Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club: The King of Golf in Metro Detroit

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

CLARKSTON, Mich. -- It's only fitting that the land used to create the Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club has been leased from priests.

The 420 acres that holds the 27-hole facility is truly divine. The course's marketing slogan is "heaven on earth," and it delivers.

Even before the opening of the first 18 holes in 2000, Shepherd's Hollow was one of the most hyped courses in southeast Michigan in years. Reviewers came back stunned that such a beautiful piece of land was left undiscovered and untouched for so long in Oakland County, not only one of the most affluent counties in Michigan, but in all the nation.

Normally, hype and reality don't see eye to eye, but this course is truly one that every diehard golf fan should enjoy.

In just the short time Shepherd's Hollow has been on the golfing landscape, it has taken over as the king of golf in metro Detroit. It's the one true must-play if you're visiting the Detroit area for business or pleasure, even if the drive up I-75 is long and usually snarled with traffic delays.

The rewards started rolling in for the course immediately. It was voted one of the "Top 10 You Can Play" by Golf Magazine for the year 2000.

The 2002 Crain's Detroit Business golf guide named the course as No. 1 in the five-county metro Detroit area - encompassing Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne and Macomb counties - edging out the popular duo of The Orchards Golf Club in Washington Township and The Majestic Golf Club in Hartland. The Orchards will host this summer's 2002 U.S. Public Links Championship.

Arthur Hills, the famed lead architect of Arthur Hills and Associates in Toledo, Ohio, called the land for Shepherd's Hollow "as good a piece of inland property as I've ever seen for a golf course." Not a bad compliment from a man who designed the Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, annually ranked as one of nation's top-50 courses, public or private, by Golf Digest.

"The site is just beautiful," said architect Steve DeForrest, one of the men who helped create Shepherd's Hollow. "The topography is so interesting. Usually you look at a map and you see patterns. This site is so convoluted, you really had to study the (topography) map to get a handle on it.

"Without the trees (that were cleared), the land looked just like a moonscape, with bumps and hollows and holes. It was pretty challenging to route the holes. We are pros at reading the maps, but we really had to study. That was the treat and the fun of this project. We built it without moving a lot of dirt. That is evident in the experience of the course."

Adding further complications to the routing of the holes, the property has been leased from the Society of Jesus, an order of Roman Catholic Jesuit Priests. The Jesuits still use part of the land. Once a seminary, the Colombiere Center is now an assisted-living resident for priests. The Center, near the entrance to the course, and a Jesuit cemetery, near the third nine of the property, both had to be taken into account during the initial layout of the course.

The Shepherd's Hollow experience starts as you wind your way off the highway. It's amazing how close the course is to two major roads - I-75 and the Dixie Highway - and how far away civilization seems. The long drive to the secluded clubhouse gives locals the feel of a northern Michigan resort.

As you creep through the towering pines and hardwoods, the beautiful 18th hole emerges - a 564-yard par-5, guarded by a small lake. Further up the road, pines also engulf the Southern-style clubhouse, sitting like a cabin in the back woods.

Grading scale Shepherd's Hollow is part of a trio of upscale designs in southeast Michigan managed by Mike Bylen, a local golf developer who's been a mover and shaker during Michigan's golf boom the last decade. Shepherd's is affiliated with the Pine Trace Golf Club in Rochester (also in Oakland County) and Cherry Creek Golf Club in Shelby Township, one of the state's best municipal courses.

Attempts to reach Bylen were unsuccessful, but he told the Michigan Golfer Magazine that it's "uncommon" to find a piece of property like Shepherd's Hollow still available for use.

"It is a very serene site. It is very much a sanctuary. That's the way it feels," he said.

Each nine plays to at least 3,585 yards. Four ponds speckle the property, but don't dominate the course.

There was enough land to build 36 holes, but developers wanted to make the site unique, keeping holes far enough apart to provide some privacy and a chance to bond with nature. Four sets of tees and wide, rolling fairways allow weekend players the chance to tackle the brute with enough success to keep from getting frustrated. With the varied topography DeForrest brags about, no two holes are the same.

The second hole welcomes players to taste the course's appeal. It plays 188 yards, all downhill over a bunker with a huge ridge that blocks the view of the front half of the green. No. 3 is a short par-4 of 345 yards that plays all uphill between a horde of bunkers, which are unique to the course.

"The bunker style there is different than any Arthur Hills course," DeForrest said. "(Mike Bylen) wanted a different look with the sand higher on the faces. The look is distinctive in that setting between all the trees."

Although surrounded by plenty of other noteworthy holes, the closing holes to the back nine are brimming with personality. No. 15 is a dainty 354 yards from the tips, but the hole doglegs hard right. A precise tee shot must be played between three bunkers to leave a short approach for a possible birdie.

Take advantage because a bogey or worse might be staring you in the face at the 449-yard, par-4 16th, which demands a blind tee shot to another fairway that doglegs to the right. After a daring 179-yard par-3, guarded on the left side by water, the thrilling 18th awaits.

The price is steeper than most -- $75 Monday through Thursday and $85 on weekends - but the experience is worth it. A weekday price of $60 for a tee time before 10 a.m. is truly a steal for golf in Oakland County, which tends to be overpriced.

When asked what people have told him they like about the course, head pro Marty McCabe confidently answered: "Everything."

"People say it's off the charts," he said. "We've been fortunate. Nobody has had any complaints."

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Not good

    Golfing Doodle wrote on: Oct 3, 2011

    Wow. I feel very ripped off. It is October in Michigan. I had never played Shepherd's Hollow until yesterday and I figured it would be a great place to play a fall round with the old man. First of all...$75 in October is inexcusable. Does the staff at SH think that they are a better course than Treetops? Boyne? They are priced as if it is even comparable. Okay, so I paid for pops and myself...$150. I was impressed by the parking lot which was neatly nestled among giant trees. It was 41 degrees out. Still $75. The ranger notified us that it would be "cartpath only." Still $75. This is where my big gripe comes in...I am by no means lazy. I love to walk a golf course...but cartpath only is terrible. I would understand completely if the course was soaked...but it was not. Sure, there were some wet spots in low lying areas...but nothing major. It could EASILY have been 90 degree rule. Cartpath only COMPLETELY ruins golf. Also...what in god's name is with this ridiculous layout? We were driving past tee boxes to get to other tee boxes and driving around the full length of holes because the next hole's green was at the previous hole's green. What?? The course itself was okay...I honestly don't see what all the hype is about. I found most holes to be "forced" and didn't feel at all natural. That's okay and all...but it was almost like a woman who's had too much plastic surgery. The greens rolled great, especially considering the time of placements were ALL on the small top-shelf of two tiered greens. Really? You are going to make the course harder AND have cart path only? It is no surprise it took us almost 6 hours to play. There is no reason to put the pins in those spots unless it is a tournament. I could see one or two holes...but they were all difficult pins. I scored okay for me, that's not the issue. The issue is that i felt very ripped off and nobody seemed to care. My dad had a very hard time trudging up and down the hills carrying 3 or 4 clubs. A lot of elevation and for a 70 year old guy (a 4 handicap mind you) it was a little much. We would not have played there had we known, but the starter made it sound like it was only going to be for an hour or so. Also...there was NO BEVERAGE CART. $75 and no beverage cart? GET REAL. Never again.


  • Shepherd's Hollow

    John wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

    I have serious doubts about this review.
    I play this course 3 times per week, and it is Pure Michigan golf.
    A gorgeous Northern Michigan feeling to it, it is challenging, but fair.
    Based on Tim's review, I doubt he shot 10 over from the blue tees. It's a 6,500 yard course from the Blue's, not a difficult track unless you don't hit it straight. He probably shot in the 90's and is bitter about it. To think he thought of complaining is absurd.
    Tim said he had to hit a perfect 200 yard shot on hole 27 to make birdie, yet the hole is only 415 from the Blue's, yet he said he couldn't hit a driver all day.
    Oh, and BTW, one of the better marked courses in SE MI.
    Don't believe this review. Go play the course, it's beautiful and a good, but fair, test of golf.


  • Shepherds Hollow Golf Club

    Tim Rice wrote on: Jul 25, 2010

    Your review of Shepherds Hollow Golf Course made it seem reasonable to pay $65.00 in the middle of the week to play, but I wouldn't play there again for FREE!
    We played holes 10 through 27 from the Blue Tees. I should have played the Gold for sure. I can excuse the greens being a bit long because it rained the night before we played, but they were horribly inconsistent, far too shaggy and slow, and only a few that were acceptable. The greens were also tricked up, the only thing missing from the greens were a few clowns mouth's to putt through.
    My decision to play from the Blue Tees left me with a bunch of tricked up holes that forced me to leave the driver in the bag. That's OK for a hole or two, but this place had far too many.
    It isn't a well marked course and if you don't have a GPS you are left guessing quite often. We even got lost in the cluster of holes on the back nine we played, it added to the frustration.
    I am a 10 handicap and shot my average and even hit one of the best 200 yard shots of my life on the finishing hole (27) to make birdie, but I still left with a miserable feeling like I had just been ripped off. Usually when I finish like that I can forget some of the other stuff, not here!
    I stopped myself from paying a visit to the Pro Shop to complain after the round, just to let someone know how I felt, but I decided to just let it be. It's been over a week since I played and I'm still sick about paying so much for so little, so I decided to complain to someone.
    I've played the other places mentioned in this article over the years and love them all. This place was pure drudgery from the 11th (my second) hole on. I had large expectations after your review and some other reviews I had read. I should have gone to the real source, fellow golfers that have played there.
    Every one that I have spoken to about this place shares my view, it is way overrated and we will never return. Someone must have been paid off to write such great reviews for this place.
    I've never complained about a course before and have had a great year golfing in the area, Lyon Oaks was awesome, and the Flint Elks, Dunham Hills, The Coyote, Farmington Hills and The Majestic were all more fun than this place. Even Fellows Creek and Kensington Metro Park we're better than Shepherds Hollow at less than half the cost.
    One hacks opinion.


    • RE: Shepherds Hollow Golf Club

      Mike wrote on: May 17, 2012

      Shepherds Hollow may be slightly overpriced, but it is one of the best courses in the state to be sure. It is better than every course named in the above review. To compare Shepherds Hollow to Fellows Creek and Kensington is laughable! As far as design and layout, it is on par with the top courses in the state. I've played Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, True North, Bay Harbor and most of the others in the top-10 and Shepherds Hollow is on par with them. I've played Shepherds Hollow three times and the only thing I would say is that they could lower the price by about $10.