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.