A few keen golfers, who wanted their own private male-only members club with an unpretentious and casual atmosphere, set up Black Sheep Golf Club in 1999. They enlisted a former Ohio State golfer called David Esler to fashion 27 holes that would rival the best inland links courses in the US.
140 acres of native prairie grasses and wild flowers were planted throughout the former 285-acre farmstead on which the 27 holes were routed. The aim was to restore the land to mirror the pre-settlement landscape of Native Americans and the result is rather impressive.
Typically in Chicago-lore when one thinks of an all-male club, you think of Butler - a course that loses millions every year by not being able to host tournaments, corporate outings, and executives being forced to resign their memberships. Black Sheep is the opposite: its open seven days a week and was never intended to be a "championship" course. You can play in t-shirt and jeans and the only dining options are from the grill or the peanut butter and jalapeno jam sandwiches in the fridge. The clubhouse is simply an old farm house and the only indication of the front entrance is a rock stamped with the logo. The nine hole loops don't have cliche names, but rather just 1-9, 10-18, and 19-27.
The 27 hole course is artfully routed along the rolling farmland of Sugar Grove. Its not overly hard and extremely playable. There are lots of unique holes and a decent amount of variety. There's lots of width and angles, centerline bunkers, and everything that makes architecture nerds giddy. My personal favorite holes on property are the 23rd with its massive undulating green, and the short par 3 25th with a maiden style green.
The course sits only a few miles away from Rich Harvest Farms but the two couldn't be any more different. Besides the gender rule, the Sheep is a judgement free place, no dress code, decently priced, and completely laid back. It plays naturally over the property and is fast and firm, as it should be. Rich Harvest is about as stuffy as you can get, where you're constantly reminded of who owns the place, the wacky and stupid nature of the amateur design, and the greened out course. I think its fairly obvious which course I'd rather spend a day at.
A fantastic 27 hole links course where you would least expect it. Generous fairways and large greens, but don’t be deceived. If you end up in one of the severe bunkers or stray from the fairway into the fescue, you will be in big trouble. Brilliantly designed from a strategic standpoint, many of the holes feature “speed slots“ on the fairways. Taking the most challenging line will result in a tremendous advantage if you can pull it off. But if you can’t, you’re looking at double bogey. Conversely, playing conservatively will work, but you won’t get very many birdies. In short, everyone can play here. Not a single weak hole on the property. In my view, best time to play is late September through early October when the fescue is up and takes on a brilliant shade of purple.
I've had the chance to play Black Sheep twice now and it's one of the few golf courses that I've given an excellent rating. As a golf architecture fanatic, I feel fortunate to have even been provided and opportunity to play this track. There are literally no bad golf holes here and if you are in the Chicago land area, I can guarantee you that you won't find a more serene setting (sidenote: I've never played Chicago Golf Club). This mens only club offers a casual experience which is a rarity for such an elite golf club. It is not stuffy at all and the members and the staff were all very friendly. The greens were fast and the conditioning was superb both times I played it. I cannot say enough about the beauty of this golf club.
If I could be a member anywhere in Illinois, make me a member here! 27 holes give you a heathland/links vibe yet you look out over a sea of corn making for a pleasantly jarring experience.
The best of the property is along the north side as it dips down from the clubhouse on the outgoing 9 and then travels along and around creeks and ponds.
David Esler is a very underrated architect and this is one of his gems and one of the best in Illinois for sure!