The first full design by local architect David Esler, Black Sheep is a core golf-only development built on a cornfield west of Chicago. A real unexpected find, the club boasts a charming, understated feel and 27 quality holes of golf set across an open, windswept prairie-style property. Elser arranged his principal 18 holes on one side of the clubhouse, with the front nine set in a large loop that is wrapped around a back nine zigzagging through the interior. This arrangement ensured a constant change of direction, and plenty of natural variety in terms of terrain and also prevailing winds.
The whole experience at Black Sheep smacks of classical Golden Age golf. There are only a few trees on the course and very intimate green-to-tee transitions. Fairways are generously proportioned but generally allow thoughtful players to take risks in order to setup a better route to the green. The shaggy, fringed bunkering style is perfectly suited to both the nature of the test as well as the nature of the bumpy, rolling terrain. On occasion the angle of the odd fairway bunker juts into play a little too sharply, but like the greens, most of the traps are well constructed and well considered, and sit very naturally on the ground.
The start at Black Sheep is especially good. Leaning greens at the opening two holes challenge those who are out of position back in the fairway, while the par three 3rd features an excellent green angled off the surrounding bunkers. The rest is equally impressive. As is the third nine, which is a little less consistent than the main course but does house one of the best holes on the property, the short 25th, which plays into a skinny shelf and a terrific target sandwiched between striking sand traps.