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      It's tee time

      You might be tempted to carry an extra weapon when you play Sycamore Creek Golf Club.

      A fishing pole.

      Then again, you probably shouldn't.

      The par-72 course at the Lake of the Ozarks is built around an internationally-known fish hatchery that has been owned and operated by the Kahrs family for more than 55 years.

      They raise crappie, catfish, gar, paddlefish and spoonbill, to name a few. They send fish to Bass Pro Shops around the country, eggs to China, caviar to Japan and Russia, and even stock private ponds.

      They have an indoor hatchery and three fish farms that need to be monitored for poachers --- not the human kind, but nature's poachers.

      Which brings us to this, a fabulous story about the patriarch of the Kahrs family, Jim, who died seven years ago. A nicer man you'll never meet.

      "When we first opened (1995), we used to be cart-path only all the time when we were just nine holes," Sycamore Creek General Manager Danna Kahrs said. "I would tell people when they checked in that there's a guy out there with a rifle, so stay on the cart path. And they would laugh at me.

      "Well, Jim had a golf cart and he was always out running around the golf course, and he would carry a rifle to shoot snapping turtles or snakes, things that were in the fish ponds that would eat the fish.

      "So at the turn, the golfers would come in and say, 'My gosh, you were serious! There really is a guy out there with a rifle!'"

      Great stuff. This would be a new definition of a shotgun start.

      There haven't been many golfers at Sycamore for many months as the Kahrs, along with the rest of us, endured a long, cold, lonely winter.

      "It was extremely bad," Kahrs said. "Even sometimes when we had nicer days, there would be ice or snow on the ground, so you couldn't play.

      "Everyone that I've spoken to, no matter what state they're from, their winter was absolutely horrible. The people from the north who are coming down here have experienced an abnormally cold winter, themselves.

      "They are ready to get outside and play golf."

      Aren't we all.

      But golf has changed, Danna said, since 9-11.

      "We don't have the same expectations we had when we first opened," she said. "People spend their money differently, people look at things differently. It was an immediate impact and it has continued with the economy ever since.

      "When families come on vacation, it used to be dad could play two or three rounds of golf in a week. Now, he's lucky to get in one or two. So the face of golf has changed a bit, but overall, it's still a good industry to be in."

      Danna runs Sycamore Creek with her husband, Pete, his brother, Steve and their sister, Jody. And they run a great operation and an eye-appealing, challenging golf course, which has four sets of tees ranging from 4,372 yards to 6,277 yards.

      This year, the "new" nine --- which opened in 1999 --- has become the front nine, after it served as the back nine for 14 years.

      "The theory behind that was to start on a long par-5 so people could start with a driver, because this is a golf course where you don't use the driver very often," she said. "And you play the easier nine first and get warmed up before you play the holes that are more challenging around the fish hatcheries."

      The picturesque 17th hole, a 320-yard par-4, is worthy of something you'd see at Augusta --- flowers and nature at its best. The best hole may be No. 11, a par-4 and the No. 1 handicap hole --- even though it's just 358 yards from the back tees.

      "Don't be swayed by the look of the shorter yardage," Kahrs said, "because the challenge of the golf course itself will make up for it.

      "We have a lot of people that decide to play the blue tees, and it just eats them alive."

      Just like the snapping turtles and snakes can do to the fish.

      So if you hear a gunshot while enjoying this golf course, play on.

      You're safe ... and it's worth it.