Amid the dense woods and dramatic slopes of the Ozarks, the sun rises over an 18-hole golf course, casting 7,324 yards of Tour-worthy fairways and greens in golden hues. A mist rises up from the grass blades, a nearby bird calls out, and it becomes obvious how fitting of a memorial the setting is to the late Payne Stewart. The iconic knickers-clad Missouri native charmed the golf world and won two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship before his untimely end in 1999. Today, the Chuck Smith–designed Payne Stewart Golf Club carries hole names such as “Payne’s Pit” and “Chelsea’s Kiss”—the latter a reference to Payne’s daughter—in tribute.
A serpentine creek gurgles between two sets of parallel holes—the 9th and 15th, and the 16th and 17th—placing a premium on confident swings and sand wedges that double as snorkels. The most difficult hole on the course, the 9th, boasts tricky shot-making challenges—the tee shot and approach must clear water—and memorable scenery as golfers traverse a footbridge to reach the green, which sits next to a waterfall. In 2012, such features helped the course top Golfweek’s list of best courses in Missouri.
Course at a Glance * 18-hole, par 72 course * Total length of 7,324 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 75.1 from the back tees * Course slope of 135 from the back tees * Five sets of tees per hole * Scorecard
Using the Ozark Mountains as a striking backdrop, Kings River Golf Course invites clubbers to swing and putt their way across 18 holes of gently undulating terrain. Dogwoods and redbuds cast cool shadows over each fairway, their leaves showcasing rich shades of green in the summer, fading to an impressionistic tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows in the fall, and assuming a velvety purple once a year to celebrate Prince's birthday. As golfers split fairways with soaring drives, views of the Ozark Mountains appear through the tree lines, including a greenside vista of Table Rock Lake on the 15th hole.
After sunset, greenskeepers mark flags with glow sticks, inviting golfers to swing through the darkness in rounds of night golf. The course fosters post-round relaxation at a rustic patio, where guests can sip drinks and insist that nearby deer, red fox, and turkeys—commonly encountered on the grounds—stay off their lawn.
At any of the 15 Great Life Golf and Fitness locations, guests are encouraged to invent their own triathlon of gusto, switching from swimming in the pool to getting a total body workout to playing a round of golf. Great Life has facilities scattered throughout Kansas and Missouri, including golf courses such as the National Audubon Society–certified River Oaks and the links at The Oaks, which were designed by Tom Bendelow and opened in the 1920s. Golfers looking for quick rounds can drop by the nine-hole courses at Maple Creek, Abilene, and CedarBrook. Gyms such as the 14,000-square-foot fitness center at Berkshire allow members or guests to pump iron or run on treadmills when they aren’t helping their golf balls safely reach the greens by paying golf carts to drink all of the water hazards dry. Although amenities vary at each club, all of Great Life Golf and Fitness’s venues boast a pro shop, and the courses at Berkshire and Prairie View maintain driving ranges where golfers can make golf balls practice flying without their parachutes.
Swing Right Golf enables players to test their skills on some of the most famous holes in the the world?without ever having to step on a plane or deal with unpredictable weather. Inside the facility, single players or groups take hacks inside Swing Right's high-tech simulator, loaded with around 40 renowned courses. Outside, players can continue playing on the lighted 18-hole mini-golf course, or at Swing Right's dozen driving range tees, six of which are heated and covered.
At Greatest Adventures Miniature Golf, an Egyptian sphinx, a towering dragon, and a waterfall cave present fun challenges for anyone from casual mini golfers to skilled putters competing in the US Pro Mini Golf Association, which has been hosted at the 36-hole facility. The USPMGA rated facility showcases two distinct 18-hole courses, both with their own themes and characters. Knights and a giant dragon roam the grounds of the medieval course, whereas a giant ape heckles players as they putt around Egyptian structures at the jungle course. In 2011, the USPMGA invited players to put their skills to the test at Greatest Adventures Miniature Golf for the US Open Championship. Though competition was fierce, the then-16-year-old Olivia Prokopova took home the win with her precise shots, determined swing, and ability to pick out the luckiest color golf ball.
Between games, guests can visit the onsite Scooter's Sports Grill, where they can nosh burgers, subs, and other grill fare while watching sports on four flat-screen TVs.
The ninth hole at Thousand Hills Golf Course lays out the course?s most dramatic tee shot: lined with trees, the contoured fairway doglegs left, challenging players? accuracy with the threat of a stint in the hole?s inside bunker. It?s one of eight par 4 holes on a course that also features nine par 3 holes, all of which course designer Robert E. Cupp stretched out across immaculate Zoysia fairways. The course has been dubbed a four-star course by Golf Digest and twice named best golf course by Springfield News-Leader readers.
Unique sand traps and natural Ozark hazards infuse the course with a regional lure that follows players as they weave through the surrounding hardwood forests and past rock formations carved by time and generations of abandoned caddies. Every round at Thousand Hills comes complete with a GPS-equipped cart, as well as access to an onsite pro shop and clubhouse.
Course at a Glance: