A History Lesson: Golf at the Lake of the Ozarks

Paul Leahy
A view of construction of Hole No. 9 at The Oaks.

As we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Bagnell Dam this summer, let’s take a closer look at the history of golf in the Lake area. How did the construction of the Dam affect the area, and in particular, the construction of the areas courses throughout the years?

As water began to fill and form the Lake of the Ozarks, communities around the newly-formed lake began to grow, and with that, golf came to the area.

Three years after the Dam was completed the community of Eldon opened the first course in 1934. A 9-hole sand green course that has since expanded to 18 holes and regulation grass green complexes. Golf was slow to catch on in the area but in 1950 the second 9-Hole sand green course was opened in Camdenton adjacent to the airport, called the Camdenton Golf Club. The pace of construction began to quicken as the city of Versailles built the third and final sand green 9–hole course, Rolling Hills in 1955.  

In 1962 the Turkey Bend Poultry Farm in Osage Beach was transformed into the Dogwood Hills Golf Course. It was the first 18-hole course and the first course to feature regulation grass greens and really started the three decades of golf course construction in the area. Dogwood Hills had a 52 year run but closed in 2014 to make way for development.

By 1969 two new courses were built and ready for play. The Camdenton Golf Club was replaced by Lake Valley Country Club, an 18-hole member-owned private facility, and The Hidden Lakes Golf Course, now the 9-hole course at Margaritaville Lake Resort, was opened at the Tan-Tar-A Resort in preparation for the 1970 National Governors’ Conference that was held at the resort.    

Golf construction slowed during the 70s with the economic downturn but by 1980 two new 18-hole facilities opened in the area featuring named designers Robert Trent Jones Sr., Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge. The Trent Jones Cove Course opened in 1979 at the Lodge of Four Seasons. In 1980 the Tan-Tar-A Ski slopes were gone and the Devlin/Von Hagge designed Oaks Golf Course opened. These two courses transformed the landscape of golf at the Lake and throughout the 80s were the gems of the area. Each course hosted many collegiate tournaments and other regional events that put the Lake on the golfing landscape in the midwest. By the end of the decade the west side of the Lake opened a new 9-hole course called Indian Rock which later expanded to 18 holes in the mid 90s.  

The 90s was the decade of the golf boom around the country and the Lake area saw five new courses open and three others expand. In 1991 the 9-hole course called Bay View debuted on Y Road in Linn Creek but later closed in 2010. The Lodge of Four Seasons opened their second championship 18-hole course the Ridge. In 1992 North Port National, known today as Osage National, opened their original Arnold Palmer designed 18-hole course to rave reviews and a skins game featuring Arnold, Lee Trevino and Missouri natives Payne Stewart and Tom Watson. By 1999 Sycamore Creek had opened their original 9-hole course and expanded it to 18. In 2016 Sycamore Creek closed its doors after 21 years. Indian Rock and Osage National had also expanded to 18 and 27 holes respectively by the turn of century. 1999 also brought about the opening of the Tom Weiskoph signature 18-hole course the Club at Old Kinderhook. The club is situated on land once known as Empire Ranch, which 30 years before had been days away from becoming the site of Lake Valley Country Club before their existing site was secured.  

Construction of Hole No. 4 at The Oaks.

The turn of the century brought the last of the course expansion to the Lake of the Ozarks. Bear Creek Valley opened in 2001 on land which was once a 250 acre Oak and Hickory Farm. Redfield Golf Club opened in Eugene in 2001 and featured the first course in the area with Bent Grass fairways. The Jack Nicklaus signature course, the Club at Porto Cima, also opened in 2001 with Jack himself here for the grand opening. The Club at Porto Cima has been the gold standard in the Lake area ever since. The final piece was The Club at Deer Chase which opened in 2004 to round out the Lake of the Ozarks golf courses.

Golf has played an important part of the Lake’s history dating back almost 90 years, but none of the growth and success would have been possible without the building of Bagnell Dam. Here’s to wishing Bagnell Dam the best Dam 90th birthday party this summer!