If I rattled off a list of course designers like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Tom Fazio and Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, where do you think they’ve recently built or are building golf courses?
No, not Pinehurst. Not Hilton Head. Not Orlando…
It’s Branson, Missouri.
While it has a long standing reputation as a live music capital and an outdoorsman paradise, Branson is heavily investing in golf as a way to engage families in outdoor activities and diversify its appeal.
“We think golf is a natural extension of our devotion to outdoor sports endeavors and our appreciation of the natural beauty in the Ozarks,” says Jeff Seifried, president/CEO at Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB. “All of our great designers help us tell the story of the amazing things happening with golf in Branson. These designers are some of the most important icons in the sport and they bring great credibility and excitement to what we’re developing with golf.”
What sets Branson apart from other golf destinations is the jaw-dropping visual nature of their new courses, the impressive designer labels and the wide variety of offerings that accommodate golfers of all skill levels and ages. Ancient limestone rock formations, waterfalls, innovative bunker designs and elevated tees affording spectacular panoramas are just a few of the features that make Branson’s courses interesting and fun to play.
“Top of the Rock is the best example of the Branson style of golf course,” Seifried says. “It’s visually exciting with attention to detail, extremely photogenic and fun to play.”
The key visionary behind Branson’s evolvement as a golf destination is Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops. Morris has essentially taken his wildly successful “entertainment shopping” concept and subtly applied it to his Top of the Rock/Big Cedar, an amazing, one-of-a-kind resort complex that encompasses a lodge, four golf courses, a shooting academy, marina, nature park, museum and aquarium, and a fabulous Bass Pro Shop.
Morris continues to add to his golf menu. Ozarks National, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design opened last m0nth (April 29th). Stretching to 7,036-yards Ozarks National includes a 400-foot wooden beam and plank bridge, which connects the tee box and fairway of the 13th hole that stands 60-feet above a flowing creek and jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Ozark terrain.
Coming in 2020, with expected preview play in late 2019, is the much anticipated Tiger Woods design, Payne’s Valley, which honors the late Payne Stewart, an Ozarks native.
Other Top of the Rock (Big Cedar) courses include the Jack Nicklaus designed Par-3 course; Buffalo Ridge, an 18-hole re-design by Tom Fazio and Johnny Morris; and Mountain Top, an innovative 13-hole short course designed by Gary Player.
Enhancing Top of the Rock and Branson’s image as a golf destination is its annual PGA TOUR Champions Legends 0f Golf at Big Cedar Lodge staged every April. For the pro-am, the tournament attracts golf-loving celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg and Kid Rock who sing the praises of all the golf offerings in the area.
Established Branson courses consistently rank among the best in the state. Branson Hills has been rated the No. 1 public course in Missouri, while Golf Digest bestows that distinction on Buffalo Ridge Springs. Thousand Hills, LedgeStone, and The Pointe at Pointe Royale are other popular options.
Beyond the impressive golf courses, what makes Branson appealing is the seemingly endless list of activities possible once the last putt has fallen for the day. There are dozens of live performance theaters, three pristine lakes for water sports, Silver Dollar City Them Park, an historic downtown district, RV Parks, campgrounds, a Town Center-style shopping complex and meeting and conference facilities.
The list of reasons to visit Branson goes on and on and on… You can certainly add golf in a big way to that list, too.