[Editor's Note: In June 2015, Payne Stewart G.C. changed its name to Branson Hills Golf Club]
BRANSON, Mo. -- Payne Stewart Golf Club is more than a great mountain course that rises and falls with the contours of the Ozarks. It's a warm tribute to a man who would have loved the course.
Like Stewart, who was born in nearby Springfield, Mo., the golf course is complex. It's welcoming sometimes, foreboding at others. It's brash and it's classy.
The owners partnered with the Payne Stewart Foundation -- with the blessing of his widow, Tracey -- to build the course and share its profits with the Stewart family, said T.J. Baggett, head pro and general manager.
And to add more panache to a course that already has so much, it recently hired Troon Golf to manage it.
Stewart's memory is infused throughout the clubhouse and course. The clubhouse is packed with memorabilia, including trophies, some of his wardrobe, many photos and news stories.
At each hole, there is a snippet of Stewart's life. For example, No. 15 is called "Divot Downer," and the plaque recounts Stewart's belief that sand-filled divots should be considered ground under repair. During the final round of the 1998 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, Stewart had a one-shot lead over Lee Janzen when his tee shot settled into a sand-filled divot. Stewart's 9-iron shot landed in a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey. He also received a slow-play warning from USGA officials. He lost the Open by a stroke. It's no surprise then that local rules at Payne Stewart consider sand-filled divots ground under repair from which one gets relief.
Now that you know about the course's firm foundation, you'll find the course itself keeps you a little unsettled, due to elevation changes, banked fairways and creatively placed hazards.
Payne Stewart Golf Club starts up high and swings down to the fairway that swoops left to the green. Stay left to avoid a blind shot the green. The green is tiered, with the back half a fairly level shelf, the front half more like a wall.
"It's one of the toughest greens on the course," Baggett said.
The second hole again starts high, but it ends high, too, requiring a tee shot over a valley to an elevated green. You can see the flag, but not the putting surface. It won't be the last time the course plays hide and seek.
The third hole is one of the most visually intimidating on the course, but don't be afraid -- the fairway is wider than it looks and you can get some really awesome roll off the tee, down to the green. Make sure you clear the false front and steer clear of "Payne's pit," a rock-walled hole next to a bunker. It's a short par 4, just 302 yards from the middle tees and 344 yards from the tips.
The fourth hole, a par 5, is long with a bunker left to catch errant tee shots, and water poses a risk for the second half of the hole on the right. A three-shot approach is advised. The green is raised, offset and sharply sloped, so going for the pin might be a mistake.
The par-4 fifth hole is one of the most level of the bunch with much of the trouble at the green in the form of a trio of bunkers in front. Again, the green is offset and severely sloped.
On No. 7, a par 3, they plopped a greenside bunker a little off to the right, which poses a problem for most short shots. The green is bowtie shaped and the pin could be a long way away.
You'll remember No. 8 -- a steep downhill hole with a bunker right in the middle of the fairway -- thanks to designer Bobby Clampett, who blew a huge lead in the 1982 British Open after hitting into three bunkers on a single hole. You might not be able to see the green for much of the par-5 hole.
The ninth requires you to summon up a lofty drive to clear a ditch 160 yards from the middle tees, then plan another launch over a stream that crosses at an angle near the green.
Note to thirsty golfers: it's the owner's mansion atop the hill; it's not the clubhouse. Look for the beverage cart instead.
No. 10 is another double-carry par 4 that bends right with a set of bunkers on the inside elbow. Distance is your friend on this uphill trek.
Payne Stewart Golf Club's 12th hole is a scrappy par 3 with water and a bunker left and another pot bunker right. The green is oddly shaped, so the difficulty depends on pin placement.
The 13th hole is fairly short, but placement matters. Steer right off the tee to avoid a blind shot to the green. Just ignore the large bunker across the fairway about 80 yards from the green.
The best hole on the back is No. 17, which has a ravine crossing the fairway about 120 yards out. The landing area is banked left to right, feeding shots into a bunker. From there, it's uphill to the green with a big bunker right and short. Plotting your way from tee to green on this hole will make your brain hurt.
The closing hole is about placing your drive so you can see the green, which hides to the right. There's another mess of bunkers to ignore about 80 yards out. The green is one of the smaller ones, so this hole is a bit of a last-minute switcheroo.
Between the course and the clubhouse, Payne Stewart Golf Club pays proper homage to a golf legend. Stewart, who racked up three majors and 24 total wins, was instantly recognizable with his plus-fours and British cap. His game and his style stood out in a sport thick with giants. The golf club does justice to Stewart's memory with a course that is dynamic and defies a pat description and a regal clubhouse overlooking the Ozarks. Payne would be proud.
May 26, 2011