Long before Branson became the country music Mecca of the Ozarks, visitors to the area would come to the Golf Ranch Country Club. Now known as Holiday Hills Resort and Golf Club, the Golf Ranch was a popular spot for golfing or just having fun in the rustic clubhouse for people from all walks of life.
It was in 1938 that golf first came to Branson, Missouri. A well- known Chicago Golf Professional, Don Gardner and his wife, Jill, moved to Branson and developed the Golf Ranch Country Club. Prior to moving to Branson, Don taught golf at the Flossmoor Country Club in Chicago for seventeen years. For several seasons he was a free-lance golf instructor at the Rogers Park Driving Range in Chicago where he had the reputation of giving more golf lessons than any other Golf Pro in the Chicago area. Jill was a well educated woman. Being the daughter of medical missionaries, Jill had the advantage of schooling in Europe and then America. Jill took post-graduate courses in speech at Northwestern and began teaching. She wrote a book, went on the radio, utilizing her wide travel experience and gave lectures, utilizing her musical voice.
In the winters (off season for Don) the Gardner’s would tour the country filling Jill’s lecture engagements. Always, as they drove through 38 states, they looked for a spot where they could establish a golf ranch. One year, their tour led through the Ozarks. They fell in love with the hills and eventually came back to the “Shepherd of the Hills country” and purchased a wide farm, lying along highway 80 (now known as E-76) just outside Branson.
Don and Jill’s first task was to turn a pasture into a golf course. The Gardner’s did a lot of trading in those days, as did most of the old-time farmers. When Don wanted to replace the existing wire fence with log fence, he reportedly put a sign on the neat wire fence saying he would trade it for an old log fence. Farmers thought he was crazy! Don and Jill learned a lot about trading those first years. Golf club memberships sold to local people were largely taken out in trade, groceries, stock feed, lumber, nails, and just about anything the Gardner’s needed.
Then came World War II! Don, still under 38, was drafted and served as a member of the Armed Forces for twenty-seven months, spending fifteen months in the ETO. After the war ended, Don was made a member of the Golf Team of the Third Army and was able to play many of the best and most famous golf courses in Europe, England and Scotland, even the renowned St. Andrew’s course. Even during combat days, Don had found opportunity to see golf courses, collecting souvenirs along the way.
Now, the Gardner’s long planned golf ranch was a reality, with the course stretching to eighteen holes, a water hazard and sand greens. There were many things that made this ranch unique. Don reported would hitch an open trailer equipped with deck chairs to his tractor and haul golf students to the teaching range. Jill was known for frying up chicken and baking pies for their guests. There were mural masterpieces throughout the dining room depicting the Gardner’s golfing, authoring, lecturing, farming and soldiering. A lot of the wonderful memorabilia from those days can still be seen at the new Holiday Hills.
Don and Jill Gardner sold the Golf Ranch in 1964, with Don retaining the Pro Shop, teaching privileges and golf shows. Many an Ozark vacationer, who never held a golf club before in his life, has taken a brief course of lessons and learned to play the Golf Ranch course within a week. Just mention the word golf around Branson and Don’s name is sure to come up. There was a landing strip at the Golf Ranch, and people came from all over the United States to take lessons from Don. Many a seasoned golfer has cured a shank, a hook, or a slice in five minutes with Don Gardner’s expert help. On Tuesdays and Friday evenings Don entertained hundreds of people with his golf show extravaganza and his “bag of tricks”.
Back then, in the early days of golfing in Branson, big stars came to play at the Golf Ranch. Forrest Tucker of “FTroop” is shown in a four- some with Don Gardner in 1952. Charlton Heston frequented the Golf Ranch in 1954. And even today, many of the stars you come to see perform on stage in Branson, can be seen on the course, maybe playing right next to you.
Branson’s first and oldest course, the Golf Ranch Country Club is now Branson’s newest golf club, Holiday Hills Resort and Golf Club. Holiday Hills has recently completed a multi-million dollar total re-build. Their goal was to build a new championship 18-hole course that the vast majority of golfers would enjoy, while at the same time offering a stiff challenge for more competitive golfers from the back tees.
What was once a nine-hole course, is now 18-holes with par 68, 5,771 yards with Hybrid Bermuda Fairways and Tees and Bent grass Greens. There are over 50 large bunkers, and water comes into play on five holes. Each hole has four sets of tee boxes for each level of play; ladies tees being the most accessible. The bunkers are very playable; the greens are large with a lot of undulations. Several greens have a double elevation, making it very important for golfers to place their ball on the correct side of the green, or face some difficult putts. Holiday Hills has a Class A Golf Professional on site that offers lessons and clinics to teach you how to play golf or just help you improve your game. Branson has been an area most known for it’s variety of music shows, beautiful lakes, tournament fishing, outlet mall shopping and now, with the addition of Holiday Hills new course, for it’s great golf courses. Branson is fast becoming a golf destination; between Stone and Taney counties you will find some of the finest golf facilities in the region with some of the most beautifully landscaped courses mingled throughout the Ozark Mountains.
The weather in the Branson area brings new scenery to the golf courses each season. Spring brings the blooms of the dogwood and redbud trees. Summer boasts the plush greenery covering the Ozark Mountains with various trees and colorful wildflowers. Trees are ablaze with reds, oranges, and yellows in the Autumn (my favorite season). And finally Winter offers us endless views of the Ozarks, as the trees shed their leaves, exposing yet another world of hidden beauty.
As you are making your vacation plans for Branson, Missouri, don’t forget your golf clubs. The staff at Holiday Hills invites you to play a “round” with them. The scenery alone is breathtaking. Your round of golf at Holiday Hills will promise to be a golfing adventure you won’t forget!