Golf in Missouri
In an hour or so, we will cross the Mississippi at Memphis, and wander up into the Springfield, Missouri area (Mizzouree to some, Mizzoura to others). Missouri is the “Show Me” state, which is pretty much what competitive golf comes down to, so the state sets a good example.
Missouri has a lot of personalities, touching eight states from different regions. To the north is Iowa, with Kentucky and Tennessee to the east. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas sit to the west, with Arkansas to the south. The Mississippi runs alongside, and the Ozarks run through. To the north are agricultural plains, so course designers have a lot of interesting land to play with – and they have. The state boasts almost four hundred courses, some of them utterly spectacular. Visitors should take note, however. Missouri is also home to some very extreme weather. The winters can be cold, the summers are hot and humid, and the threat of tornadoes is ever-present, such as the one that destroyed much of Joplin in 2011. Many of the promotions for Missouri courses mention a lightning warning, but the threat doesn’t usually last long.
One might think of Missouri as an ancestor of the western golf as well, since towns like Jefferson City became the jumping off point for the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express. Only the most zealous devotee of the game would think that Lewis & Clark were really on the lookout for championship courses of the future, but one thing does lead to another.
Various lists tout the top ten or fifteen courses in the state, but courses that appear regularly seem to include courses in Branson. This town grew up some years ago as an alternative, or companion music city to Nashville, and I can remember people in Tennessee saying, “Will the last one out of Nashville please turn the lights out?” That, fortunately, didn’t happen, and they are both going places. The best municipal course in Branson seems to be Branson Creek in Hollister, designed by Fazio, and opening in ’99. A nearby par 70 of note is said to be Pointe Royale.
In the large urban area of St. Louis, one of the best things going is the Hale Irwin designed Quail Creek Golf Club. Watch for the National Golf Club in Kansas City, designed by Tom Watson and the venerable Hickory Hills of Springfield, established in 1926.
If you could put them all in the same era, and in their primes, Missouri could field a pretty good all-star golf roster. Although many think of John Daly as a Tennessean, he played for Helias High School in Jefferson City before attending college in Arkansas. Payne Stewart was an alum of the state as well, perishing in a plane malfunction right after winning the U.S. Open by sinking a fifteen footer.
Tom Watson was born in Kansas City, 1949, going on to win 39 titles and 8 majors, including five British Opens. At 62, he is still a presence on the Champions Tour, and still seems able to pull out a young man’s game from time to time.
I look forward to revisiting this beautiful state that belongs to so many regions of the country at once, and hope you’ll get the chance to do the same.
And then, of course, there’s Horton Smith – Horton Who? The Horton Smith who won the first Masters played at Augusta, that’s who – the won who won 22 events by the age of thirty, and won the Masters again – the one inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, the guy from Sprinfield.
I look forward to revisiting this beautiful state that belongs to so many regions, and playing again when winter disappears, and all that green reveals itself again. I hope you get the chance as well.