Up & Down in the Hills around Lake of the Ozarks

By: Steve Habel

Set nearly in the middle of the "Show Me State" virtually equidistant from Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east, the Lake of the Ozarks attracts all manner of visitors, most of all whom seek relaxation that a few days - or weeks or months - on the water.

The Lake of the Ozarks opened 70 years ago after the construction of Bagnell Dam backed up the Osage River and four others to form what was then the largest man-made lake in the country, encompassing some 61,000 acres. When completed, there were 1,300 miles of indented shoreline, more than the California coast.

As the area developed, arcades, souvenir shops and lakeside cabins gave it a reputation as a family destination. While that remains the Lake of the Ozarks' underlying charm, during the past two decades the region has become more sophisticated. Spas have opened, multimillion-dollar golf courses have been built and the lake is now considered a top-rate retirement area.

During a trip to the region over the span of an oft-rainy four days in June, we focused on two things - having fun and playing a lot of golf. In this region where you can play as many as 279 holes and never play the same hole twice, those two goals were not mutually exclusive.

The fifth hole at the Ridge

The Ridge is a Rollercoaster Ride

Up-and-down action and challenging sidehill lies are the greatest features of the Ridge Golf Course at the Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, just north of Osage Beach. Cut through the tall stands of timber, this course's hills and valleys boast more than 180 feet of elevation change and are accentuated with natural rock walls and a spring-fed lake.

Designed by Ken Kavanaugh and opened in 1991 as Seasons Ridge, the Ridge has been ranked by Golf Digest as a 4-star course in its "Places to Play." Many golfers refer to the 18-hole track's altitude drops and generous landing areas as player-friendly, but without a doubt the Ridge allows players to enjoy rolling hills, bunches of native wildflowers and beautiful views of the lake.

The 6th Green at the Ridge

The Ridge - which plays to just 6,447 yards from its back set of four tees - boasts numerous vistas that offer scenic views and elevated holes that are played downhill, which everyone enjoys. The course also offers good-sized greens with two or three tiers to spice things up.

There is just one par-4 of more than 400 yards at the Ridge, as the track tempts you with short two-shotters (at least four that can be challenged, even from the tips) that demand laser-like accuracy and outstanding wedge play.

You get a great indication of what the round offers while standing on the first tee. The par-4 340-yard opener plays sharply downhill and turns gently to the right toward the two bunkers. Think twice before reaching for the driver here as the smart play is laying up to leave a short iron into the green.

You then venture back uphill the entire length of the 410-yard par-4 third, whose real defense is its tiny green. Miss the putting surface to left on your approach and you'll have a slippery downhill chip. If you miss right you may have a blind chip shot up the hill.

The Ridge's signature hole is No. 6, a 555-yard par-5 that is a straight and skinny challenge and sports a big creek across the fairway in front of the humongous, three-tiered green. This hole is widely considered to be the toughest par-5 in the area.

The 10th hole is - at 560 yards - is another tough par-5, requiring three quality shots if you want a shot at birdie. The hardest shot on the hole is the second, as a long bunker and creek run along the right 200 yards from the putting surface pinches the landing area. Play it safe and leave yourself a comfortable distance into the flat, deep green.

The 341-yard 11th is another of the par-4s you may want to take a swing at, but think twice as the fairway narrows very quickly and doesn't allow much room for inaccuracy. Hole placement on a small tier on the green can make for a tricky birdie attempt. No. 12 is the best of the Ridge's four par-3s, as - at 165 yards - you have to contend with a carry over an arm of the lake ,a hill behind the green, and a bunker in front.

The round ends with two holes that can make or break your score. The 554-yard par-5 17th buttonhooks leftward at the 100-yard mark, forcing you to decide how much to cut off the approach. A huge bunker awaits underneath the elevated green.

The closing hole is another temptress, and at just 322 yards and full of adrenaline to finish well you may not take into consideration the 15 bunkers scattered along the fairway from the landing area to the green. Even if you reach the green off the tee, the 18th's main defense is a back-to-front sloping putting surface.

The Ridge contains Zoysia fairways, excellent playing conditions and smooth, fast greens. Golfweek magazine selected it as the sixth-best public course in Missouri. The course carries a rating of 71.4 and a slope of 130 - pretty stout for a track that plays to less than 6,500 yards.

For more information, visit www.4seasonsresort.com.

The 11th Hole at Rolling Hills

Rolling Hills Sports Many Tests & a Love-Hate Hole

On our return to Kansas City we stopped off in Versailles at Rolling Hills Country Club, which bills itself as the first golf course built in the Lake of the Ozarks. Opened as a nine-hole course in 1956 and eventually expanded to 18 holes, the layout features a park-like setting amid mature woodlands. Its hills and strategically-placed bunkers provide a varied and fun-to-play setting.

Rolling Hills is a semiprivate, par-71 track about 35 minutes from either Osage Beach or Camdenton that measures 6,590 yards from the tips. Some of the Lake area's best bentgrass greens and tight Bermuda fairways are highlights of the course, which had some maintenance issues when we visited.

The venue has many mature trees dotting the landscape situated in a rural atmosphere. It's conveniently close to the lake, yet removed enough to ensure a tranquil experience. Rolling Hills's rating is 70 and it has a slope of 121.

We liked the foursome of par-3s at Rolling Hills, the toughest of which is the 201-yard 11th. Here you play uphill and over the corner of a pond to a difficult-to-reach green.

The course's signature hole is No. 17, a 396-yard par-4 that turns sharply to the right and requires a left-to-right tee shot of about 220 yards. From that point, the golfer will have an approach of about 140 yards to a devilish green protected by a lake short and right, and out of bounds left. The verdict is usually split: half the players love this hole and the rest don't, but everyone surely remembers it.

For more information, visit www.playrollinghills.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.