Shepherd's Crook Golf Course: Head North to a Golfer's Paradise
Shepherd's Crook Golf Course, Keith Foster's first course in the Chicagoland area, is located in Zion about an hour north of the city just south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. If the thought is that it is too far to play, think again, because Shepherd's Crook is a golfer's paradise.
The links-style course, which opened last fall, uses bent grass is used to cover the hilly, undulating terrain. Unlike many courses in the northern area, which lay on large pieces of property, Shepherd's Crook was built on just 125 acres. Because of the lack of space, Foster decided to make the course one in which accuracy instead of length is the priority.
Shepherd's Crook has four tees with the longest measuring 6800 yards. With the next tee length being 6200 yards and the shortest two tee lengths being 6000 and 4900 yards, the course is for every skill level and length. Most long hitters off the tee will not be able to pull out their drivers much on this course. But like most risk-reward courses it is up to the golfer on how much to bite off.
During my trek around the links on a hot, windy afternoon I found this out the hard way. I am a typical 15 handicap who can look great on one hole and terrible on the next. My round started with three solid drives down the right side of each of the first three holes.
But by the time I got to my ball I realized the trouble I was in at 240 yards from the tee. Each time I had buried myself in an ugly trap and was not able to make par.
After standing on the tee three times and hitting three well-struck drives I was 3-over. I also realized it wasn't necessarily my decision making but play making. This course was making me pay for average drives and missed putts.
The hot dry weather made the putting surfaces fast and unnerving. The greens are gigantic with massive valleys and hills, which in turn, made getting on in regulation and near the pin a priority to scoring well. But I was standing on the first par-3 of the day so the thought of me changing my approach ended quickly.
After dumping my five iron into a bunker on the left side of the 200-yard hole and walking away with another bogie, I realized I was in trouble.
After a par and a bogey on the next two holes, which were par-4s, I came up to one of my favorite holes on the course. A short par-4 with a deep, brutal bunker stuck almost in the middle of the fairway 250 yards from the tee box.
Could I put it over and have an easy wedge to the green or should I pull out a long iron and be safe? I enjoy having options like this especially when my game is not as consist, because it is the game within the game. I choose right and slammed a three iron 110 yards from the green just in front of the bunker. I hit a solid wedge and walked away with my second par of the day.
The next hole is a par-3 in which I realized again how tough the greens are. I hit a solid 8 iron and landed on the green but on the wrong tier. A downhill putt ate me alive and I ended up three putting. I made the turn at 7-over and felt like I survived the front nine. After two bogeys and a par on the next three holes, a par-3 and two par-4s, I gave up on any chance of scoring well and put the pencil away.
That was a great idea on my part because, like a heavyweight boxer who smells blood, Shepherd's Crook opens it up on the last six holes. The first of these holes is a left-to-right short par-4 measuring close to 375. A drive near the bunker on the right side leaves a short iron to a tempting green. But at second glance, the pin and green are guarded well by two bunkers on the left side. The green slopes toward the bunkers making it imperative that the approach shot is in-between the traps and pin for any chance at a par.
The next hole is the longest on the course, a 580-yard par-5. This is one of the only holes at Shepherd's Crook that asks the players for some big muscle. A well-struck drives puts an ugly ditch in play on the second shot. If a player can avoid the ditch the hole plays right-to-left with bunkers protecting the left side of the green.
After a straight, short par-4, the par-3 16th tests every nerve a golfer owns. Measuring only 140-150 yards, the hole has water on either side and in the back. Traps also protect the back making any pin placement deep and left almost impossible to get to so be proud of the par.
The 17th is up-hill dogleg-left. The tee shot is blind to a narrowing fairway. If a drive goes through the fairway then it is impossible to get home if the pin is cut in front. A small, narrow green is protected in front with bunkers.
The 18th hole is an awesome finishing hole. A par-5 that begins bringing the golfer right of the green on the tee box. But a bunker in front right of the green makes players switch their focus to the left while a ditch keeps the landing area for long second shots extremely small. If players come up to the third shot with a short iron in their hands, then they can fire at the pin. A par here is fine but won't it be nice to leave with a birdie?
For the amenities, a huge clubhouse is in the finishing stages of being done. Because of the lack of space, there is not a driving range, so getting off to a good start may be a tough task. For restaurants and place to unwind, my suggestion is heading north to Milwaukee and making a day of it.