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Much more than you might imagine in Branson

By Paul Knowles
April 17, 2017 - 0 comments

Let’s consider your ideas about Branson, Missouri, for a moment. Unless you have been there very, very recently, you’re probably wrong.

Not that the stereotype – country music shows, family entertainment, lots of seniors on bus trips – is entirely off base. In fact, local tourism experts still laughingly point out that Branson is about “faith, flag and family.”

It’s just that this image only tells a small fraction of the story. If the motto hadn’t already been taken by Ontario, you could argue that there is “more to discover” in Branson, from one of the highest-end par three golf courses in the world, to a restaurant in a barn with connections to Arnold Palmer, to a surprisingly excellent and emotionally engaging museum dedicated to the Titanic.

There are 47 performance halls in Branson, which presented 143 different shows last year. And while these shows include country music extravaganzas– and downhome humour – there is a much broader spectrum of entertainment than you might expect, including musical theatre, rock ‘n’ roll, and gospel.

In general, it’s clear that the fine folks of Branson are doing something right. They say there are only 10,000 residents (actually, there are probably about 11,000, but the locals, boosters to a person, feel that 10,000 sounds better), but they welcomed about 8.8 million visitors in 2016.

Many came for the shows, from the Presley Family theatre, which celebrates 50 years in 2017 (no relation to Elvis, by the way), to the huge hit, “Million Dollar Quartet,” signed to a fi ve-year run at Welk Resorts (and yes, involving Elvis), to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede (you knew Dolly had to be here, somehow, didn’t you?)

Titanic Museum tribute

But a surprising number come for other very good reasons, such as the array of outdoor activities, or the Titanic Museum, which drew 350,000 visitors last year, and in 2017 pays tribute to James Cameron’s movie, “Titanic”, on its 20th anniversary, with an exhibit of costumes from the movie.

And then there is the golf. If golf is the centerpiece of your trip, you might want to start at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort, selfdescribed as “the world’s best Par 64.” Don’t make the mistake we did – assuming because it’s “only Par 64”, you can play from the longest tees. Bad decision – it’s still a challenging course, but with nine par 3’s, eight par 4’s and one 5. But it’s a beautiful course, with lots of risk-reward. Favourite hole? Number 9, with the elevated green cut into a rock face, fronted by a creek (there is water on play on 13 of the holes). Number 9 could be the signature hole of any golf course.

Great news for golfers

Perhaps the most challenging course in Branson is Branson Hills Golf Club, with a gorgeous but diffi cult layout that makes the most of the Ozark scenery on offer – and therefore involves some pretty signifi cant elevation changes on some holes.

The most experienced golfers in our group loved it; the less adept found it tough. But the scorecard does offer one ideal option – the “Combo” tees, which use some silver and some orange tees to provide a game measuring just under 5900 yards.

Branson is where Johnny Morris makes his home. The larger-than-life Morris is the founder of the ubiquitous Bass Pro Shops chain (and yes, there’s a big one in Branson), and he also owns a very high-end golf complex here. It includes the challenging – and expensive – Top of the Rock Par Three course (not for the rookie), and the utterly beautiful Buffalo Ridge golf course, where it’s instantly clear that no expense has been spared. Frankly, almost any hole could be labeled as a “signature” hole – they’re that pretty.

Morris has teamed up with golfi ng legend Gary Player to build another world-class short course, which opens this spring (originally intended to have 12 holes, insiders suggest it will actually have 13). Morris’ “Top Of The Rock” properties include Arnie’s Barn Restaurant, the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum, and the Lost Canyon Cave.

Map a strategy

People typically come to Branson for a few days – and go home lamenting all the things they didn’t get to do. So one key is, plan very carefully in advance. There is a lot – a whole lot – on offer in this boomtown.

A good place to start is the Branson Visitor Bureau – www. explorebranson.com – where you’ll find information about the dozens of shows, the newest attractions (from the paddle-wheeler Showboat Branson Belle to the Runaway Mountain Coaster to the “Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud”).

You simply must have breakfast at the uber-quaint Billy Gail’s; lunch at Arnie’s Barn; lunch or dinner at Danna’s BBQ & Burger Shop (try the catfish); and dinner at Level 2 Steakhouse (where you pick your perfect utensil from a vast array of steak knives).

It’s clearly impossible to cover “everything Branson” in one article – there are literally hundreds of potential attractions, from outdoor recreation ranging from fi shing to hiking to golf; dinner theatres; Broadway style shows; shopping; museums, and more.

One thing is top of mind for Branson tourism types, though – they remain serious about the “family” part of their three-f motto. The town has rejected applications for casinos or “gentlemen’s clubs”; they even cleaned up the language a bit in “Million Dollar Quartet” to guarantee that people will find fun, and not offense, in their small town that somehow finds room for about nine million guests, every year.

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