“Grade A Architecture”
Branson Hills Golf Club, Branson, Missouri 1st Hole / 464 Yards / Par-4
Architect: Chuck Smith with Bobby Clampett as consultant (2008)
When architects design opening golf holes there’s a clear sensitivity to the position such a hole occupies in the course of a round.
Players are still trying to get warmed-up for the round so having a starting hole that’s too tough can be overly trying for many players. On the flip side, an opener should not be so blasé as to be utterly forgettable. The 1st at Branson Hills clearly achieves the balancing act that’s needed.
The hole drops 130-feet in elevation so the name Branson Hills clearly is truth in advertising. The views from the various tee boxes is quite an eye-opener as all of the key strategic elements are in clear view. Two fairway bunkers must be avoided and for those players looking to take an aggressive line a play down the left side can provide additional roll if the bunker is carried.
What makes the hole so special is the qualities of the putting surface. The green is 3,604 square feet and a good portion of that total is sloped in a pronounced manner from right-to-left. Being able to control one’s distance control is of high importance so finding the fairway off the tee really helps in that regard.
Complicating matters is a pesky wetlands area that cuts especially close to the left side of the green. Players seeking to avoid that can make an even greater error in hitting approach shots too far to the right. When that happens the fall-away aspect of the green will add even greater pressure on the player to minimize any lasting damage to one’s scorecard.
Blending appropriate challenges is no easy feat for an opening hole. The starter at Branson Hills does well on a number of fronts — being visually striking and strategically consequential.