully-equipped kitchen and easy access to on-site golf. Other options include a 2-bedroom villa and 3-bedroom and Studio Condo at Eagle Bunker Condos.

Branson is appealing to golfers on all sorts of budgets. There's a dizzying array of places to stay (16,500 units total) such as golf resorts, chain hotels, family-owned motels, cabins, condos and private vacation rental homes in a variety of price categories.

In addition to the villas, Branson Hills also has a Hampton Inn on property. Other popular places for golfers include, Thousand Hills Hotel and Golf Resort, Big Cedar Lodge, Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa, Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing and Hilton Branson Convention Center.

DINING

I enjoyed some great food on my visit and I've the got the expanding waistline to prove it. The Guru rarely eats a big breakfast at home, so when I'm on the road I gravitate to great diners with country style breakfasts. At the risk of exaggeration, Branson has some of the best breakfast places in America.

Billy Gail's--This down home eatry set at a former gas station location is country breakfast nirvana. Hubcap-size pancakes, French Cakes (a French Toast/pancakes combination), steak and eggs and friendly service are the draw.

Clocker's--If you love biscuits and gravy and hash browns cooked in a frying pan, you'll love this  restaurant in downtown Branson, which is popular with the locals.

Arnie's Barn--Overlooking the Top of the Rock golf course, this unique restaurant was named in honor of Arnold Palmer. The 150-year old barn was transported, plank by plank, from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Palmer's hometown and reassembled at Top of the Rock. The walls are dotted with golf memorabilia and the menu features "Mexican cuisine with an Ozark flair". I had the Dos Equis Battered Cod Tacos with Lime Aioli, spicy Chipotle salsa and cilantro slaw. (Best fish tacos I've ever had.)

Level 2 Steakhouse--Located at the Hilton Branson Convention Center hotel, this upscale restaurant has a big city ambiance. It's a superb fine dining experience with 28 day corn fed Midwest beef, fresh seafood flown in from Hawaii, locally grown produce and a 1600 degree Infrared Oven. A nice touch is the five different steak knives you can select from to cut your steak.

Other places I heard great things about are Farmhouse Restaurant (chicken fried steak), Little Mo's (BBQ) and White River Fish Company (catfish and alligator).

THINGS TO DO

--Live entertainment shows at popular theaters like the Oak Ridge Boys Theatre, Welk Resort Theatre and Mickey Gilley Theatre.
--Silver Dollar City theme park
--Dinner theatres like Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show and Branson's Murder Mystery Dinner Show
--Shopping at Branson Landing
 --Starting each day with a country style breakfast
--Fishing with or without a guide on Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake
--Hiking nature trails such as the scenic Table Rock Lakeshore Trail (2.2 miles)
--Stone Hill Winery and Lindwedel Wine Garden
--Copper Run Distillery
--Shopping at Dick's 5 & 10 in downtown Branson
--Spas (there are 10 spas in the Branson area)
--Branson Scenic Railway
--Showboat Branson Belle
--Branson Auto Museum

FUN FACTS

--There are 100 shows a week with more than 57,000 total seats
--1,000 acres of shoreline on three lakes
--More than 200 restaurants
--Population of Branson is 10,520

LOCATION

Branson is located 52 miles south of Springfield-Branson National Airport in the southwest part of the state. Driving distance from major cities is: Springfield, Missouri--43 mi., Kansas City, Missouri--211 mi., St. Louis, Missouri--251 mi., Omaha, Nebraska--401 mi., Dallas, Texas--413 mi., Nashville--432 mi. and Chicago--546 mi.

THE SCOOP

For more information, click to Explore Branson or call 417-334-4084/1-800-296-0463

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