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Ozarks Golf
Osage National Golf Resort

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Worth the Trip

By Bruce Leonard

In reference to the long list of maladies that can creep into a golfer's swing and send scores and blood pressure skyrocketing, my father likes to say, "If we skied as inconsistently as we play golf, we'd find ourselves in the emergency room every other ski vacation." Although breaking a leg while golfing is rare, the game can tempt its practitioners to snap clubs in half, swear off it forever, sell their souls for as little as a made par putt on the local municipal course or, rarely, admit that their game could benefit greatly from lessons administered by a teaching pro. I mention this pernicious, capricious nature of golf because I recently spent one of the best weeks of my life playing golf on six courses that recline near Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Unfortunately, my golf game accompanied me for only part of the trip.

Home to 279 holes on 16 courses, this resort area in central Missouri deserves far more attention as a golf destination than it receives. After golfers have jeopardized the kids' college funds to play the courses elsewhere that Tiger has played, savvy stalkers of fairways and greens should head to Lake of the Ozarks, since the region delivers world-class golf, countless family-friendly attractions, a seemingly endless fish-filled lake and excellent, varied accommodations, which many of the bigger-name resorts do not offer.

Amid threatening skies, I teed off on the Oaks Course at Tan-Tar-A Resort with the Executive Vice President of the Tri County Lodging Association, Jim Divincen. I quelled the first-tee jitters well enough to send a solid drive down the fairway, then somehow managed to sneak a 10-foot putt into the cup to par the first hole of my golfing excursion. Since I'm the kind of golfer who shoots in the 80s on a good day and who may need a calculator and a golf-cart full of Advil on a bad day, I was pleased with this beginning. Had anyone asked what I shot that day on the hilly, intriguing layout, he may have been impressed with my score: 76. Of course, a lightning alarm sounded in the middle of our round, so Jim and I high-tailed it back towards the clubhouse after the 13th hole, arriving just as the clouds burst. Hey, a 76 is a 76.

Early the next day I drove onto the grounds of Osage National Golf Resort, and the ultra-special nature of this fancy resort infused even the morning dew. Tourists who don't golf will linger in the scenic wonders on display from the impressive clubhouse, and golfers may simply drool at the prospect of what lies ahead. Osage National is as much an entity, a community and a place to retire as it is a golf destination. Featuring 27 holes, including Missouri's only Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, Osage National has earned four stars from Golf Digest and is generally considered to feature the best layouts in the region. I found the River and Links nines to be interesting, challenging and well worth the time and expense, though I thought the highly regarded Mountain nine was too demanding and bordered on being gimmicky. I admit, however, that the pea-soup wet condition of the course that April morning may contribute to this assessment.

More likely, though, is that my opinion of the course I played the next day, the Club at Old Kinderhook, simply diminished the appeal of Osage National. I've played golf for more than 30 years, sampling the undulations of thousands of greens, standing on tee boxes of sanctified courses designed by the legends of the game, and I've felt blessed to have had these opportunities. Yet of all the courses I've played, the Club at Old Kinderhook is my favorite. This is a bold and absolute statement, and I will defend my statement thus: Playing Old Kinderhook feels like playing through a painting perfectly crafted by an Old Master. Combining the portent of a Rembrandt portrait with the grace and charm of a Renoir scene, Old Kinderhook delivers wide-open beauty, Titleist-swallowing rough, huge, perfectly true and fair greens and an ostentation-free ethos. I played much of the course in the rain, had to pull my ball from casual water on a few occasions, did not play particularly well, and yet still Old Kinderhook is the course to which I most want to return.

In golf, the expression used to describe a complete collapse of one's game is: The wheels came off. To say that the wheels of my game came off at Sycamore Creek, however, is to imply that my game had once been able to roll. The course is built around ponds that make up a working fish farm, and it is accurate to say that my game swam with the fishes that day, as an embarrassing number of my golf balls still do. One time, after snap hooking yet another ball into the drink, I thought I heard a fish snicker "try another sport, sport." Had I gone fishing then and there, I probably would only have snagged my golf balls. Despite my water-logged experience at Sycamore Creek, the course has been voted the locals' favorite, perhaps because its greens fees are comparatively low.

The courses Witch's Cove and Seasons Ridge are both part of the Lodge of Four Seasons, a gorgeous resort that overlooks the lake. As with the other courses in the region, these two deliver whopping elevation changes and few level lies. I found the greens on both courses to be so fast as to be simply unfair, since a few times well-struck putts went uphill, missed the cup by an inch, then ended up behind me. On the other hand, the front nine of Seasons Ridge is so perfectly laid out and aesthetically pleasing that even a hacker like me doesn't mind missing a putt now and then. Okay, often.

Article Tags: Ozarks Golf

Revised: 11/28/2011 - Article Viewed 31,746 Times

About: Bruce Leonard

Bruce Leonard Bruce Leonard has been a freelance writer/photographer specializing in adventure travel for two decades, his work having been published in dozens of publications, including the Robb Report, Playboy, Travel+Leisure Golf, National Parks and the L.A. Weekly. His first solo art show recently closed, and his writing, photos and paintings can be found at

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