BRANSON, Mo. - Boy, can I pick 'em. I've traveled about 1,600 miles from Phoenix and played some nice courses along the way, but my stumbling upon the new Branson Creek Golf Club just south of the famous entertainment destination of Branson is, to me, proof that there is a God and that the almighty loves golf.
Without question, Branson Creek is a little slice of heaven nestled into the curvaceous Ozark Mountains, but it took a lot of cash to make it so. A rumored $22 million was spent to blast out massive limestone hills, forge through thickly forested land east of Highway 65... oh, and to entice renowned architect Tom Fazio and Troon Golf management on board.
The higher-ups at Branson Creek aren't naming the price they paid, but point out that they've spared no expense to catapult their secluded 12,000-acre community to the forefront of the golfing world.
Why would the serious golfer set his or her travel sights on Southwestern Missouri? Until now that was a good question. Certainly not for Bobby Vinton and Silver Dollar City. But once word gets out about Fazio's newest masterpiece, the question will be answered by droves of execs with golf bags in tow.
Simply put, with a course this nice: "If you build it, they will come." The joy of golf at Branson Creek begins at the first tee. A long par-5 straight down the hill to a zoysia fairway and bent-grass green that are immaculate both at first glance and upon close inspection. And as nice as the grass already is, it will be much improved after a few months or seasons of maturation.
Right away you know you are playing at a world-class facility. Smooth, cement cart paths don't pour themselves. Mulch footpaths don't grow naturally in this neck of the woods, but they are in generous supply here. And yet, the niceties that money can buy do not make the course special. It is the views, the high Bermuda and native grass in the rough, the hills, the valleys, the lakes and the streams that nature provided which make the difference.
Fazio did a wonderful job of mixing the two worlds, pushing just enough dirt around to make spectacular elevated tees and winding fairways while leaving the rustic integrity of the ground intact.
There are so many great holes on this course that it's hard to pick a favorite. No. 5, Heller High Water, is a memorable hole. It's 449 yards from the back tees, but the severe drop off the tee box brings a far-off lake and hillside into play. The fairway winds to the left between the lake and a tree-lined hill and turns right again to bring the lake into play on any approach shot.
The back nine holds several awesome holes as well. No. 12, Vista, again heads down the hill to a spacious, rolling green. The bunkering on this 477-yard par-4 is superb, spilling over into the fairways in classic Fazio style. Cliff faces guard greens on the next few holes, until you get to one of the coolest things I've ever seen on a golf course. The creek on No. 14 actually pours right over the cart path into the falls.
Driving through the two or three inches of swiftly moving current, I felt like a kid again. It's a simple but effective novelty and goes to show why Fazio claims more than a fifth of the top 100 courses in America - imagination.
The final hole on the course may be the best. No. 18, Sea of Trees, is a Midwestern version of the last at Pebble Beach. In place of ocean, Fazio has treetops. Otherwise, the bunkering, the length and the difficulty all match up with the famous finishing hole. Club pro Tony Gill, who came to Branson Creek from Indian Ridge in Palm Desert, California, suggests a 3-wood off the tee to contend with the cliff side guarding the fairway to the right. Reaching this monster in two is quite a feat, and the drastic tiers on the green make birdie and eagle scores to recount to your golfing buddies as if they were carded at Pebble.
Overall, the course plays to 7,036 yards from the Black tees, a slope of 133 and a 73.0 rating. It's probably too much course for a mid- to high-handicapper from there. Even the Gold tees, at 6,628 yards and a slope/rating of 129/70.3 are a lot to handle. Not to worry, though, there are still three tee boxes to choose from. The Copper tees reach 6,232 yards and have a 124/68.1 slope/rating. The Silver tees play to 5,845 yards and the Jade tees 5,032 yards.
Branson Creek is a daily fee course, although it does offer individual and company memberships. There are also several hotels offering golf packages with the course and a Two-Some card that can save up you up to 40 percent. My advice is to check with a tourism office to get the best deal before booking a tee time. There are plenty of them in Branson.
The rates for the rest of 2000 are as follows:
May 1 - May 25: $77-$115
May 26 - September 30: $94-$135
October 1 - October 15: $77-$115
October 16 - October 31: $64-$100
November 1 - December 31: $51-$85
There is so much to be said about this new course that it's hard to fit in anything about Branson itself. What has been described as Las Vegas for retired hillbillies, I found to be a hospitable town filled with good, salt-of-the-earth locals (all of which, of course, work in the service industry) and way too many tourists. About seven million people come through Branson each year according to the Tourism department.
You won't be at a loss for things to do after your wonderful round of golf, at any rate. There are shows to see and outlets to shop and more restaurants than you can shake a 3-wood at. If you've already ponied up the healthy greens fee, however, why not treat yourself to dinner at Dimitri's on Lake Taneycomo and perhaps a 1950s revival show or a tribute to Elvis.
Believe it or not, Fazio has another 18 holes in the works at Branson Creek. A 22,000-square foot clubhouse is also in the planning stage. Once the clubhouse is built, Branson Creek will be a natural to host PGA or LPGA play with its stadium layout and breathtaking scenery. It will be a shame, however, to see that beautiful rough trampled.
Next stop: Nashville, Tennessee.
For more information on Branson Creek, contact:
Branson Creek Golf Club
P.O. Box 2273
Branson, MO 65615
(417) 339-GOLF or 1-888-772-9990
June 3, 2002