Essex Golf and Country Club was first established in 1902 as Oak Ridge Golf Club and members played over nine holes. In 1912, they moved to another site, expanding the new 9-hole course to 18 holes within three years. Finally, Essex purchased 125 acres for $106,000 in the mid-1920s on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, in a suburb of Windsor, Ontario and commissioned Donald Ross to design their new course.
Ross is credited with the design of nearly 400 courses in North America, and 16 in the nearby Detroit area between 1910 and 1929. He may have routed the course and, more importantly, decided on its putting surface layout, but he only ever set foot on the property once, according to newspaper reports of the time – so modern day, big name, “ghost” designers are nothing new!
The man who actually built the course was the longtime greenkeeper, John Gray and it is men like him who are often overlooked when credit is give for course construction. Over the fifteen months of building the course, Gray supervised more than 100 men and 80 teams of horses so his contribution to the establishment of the present day Essex course cannot be underestimated.
The greens at Essex are prominent, not just because of Ross’s influence, but also because they dominate a very flat, largely featureless property, though Essex is easily the best example of Ross’s golfing architecture in Canada. Fairway bunker schemes may have been altered over the years but the original Ross routing remains and only one green, at the par four 6th, has been changed since the course opened for play in 1929.
The design is elegantly simple, featuring clever routing over a plain landscape and eighteen highly individual green complexes. Essex’s best attribute is variety with a number of drainage swales around the course offering some relief to the landscape. Mature oaks and elms add significantly to the ambience of the course.
Jerry Pate won the Canadian Open when Essex hosted it in 1976. Essex Golf & Country Club was also the venue for the LPGA DuMaurier Tournament in 1998 and the Canadian Seniors Open in 2002.
The history at Essex dates back to 1902, when a number of members of Walkerville Country Club, upset with the poor playing conditions, decided to establish a new club. The Oak Ridge Golf Club was originally a 3400 yard course built on a nearby farm, one that would expand by 44 acres later that decade, allowing them to erect a suitable clubhouse.
However, the membership soon started to outgrow the site and in 1909, the club would exercise an option to purchase a new piece of land at nearby Prince Farm. Oak Ridge members would be forced to play at Walkerville for two years while their new course was being built and during that time, the club would officially be incorporated as Essex Golf & Country Club.
The new nine hole course would open for play in 1912, with the club expanding to 18 holes by 1915. However, the membership still felt the course lacked in too many areas, with criticism directed toward the lack of length, the flat green sites and not enough sand traps.
By 1928, the club had purchased over 125 acres of land on Matchette Road and were fortunate to retain the services of famed architect Donald Ross to design a championship golf course on their new site. Ross, who had designed esteemed courses like Oakland Hills, Franklin Hills, Roseland Park and Detroit Golf Club within the Detroit/Windsor area, provided the routing for Essex but is rumoured to have only visited the site one time. The construction of the course was left in the very capable hands of John Gray, the longtime greenkeeper at the club.
Construction began in the spring of 1928 and the brand new, 6683 yard course would officially open for play in July 1929. Accolades soon followed and Essex has long been considered one of the finest representations of the genius of Donald Ross here in Canada.
The land on which Essex G&CC sits is anything but remarkable, with little in the way of elevation change throughout the round. However, Ross routed the course brilliantly, utilizing drainage swales to add some visual flair and adding movement through clever use of doglegs and strategic bunker placement. With the flat terrain and modest green-to-tee transfers, Essex may be one of the easiest walking courses in the country, another major plus.
The one defining feature of the course to me, other than the majestic trees on the property, are the well-contoured greens, which are uniformly much larger than average and feature false fronts and dramatic fall-offs throughout.
At less than 6700 yards from the back tees, this isn’t a course that’s going to wear you out tee-to-green but going low will be very dependent on how you navigate these large and very tricky putting surfaces.
The club has hosted a number of big tournaments over the years, including provincial amateur and professional events but gained a lot of notoriety when they hosted the Canadian Open in 1976, which was won by PGA Tour rookie Jerry Pate and featured a star-studded field that included Jack Nicklaus. In 1998, the club would host the du Maurier Classic, then a major on the LPGA Tour (won by Brandie Burton) and in 2002, the AT&T Canada Senior Open visited Essex and was won by Tom Jenkins.
Essex G&CC is one of the most historic clubs in Canada and a day spent here is one to be cherished. Read more here:https://nowontheteegolf.com/2020/07/20/essex-golf-country-club-course-profile/