WHY IT RATES: Travel agents and advisors with clients who love to golf will want to consider Branson as it ranks among the fastest-growing and most compelling North American destinations for golf.—Patrick Clarke, TravelPulse Senior Writer
Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau (Explore Branson) continues investing in its golf product, which is increasingly garnering global attention and traveler demand driven by new, paradigm-shifting courses joining existing high-quality ones in the destination.
Furthering its support for and knowledge that the travel niche is just beginning to achieve critical mass—and is poised to explode through expanded brand awareness—Explore Branson last year joined the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. IAGTO is golf tourism’s global trade organization, featuring more than 2,250 member companies in 98 countries including 568 golf tour operators in 62 countries. IAGTO operators control over 85 percent of all golf vacation packages sold worldwide with annual sales exceeding $2.5 billion.
IAGTO manages annual golf tourism conventions in North America and Asia, the former at which Explore Branson is taking an aggressive promotional role in 2019. Furthermore, the Destination Marketing Organization hopes to expand the IAGTO relationship going forward.
“Because Branson is the fastest-growing and most-compelling place to golf in North America, perhaps the world, being an IAGTO International Sponsor strengthens our relationships with group tour operators as we educate them about the attributes that our destination offers their buyers,” said Samantha Gutting, Branson CVB and Chamber of Commerce Senior VP/Chief Sales Officer. “Underscoring our commitment to and belief in IAGTO, Branson is pursuing becoming the host venue for the North American Conference.”
What appeals to both golfers and golf tour operators about Branson is simple. There are approximately 17,500 courses in North America, but only one place where they’re coming online so fast and so distinctly. The burgeoning golf development in the Branson area features a who’s who of golf legends and course designers, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Fazio and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
What distinguishes the recently developed golf venues from others are their one-of-a-kind components. Nowhere else do players’ green fees get them play on an award-winning course by Nicklaus (Top of the Rock), but also admission to an adjacent geological wonder—the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, complete with underground waterfalls and a bar. That Top of the Rock is the only par-3 layout that has been played as part of a PGA TOUR event in TOUR history—the Bass Pro Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge—underscores its unique excellence.
The geological theme runs through the area golf product. Millions-year-old limestone formations were unveiled and integrated into the Mountain Top Golf Course (designed by Player), which opened for its first full season in 2018. Adding to its unparalleled attributes are its unorthodox length (13 holes) and playing locations—players choose the teeing area on golf holes, which means they provide a different experience with changing starting points.
Part of Big Cedar Lodge, Mountain Top joins Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge Springs with geology and conservation inspiration illuminating the Ozarks’ renowned natural gifts. Buffalo graze adjacent to the latter course. And Top of the Rock sits perched high above the expansive, pristine Table Rock Lake. The course clubhouse includes 150-year-old wood beams transported from a barn in Arnold Palmer’s hometown in Latrobe, Pa. (Palmer designed the mind-boggling all-synthetic-turf driving range.)
Two new courses will open in 2019 and 2020—Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley—both highly anticipated because the former will be played along with Top of the Rock in the Legends of Golf tourney, and the latter is authored by Tiger Woods and his golf architecture firm, TGR Design. It is Woods’ first ever public course—and includes a spectacular 19th hole with remarkable stone outcroppings and waterfalls—bringing to five the number of new courses that will have recently opened in the destination. That’s supersonic speed compared to the turtle’s pace that is post-recession golf course development worldwide.
“With exhilaratingly original new courses coming online and an array of well-regarded golf options existing in the Branson area, the timing is ideal to aggressively promote what Explore Branson area offers visitors,” said Lynn Berry, Branson CVB Director of Communications.
Golf is the newest Branson travel niche to gain extensive appeal there. Well known for its unique combination of “nature and neon,” Branson is an acclaimed live entertainment destination with scores of theaters, top-rated Silver Dollar City amusement park, and several lakes where boating, fishing and other outdoor activities make it middle America’s most visited destination.
That the charming Ozark Mountains enclave has added significant new attractions and development in recent years—from zip lines, museums, and new hotels, to Branson Landing, Dogwood Canyon, and several golf courses—has further catapulted Explore Branson into top destination status. So much so that the New York Times named it No. 21 on its “Top 52 Places to Visit Worldwide” in 2018.
Ozarks National and Top of the Rock are co-host courses of the PGA TOUR Champions Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, April 24-28, 2019. Established Branson courses consistently rank among the best in the state. Branson Hills has been rated the No. 1 public course in Missouri, while Golf Digest bestows that distinction on Buffalo Ridge Springs. Thousand Hills, LedgeStone, and The Pointe at Pointe Royale are other popular options.
Meshed with the vast array of after-golf activities, Branson is tailor-made for intrepid travelers who love exploring best-in-kind places where there is an abundance of leisure, lodging, meeting, event, family, and dining options.
SOURCE: Explore Branson press release.
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