Discover top-rated golf courses with an unbeatable view in Lake of the Ozarks
By Chelsea Hall
Aim for the lake. The flag is just shy of the water. A few boats nod in the background while their occupants watch the game. A well-manicured carpet of grass slopes downward between the tee and the flag. Touches of red and yellow decorate the trees alongside the fairway. This is Lake of the Ozarks golf.
Golf with a side of lake
Bustling with fishing, speed and pontoon boats in the summer, the lake twinkles a deep sapphire when reflecting clear summer skies. Still active with fishing and boating in the winter, it appears a calm grey. The lake is the most obvious reason visitors come to the area. But exceptional shopping, hiking and golf make Lake of the Ozarks an all-around outstanding retreat.
One special feature of golf here is the floating audience. About half the courses have lakeside holes. In the summer months, it’s not uncommon for 40 boats to be parked by the greens watching from the lake just 30 yards away. Those same boaters may switch places with the golfers the following day.
A 9-month college internship brought Paul Leahy, Lake of the Ozarks Golf Council President, and Director of Golf at Tan-Tar-A Resort, to Lake of the Ozarks. That was a couple of decades ago and he never found a reason to leave. Now a local, he is one of the congenial hosts welcoming visitors.
“Something I tell everyone,” Leahy says, “is: ‘don’t leave without renting a boat, or going on a cruise—get out there [on the lake] so you can really appreciate what’s here.’” One view only available from the water, for example, is of the impressive architecture. Lakefront homes exhibit their stately faces over the lake. The homes are built to take in the beautiful panoramic views.
There are photos of the area online, but Leahy says, “I don’t think the pictures do it justice.”
Spring and summer are the most popular seasons for visitors especially those who enjoy getting in the water for jet skiing and paddle boarding, but Leahy favors fall for golf.
“You’ve got some beautiful golfing September through November!” he says. “Courses are in beautiful shape. Leaves start to change, and you don’t get quite the traffic as in summer.”
Lay of the land
One great perk of Lake of the Ozarks golf is proximity: 13 gorgeous courses within a 15-mile stretch. This density allows for a lot more playtime and a lot less travel time.
Even better is the variety. There’s enough variation to entertain and challenge golfers of every skill level. From flat and easy to more dramatic courses, there’s something for everyone. Some courses were designed on leveled terrain so beginners can enjoy success in the game.
Advanced golfers enjoy the natural challenge. There’s nothing artificial about the difficulty available. The unique topography offers elevation changes and hilly terrain to navigate. These conditions add a mental component—they force a player to think strategically. It shakes things up a bit.
Players of all skill levels appreciate the scenery. If you forgot to bring your clubs, you’ll still enjoy the walk. The courses, designed by a gamut of big names including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, were created with nature in mind. Between the trees, creeks, rocks, wildlife and lake, the courses blend in seamlessly with the landscape.
Leahy’s tenure at Lake of the Ozarks is loaded with fun memories, but there are three especially shining moments for him. One was meeting the professional yet approachable Jack Nicklaus at the opening ceremony of his signature course.
The other two featured unmatched feelings of personal victory when practice, skill and a little bit of luck in the fresh mountain air came together. When these conditions met on two separate occasions for Leahy, he hit a hole-in-one.
Of course Leahy isn’t the only one to find inspiration in the Ozarks. Whether or not you sink an ace on your first visit, that kind of winning spirit is available for every golfer. It’s the environment in which you’re surrounded by beauty, relaxed and feeling good. It’s the environment that makes for an excellent game. Even for the big leagues.
In 1994, three Lake of the Ozark courses together hosted the PGA professional championship. Quick to admit it was several years ago, Leahy enthuses, “Still, it is a feather in our cap.”
With 13 courses operating so closely together, you might expect some business-related grudges, but that’s not what you find here. These courses work together comprising the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail. Leahy speaks of the group of resort pros as being tight-knit, “Even though we’re in competition, we work together really well.”
Not limited to the golf professionals, “We are a family-oriented bunch down here,” Leahy says. That atmosphere becomes clear to visitors as they too are welcomed in as second family—much like what Paul Leahy first experienced himself decades ago.
Get the Vacation Guide and embark on your own Lake of the Ozarks adventure. You’ll find wonderful people, a lake with enough entertainment for a lifetime and amazing golf.