When you think of Missouri, a few things probably come to mind: the Ozark mountains, big rivers, St. Louis, maybe even the lights of Branson’s famed “Strip.” What you might want to add to that list is golf, and it won’t take long on any trip through the region to realize it. While there are plenty of options in the area, from Top of the Rock to Ledgestone to Thousand Hills – all worthy destinations – the track that might be the most satisfying in terms of challenge, design, accessibility, and beauty is Troon Golf’s Branson Hills Golf Club.
Formerly Payne Stewart Golf Club, Golfweek’s “#1 Golf Course in Missouri” for four years running is a highly entertaining and satisfying golf experience. With a renewed emphasis (and clubhouse tribute case) on Legendary Missouri Golfers – including Stewart and Tom Watson – Branson Hills aims to encapsulate everything that is good about golf in Missouri. With five separate tees and a design that fits its undulating, woodsy landscape perfectly, this course should be the centerpiece of any trip through town.
While the range is a ways from the clubhouse, it is conveniently situated just up the hill from the first tee. With a dramatic elevated view down a hillside, the range is a beautiful place to get loose, and pretty accurate introduction to the elevation changes in store for you out on the course.
Amenities & Customer Service
Onsite amenities include a large, striking clubhouse, complete with a sizeable lounge, great terrace overlooking 18, and the Magnolia Grille. The Grille is a sports bar with a great menu – I can personally vouch for the Chicken Pita, and the “On the Tee” to go items are a nice touch. Just outside the restaurant is the display on famous Missouri Golfers, complete with memorabilia from Stewart, Tom Watson, Judy Rankin, and more.
Because of its proximity to town, Branson Hills has been able to create an almost immersive stay-and-play experience. With the Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing and the Hampton Inn at Branson Hills only a short drive from the clubhouse, it’s an easy package deal. Even better are the Branson Hills nightly rentals, a development of villas where groups can stay comfortably in a house of their own. The villas are 2 and 4-bedroom layouts complete with a luxurious living room to sit around and watch post-round SportsCenter, play poker, or BBQ out on the deck. Highly recommended.
As for the course itself, the fairways and greens are kept in excellent shape, making for a defined, sharp look to every hole. Venture very far off line, and you’re in the rocky scrub, but that’s Missouri for you! The greens were the best we played in the area, smooth and fast-paced, with plenty of undulation to account for. The bunkering is certainly in play, although not egregiously so, with many of them being smaller, deeper bunkers that can be pretty tough to get out of. All in all, Branson Hills is very well kept, which is a lot of what makes it such a pleasure to play.
Beauty & Scenery
As it is with most of the area courses, the landscape is the star feature here. This course has plenty of dramatic elevated tees and greens, nearly every hole being a rolling track of beautiful mounds up and down the hillsides. The first hole is a perfect example: right off the bat we have a dramatic tee shot downhill, a gorgeously framed fairway that slips down and back up to a small, turtleback green.
While most of the course’s drama comes from sweeping hills, there is a significant stretch on the back in which water comes into play everywhere. Whether it’s a rocky stream carving along the fairway on the right, or huge pools to carry onto the green, there are some beautiful, albeit challenging water features to navigate.
“Flat” and “boring” are descriptors that could never apply to Branson Hills.
Course Design & Difficulty
The design is the attraction here, a self-described “big course with big features.” The holes are set into the landscape, incorporating exposed rock, hillsides, waterfalls, and streams into the challenge. From the tips is 7,324 yards, but with five distinct tee boxes, the intent is to make the big layout accessible to players of all abilities.
Tee shots require big hits, usually over or below an intermediate target of sorts. The fairways are wide but slant every which way, so second shots are nearly always going to have the ball above or below your feet in addition to being up or downhill. With such sprawling land to work with, the length can catch up with you by the final stretch
After the beauty of the first, the second is a great 200-ish-yard par 3, an elevated tee over scrubland to an even more elevated green that slopes up and away. The hole invites you to wind up short left, from which it takes a controlled pitch to have any hope of par.
No. 8 is a beast of a Par 5, a blind downhill tee shot with a treeline and rough that creep out erratically all along, a pot bunker right where you’re likely to end up, and a second shot even further downhill and blind to a wide green. It’s really fun to play, but not nice to you.
And while 18 is certainly a signature finisher (complete with fairway-spanning front bunker), the Par 4 17th is even more dramatic. With water to carry on the first and second shots, you drive downhill to land it among bunkers and a couple significantly tall trees along the right to menace any short hitters second shot. The green is across more water to the right, with everything sloping off left to the stream, a long bunker protecting the right.
The look and challenge of each shot is completely different out there, so bring your game face. You’ll have a great time, but will be weary after. And if you can play with someone who’s played it before, you’d be all the wiser.
Branson Hills has the unique feel of being completely tucked away and yet right in town. Being such a beautiful, testy layout that is so easily accessible, this course is a can’t miss experience. While other tracks in the area boast must-see mountaintop views, Branson Hills feels natural, peaceful, and absolutely all about the golf.