Golf Course Review: Shepherd’s Crook (IL)

Shepherd’s Crook first got on my radar last year when it was named GolfWeek’s 13th best municipal golf course in the country, one spot behind its neighbor, ThunderHawk, and 22 spots above Washington County Golf Course in Hartford, Wisconsin. I have been intrigued to check it out, to say the least.

Just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border, and about five minutes off of I-94 South, Shepherd’s Crook is very accessible for both Milwaukee and Chicago area golfers.
Shepherd’s Crook is a fun, wide-open course that plays as long as 6,827 yards. I played these silver tees today, and found it very playable. A few of their holes, in particular, make this 6,827 quite challenging, though: The 245-yards par three fourth, 654-yard par five 14th, and two other 570-plus yard par fives.
The Crook played much shorter than that today, as the month-long drought in the Midwest has firmed up the fairways and rough noticeably. The drought has also made photography of the course less impressive than I’m sure it normally is, but it finds a way to be picturesque, nonetheless.
Designed in 1999 by Keith Foster, the primary defense at Shepherd’s Crook is the green areas. Most are risen and relatively small, are well bunkered, roll quickly, and feature significant slope. A lot of the course actually feels similar to the National at Fox Hills, which is another links-style course that I really enjoyed.
One of the great things about Shepherd’s Crook is the price – at $60 including cart as their peak-season weekend rate, this course is really a wonderful value.
The first hole is pretty straight forward. A par four of 350 yards, the wind was directly at my back and carried the drive nicely. With a short chip on, I thought to myself that this was a pretty easy starting hole.
Hole 1: Par 4 (350/331/326/268)
The second hole runs parallel to the first, but in the opposite direction. While my first drive was heavily wind-assisted, the second was straight in to the teeth of it. The fairway runs uphill, and is deeply bunkered on the left side.
Hole 2: Par 4 (378/361/353/296)
The third had the wind at my back again, and was just as fun to drive as the first. I actually ended up just left of the green, which means my drive was about 345 yards. Not bad! This was not an ideal location to pitch from, though, as a steep hill fronts the left side of the green and the front-side pin location left almost no room to work with.
Hole 3: Par 4 (346/317/309/250)
The fourth is an interesting par three, to say the least! At 245 yards from the silver tees (220 from the blacks), and back in to the wind, this was the first time I can ever remember hitting driver on a par three. The sand traps to the left were brutal to hit out of (although well-maintained), and the green has three huge slopes that create a multi-tiered nightmare.
Hole 4: Par 3 (245/220/187/150)
The fifth is the number one handicapped hole on the course, and is my favorite of the Crook’s par fours. The tee shot is fairly straight forward, but trees line the right side of a subtle dogleg right and another multi-tiered green. This is a gorgeous golf hole.
Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/375/338)
Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/375/338)
Six is another nice par four. At 415 yards, the tee shot flies over a marsh to a narrow (for Shepherd’s Crook) fairway. The entrance of the green area is very tight and falls off to the left side. I made a disaster of this hole, losing a ball off the tee and then flying the green left.
Hole 6: Par 4 (415/367/333/247)
Seven is a wonderful driving hole. The fairway is mostly straight away, but also meanders slightly right creating a huge landing zone. Avoid the sand traps and you should be fine.
Hole 7: Par 4 (344/323/316/261)
Eight is the second of Shepherd’s Crook’s four par threes, and is one of my favorites. A huge break in the front of the green runs uphill from front to back, with a steppe half-way through. At 166 yards, it is one of the most playable par threes on the course, and plays over a large marsh.
Hole 8: Par 3 (166/150/144/116)
Nine is a great par five. At 576 yards, the green is highly elevated and has a litany of sand traps in front. The fairway runs right and uphill. A good aiming point for your second shot is the clubhouse in the distance.
Hole 9: Par 5 (576/555/526/450)
Ten has a fairly intimidating tee shot, and a challenging approach with heavy mounding around the green area. Like a true links course, Shepherd’s Crook does this often with big hills around their putting surfaces.
Hole 10: Par 4 (426/398/389/297)
Eleven is a very deceptive par three. The scorecard says 201 yards from the back tees, but the tees were up slightly and the wind was at my back. I ended up going with the eye test, opting to avoid all the trouble left and long and instead put an eight iron on the front of the green. This made for all but a routine three-putt up the hugely sloped green surface.
Hole 11: Par 3 (201-180/162/139/127)
With the most blind tee shot on the course, twelve plays downhill over a crowned fairway. Aim for the 150-yard marker, which marks a stark drop-off in the fairway that slants left. This is another very tough approach shot, and is completely blind from the pre-crowned driving area.
Hole 12: Par 4 (380/350/344/278)
Hole 12: Par 4 (380/350/344/278)
The tee shot on thirteen is again blind, and wind in the face makes this hole very, very long. The left side starts out fairly open, but tightens around the green with trees and sand traps.
Hole 13: Par 4 (409/379/373/296)

Speaking of long holes, fourteen plays to a length of 654 yards! The fairway is huge, and a big tee shot is necessary to leave yourself a chance of clearing the water that cuts this hole in half. For the second shot, the right side of the fairway looks fairly safe, with a pond left and creek running through the middle of it. The mounding on the right, though, hides another large pond that is used for the driving area of the next hole. I cheated right on my second shot, and bounced over these hills in to the hazard.

I have heard that if the landfill next door is going to be an issue, fourteen and fifteen are where it can be a little smelly (depending on the wind). I had no issues with this during my round today, but that part of the location would be the only complaint I have about Shepherd’s Crook.

Hole 14: Par 5 (654-617/572/561/461)
Hole 14: Par 5 (654-617/572/561/461)
Fifteen is a very demanding par four. At 419 yards, the hole runs steeply uphill and makes for a challenging green in regulation.
Hole 15: Par 4 (419/370/363/286)
At 151 yards downhill from the silver tees, and the wind at my back, the tee shot on sixteen made for an interesting club selection. The pin was in the middle of the huge green, just in front of a big hill that separates the front from the back. Marshland surrounds the green, as do two sand traps on the left side. I actually ended up hitting a 52-degree wedge off of this tee, which got me to the front-side fringe.
Hole 16: Par 3 (151/131/107/72)
Seventeen is a tough uphill par four with a severe dogleg left. The trees to the left will take anything hit there, and an over-drawn wood will leave an approach that is virtually locked out from a direct flight to the green. This is another very nice par four.
Hole 17: Par 4 (370/338/328/250)
The finishing hole on the back nine plays very similarly to the finishing hole on the front. Both are long par fives – nine is 576 yards, and eighteen is 570 – and they run parallel to one another en route to the clubhouse. Eighteen requires a bit more strategy, though, as the second shot must be hit short of the marshland that resides about 100 yards out. The fairway sand traps on both sides of the fairway make for a lot of trouble off the tee, as the downhill fairway area runs slightly right on the second shot, and anything hit too far in either direction will lead to a lost ball. The green is highly elevated in front of the clubhouse, and drops off significantly on the front and right sides.
Hole 18: Par 5 (570/548/529/458)
I really enjoyed my experience at Shepherd’s Crook, and am excited to know that it is so conveniently located off of I-94/41 South. This is definitely a course I plan on visiting again in the near future.
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Zion, IL
Yardage: Silver-6,827/6,769, Black-6,272, Gold-6,002, Green-4,901
Slope/Rating: Silver-128/72.1, Black-123/69.5, Gold-119/67.9, Green-115/67.7
Par: 71
Weekend Rates (with cart): $60

Golf Course Review: ThunderHawk (IL)

Just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border is a fantastic Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course that over the past two years has been rated as a top twelve municipal course in the country, ThunderHawk.
To those who know it, ThunderHawk is the best kept secret in the Milwaukee/Chicago area. The question is: How do golf enthusiasts in our area not know about it? Just an hour from Milwaukee, ThunderHawk is located in Beach Park, Illinois.
Now in its thirteenth year of golf, the course is run by the Lake Country Forest Preserve and has matured very nicely over the years. With a gorgeous clubhouse and accommodating staff, ThunderHawk is the perfect location to spend a Friday off of work, and is very reasonably priced. Our round today was $53, including cart, and greens fees get up to $85 for weekends in-season.

The feel of ThunderHawk is much like that of University Ridge (another Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course), with perfectly rolled fairways and an excellent blend of golf course and nature. Also like University Ridge, ThunderHawk features one of the best collections of par fives around.

The front nine begins with a blind tee shot straight away and over the crown of a very wide fairway. It’s bombs away on this 394-yard par four.

Hole 1: Par 4 (414/394/369/298)
The first of ThunderHawk’s awesome par fives is the 554-yard second hole. A huge oak tree stands directly between the tee boxes and the farther of the two fairways. The smartest play is a hybrid or long iron to the initial fairway left of the tees. ThunderHawk features huge, forgiving fairways, or else options to test the player’s metal. This tee shot is a terrific example of just that.
Hole 2: Par 5 (573/554/534/453)

The third is a 187-yard par three to a wide green. About 175 yards of this tee shot needs to be carried to avoid the wasteland that lies in between. The raised green will otherwise deflect anything short and right back in to the fescue.

Hole 3: Par 3 (212/187/153/95)

Following the long par three third hole is a very tough par four fourth. Sand litters the driving area, and the tee shot is uphill to a very small green amidst a tight squeeze of trees.

Hole 4: Par 4 (446/424/394/309)
The fifth is another tough par four. With woods on both sides, any errant tee shot is good as gone. The approach is over a small creek, and is again heavily wooded.
Hole 5: Par 4 (416/391/379/326)
The greens at ThunderHawk are large and read fairly. The par threes are classic Trent Jones, Jr. holes – huge greens with a lot of break, and almost all feature water and significant carries. My favorite of the par threes here is the 168-yard sixth hole. With water short and left, the massive green is slightly risen above a bevy of sand traps. This is a gorgeous par three, especially when seen from the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (178/168/138/90)
Following this excellent par three is the second of ThunderHawk’s wonderful par fives. With a fairway sloping heavily from right to left, this hole seems to have sand everywhere. At 501 yards from the brass tee boxes, this is a reachable par five in two, but the best bet is to avoid the beach and target shots one by one.
Hole 7: Par 5 (522/501/470/422)
Hole 7: Par 5 (522/501/470/422)

The eighth is a very interesting par four. Short and over water, the wind was directly in to the tee boxes on this hole. With 333 yards to the green, it was difficult to tell how far the carry is to fly the water hazard, but with the right side tight and full of sand, there were few other options! If you’re a big hitter, go for it. Otherwise, lay up right and hit a short wedge in.

With the wind heading out, this green is actually very reachable from the tee. We had a slight wind at our back the last time out (Monday, October 15, 2012), and my tee shot was pin high left of the greenside bunker.

Hole 8: Par 4 (338/333/302/254)

The ninth is the number one handicapped hole on the course, which I think should probably be numbered 1.5 along with the eighteenth. Both nines at ThunderHawk finish in similar fashion: Extraordinarily long, heavily wooded with sharp doglegs left. The ninth is the one hole at ThunderHawk where hitting less than driver can really hurt. I played a three-hybrid to the fairway, and found myself completely closed out from the dogleg by the trees. A par four over 450 yards, the ninth finishes strongly uphill, and is well guarded in front by greenside bunkers.

Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
The tenth is a welcoming site: Fairly straight and “only” 409 yards. With a slight skew left, the traps around the green here are deep and plentiful. In typical Trent Jones, Jr. style, they are primarily clover-leafed in style, and these juts can leave very uncomfortable sand shots.
Hole 10: Par 4 (429/409/362/299)
The eleventh at ThunderHawk is another beautiful par five. The driving area is downhill and runs slightly right. A massive tree blocks out the left side from a good approach in two, so if you find yourself there then just look for the approach fairway on the opposite side of the fescue.
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
The twelfth is probably the most heavily wooded holes on the course. At just 363 yards, play whatever club you’re confident will go straight.
Hole 12: Par 4 (385/363/331/241)
Hole 12: Par 4 (385/363/331/241)
One of the most interesting par fours at ThunderHawk is the fourteenth. At 317 yards from the brass tee box, the green is absolutely unreachable and requires a short iron to set up the approach. Seven iron off the tee put me right at the 150 marker with a perfect shot at the highly elevated green. A huge marsh area lies between the two fairway areas, and from experience you can spend time in here and literally find dozens of Pro-V1’s in just minutes.
Hole 14: Par 4 (363/317/276/246)
Hole 14: Par 4 (363/317/276/246)
Maybe the most magnificent of the par fives at ThunderHawk is the sixteenth. At 568 yards, the tee shot has to be less than 3-wood. Draw a long iron right of the trees on the left side of the fairway to keep your second shot from having to go directly over water. Anything hit too long is destined to find the waste area, or water, that cuts in to the fairway. Hitting the second half of the fairway leaves a border of water on the entire right side of the hole, as well as in front of the green. This is a tremendous, tough par five hole.
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
My other favorite of the par threes here is the seventeenth. The wind was blowing in and towards the pond, and mercilessly the pin location was all the way on top and on the right side of a green that was probably the largest green on the entire course. I had about a 75-foot putt for par, which obviously resulted in double-bogey.
Hole 17: Par 3 (182/154/130/106)
Hole 17: Par 3 (182/154/130/106)

Just as the front nine finishes with a huge challenge, so does the back. The left side of the fairway is covered with sand, while the right side is out of bounds. The fairway is quite wide for the drive, but the dogleg left tightens up significantly. A three-shot par five, the eighteenth finishes over a large rock pile and well above the level of the fairway. This is another great hole to play target golf on for any chance at birdie or par.

Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
What else can I say about ThunderHawk? This course gives a first-class golf experience in one of the most secluded settings you will find anywhere. Wonderfully laid out and maintained, I certainly agree with those who call this track “The best kept secret in Midwest golf.”
Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Beach Park, IL
Yardage: Black-7,031, Brass-6,631, Silver-6,124, Auburn-5,046
Slope/Rating: Black-137/74.1, Brass-133/72.3, Silver-128/69.9, Auburn-123/69.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (riding): $85