Despite the lack of a marquee design pedigree, Bear Creek Valley Golf Club in central Missouri's popular Lake of the Ozarks vacation hotbed offers great value, a fun layout and conditions that impress even PGA Tour pro Trevor Dodds.
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – Golfers planning their itineraries at a new travel destination often become fixated on certain aspects of prospective courses, insisting on big-time length, big-name course architects, or big-ticket greens fees. Talking to some golfers you'd get the impression that any golf course designed by a non-household name that doesn't stretch to 7,200 yards and doesn't cost more than $100 a round isn't worth a visit.
But the truth is that excellent, enjoyable tracks can be found in the most unexpected places, and they can be laid out by anyone with a good sense of the land and the game. And golf is even more fun when a round doesn’t cost more than a night at your hotel.
At the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri, there are around 13 golf courses to select from, including several by famous course designers. But arguably the most underrated course around the lake is Bear Creek Valley Golf Club, which looks like it starts out the back side of a strip mall and won't cost more than $60 even during peak season.
How Bear Creek Valley Golf Club plays
At 6,796 yards from the tips, and just 6,197 yards from the regular tees, Bear Creek Valley doesn't overwhelm you with length. And the rather organic, collaborative design by owner Shirrel Duncan and superintendent Jeff Summerer won't overwhelm you with big names. Nevertheless, the course offers more fun, memorable holes dollar for dollar than any other track on the lake.
The conditioning of the zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens is also top-notch. In fact, PGA Tour pro Trevor Dodds, a homeowner on Lake of the Ozarks and recent visitor to Bear Creek Valley Golf Club, declared that it had "better conditions than some of the courses that we play [on the PGA Tour]."
From the road, just off the main strip in Osage Beach, the clubhouse and attached Ruthie D's restaurant look like part of a strip mall. First-time visitors might hardly even notice the verdant holes sloping off the back side of the parking lot. Approaching the clubhouse, though, you notice that the back tee box of the first hole is wedged between the practice green and the steps of the pro shop. The coziness of the place actually brings to mind many golf courses in Scotland.
Players who decide to play from the tips are faced not only with an audience from the practice green, the pro shop, and the deck of the clubhouse grill, but also with a 174-yard carry over a pond to a saddle-back fairway with trees right and OB left.
And the layout gets even more fun from there.
The best design feature any golf course can have is providing options for players from tee to green. Bear Creek Valley Golf Club offers lots of options, along with a nice mix of long and short holes, uphill and downhill holes, and more and less challenging tee shots.
Two of the most memorable holes are par 3s: the 174-yard seventh and the 183-yard 16th. The interesting aspect of the seventh hole is that it plays so radically uphill to a blind green that you might need to add two or more clubs. And hitting a high mid-iron or long iron makes for a very tough three-shotter. On the other hand, the 16th drops some 60 feet from tee to green, requiring about two less clubs than the yardage would dictate.
There are plenty of rollicking longer holes as well, including opportunities for muscle-flexing, fist-bumping drives on the 426-yard fifth (aim right of center), the 501-yard eighth (a "feast or famine" par 5), and the 535-yard 14th (the best eagle opportunity of all).
Not all tee shots are so much fun, though, as Bear Creek Valley Golf Club tests both length and accuracy on the 418-yard 12th and the 438-yard 13th. The 13th hole features an uphill tee shot, blind second shot, and tree trouble all down the right and left sides of the fairway.
Perhaps my personal favorite, though, is the 345-yard 15th, where the downhill tee shot finds a wide, flat landing area, followed by a short wedge to the big green laying at a 90-degree angle from the end of the fairway. Lest you think this sounds too easy, there is one lone tree rising staunchly between the fairway and green that seems to block off far more approaches than you'd think.
Bear Creek Valley Golf Club: The verdict
On Lake of the Ozarks, golfers will find longer courses than Bear Creek Valley Golf Club, and courses by word-famous architects. They'll find more expensive courses, and courses that boast adjoining resorts and spas. But they won't find any that are more memorable or as downright fun as Bear Creek Valley.
The golf course has other things going for it as well, including some of the friendliest service on the lake and one of the best blackened grouper sandwiches you'll find in the Midwest. And the unique routing that loops back to a nicely stocked (and air-conditioned!) halfway house works very well.
Shortcomings of Bear Creek Valley Golf Club are hard to find. The practice range is irons only, and the aforementioned first tee shot might get on some players' nerves. In short, from clubhouse to 18th green to 19th hole, Bear Creek Valley offers one of the best golf experiences on Lake of the Ozarks. For more information, visit www.funlake.com.