MissouriApril 30, 2012

My Town: Rudy Gatlin's Branson

Music shouldn't be the only thing that comes to mind about the Missouri town

The 18th hole at Branson Creek GC.

The 18th hole at Branson Creek GC.

It wasn't long ago, Rudy Gatlin recalls, that golf was just a novelty in Branson, Mo. Back in the 1980s, when he and his older brothers, Larry and Steven, began coming to the sleepy town in the Ozark Mountains to perform their Grammy-award winning country songs, the trio of avid golfers had essentially one place, Pointe Royale GC

, to satisfy their golf fix.

In the ensuing years, as Branson grew to become "the live music show capital of the world," so did its appeal as a golf destination. With a dozen courses now open to the public, showgoers have something to do before taking their seats in one of Branson's 50-plus theaters.

"It reminds me of Las Vegas, but it's more affordable," said Gatlin, a regular on the celebrity golf circuits who still plays to a 1-handicap at age 59. "You can come here for three or four days, play some great courses, see some great shows and it's not going to cost you an arm and a leg."

A trip to Branson becomes more eventful this summer as the town marks the 100th anniversary of its incorporation with several celebratory events.

COURSES

A trip to Branson becomes more eventful this summer as the town marks the 100th anniversary of its incorporation with several celebratory events.

Just a couple miles from the airport is Murder Rock GC

. You pass by it to get to downtown. John Daly is the guy behind it. The clubhouse is set on top of a hill that has a pretty spectacular view. The front nine goes off to one side and the back nine the other. It's not a long course, but is a fun place to start your trip.

Just down the road is Branson Creek GC

. It's a Tom Fazio that's a brute. There are some back tees that are for the big boys. You see a lot of wildlife, deer and turkeys especially. It's a pretty neat setting.

Payne Stewart GC

opened in 2008 and is another nice track. I broke down the first time I walked into the clubhouse. There are photos from Payne's life. They've done a great job with his legacy.

The other place to stop is the Pointe Royale Golf Village

, which was here when we first performed in the 1980s. It's been redone and is a good little track.

DINING

The Andy Williams Moon River Grill is across from the Andy Williams Theater. The place touts how they serve meals from Andy's mother's old recipes. There's lots of neat memorabilia on the walls. If you like Branson, this is a quintessential place to see.

Elenita's Mexican Cafe is on Highway 76, the main drag in Branson. You wouldn't necessarily think of Mexican food here, but it's worth it.

If you're playing at Murder Rock, the restaurant at the course, Glenn's, is actually pretty good too. They only serve lunch but build in time to get something there.

WHERE TO STAY

A lot of the theaters have hotels and casinos, so there is no shortage of places to stay. Aside from those, Chateau on the Lake Resort stands out to me. It overlooks Table Rock Lake and has some fantastic views.

Another neat place is the Big Cedar Lodge. Same thing, it's got some fantastic views of the lake. It's owned by the guy behind Bass Pro Shops so it has a pretty impressive gift shop. It's in a wooded area where you can rent cabins. It's pretty rustic and secluded, kind of a getaway-from-it-all destination.

DON'T MISS

Of course Branson is known for the musical shows. Most are country or bluegrass, although there's more variety than you think. The Moody Blues have come through here and there are Beatles and Motown shows. There are also non-musical acts similar to Las Vegas.

Mark Twain National Forest offers lots of camping and outdoor experiences. You also can fish, swim, canoe and kayak at Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake. ... There are some caverns where there are tours, one of them being Talking Rocks Cavern. And water parks are a big hit for folks who bring their families.