These photographs of golfers on the
Prince Farm course were taken for an advertisement for Ford
Motor Co. in 1919.
Birth of Essex
October that year, with a formidable capital of $40,000, Essex
County Golf & Country Club was incorporated under an Ontario
Provincial Charter. Despite this, Essex members were forced
to play on the Walkerville course for yet another season.
The new Essex course opened for play on the Prince Farm in
the spring of 1912, and the old Walkerville layout was happily
It is unknown who originally laid out the Prince Farm golf
course, which consisted of just nine holes during its first
two years of existence.
In 1913, Essex directors secured a $20,000 loan from a Mr.
Arthur Doumouchelle of the Township of Sandwich West
in order to purchase a 54-acre property adjoining the existing
course for the sole purpose of expanding it to 18 holes. No
records have been discovered indicating who laid-out the nine-hole
addition. Nonetheless, an 18-hole course was in play by the
spring of 1915.
And yet, many Essex members were still dissatisfied with the
overall quality of the Prince Farm course. There was a definite
consensus that it had too many short holes and not enough
in the way of sand bunkers and contour in the putting greens.
During the clubs annual meeting held on January 24,
1916, Essex director Gordon M. McGregor, suggested that more
land was required if indeed Essex was to have the best
18-hole golf course west of Toronto.But, at the time,
the club could not afford to purchase more land, nor pay an
expert to renovate the course.
This, however, did not discourage McGregor, a self-made millionaire
who co-founded the Ford Motor Company of Canada along with
Detroit industrialist Henry Ford in 1904. Shortly thereafter,
McGregor personally purchased an additional seven acres of
adjacent land owned by the Woollot family for $5,000. He then
agreed to sell the property to the club at cost when appropriate
funds were readily available.
Unfortunately, no photographs of the Prince Farm course have
been located. And its exact layout is a distant, incoherent
The Move to Matchette
1919, there was a general feeling amongst Essex members that
the club was losing its country club appeal to
the rapidly growing City of Windsor. There was concern that
the Prince Farm would soon to be engulfed by urban development,
and further expansion of club facilities would be severely
limited. Property taxes were steadily rising as well with
the growth of the area.
the club to a more rural location where a new and improved
golf course and an attractive new clubhouse could be constructed
became a popular option.
immediately a tract of land in the village of St. Clair Beach
along Lake St. Clair was considered. But it was not purchased.
Presumably, the establishment of the St. Clair Golf Club (today
Lakewood Golf Club) in 1919, and Beach Grove Golf & Country
Club in 1921, deterred Essex directors from venturing east
of the City of Windsor.
directors purchased 14 individual farms on Matchette Road,
bounded by what were planned to be International Avenue to
the north and Marcella Street to the south, Matchette Road
to the east and the Essex Terminal Railway line to the west.
The total land purchase amounted to exactly 125.39 acres,
and a total cost of $106,049.50.
next step was to select an architect to design the course
that would indeed be the best course west of Toronto.
As a side note, Gordon MacGregor passed away in 1922
he never lived to play on his vaulted dream golf course.
the time Essex directors decided to engage Donald Ross to
layout the clubs new 18-hole championship golf
course on Matchette Road in LaSalle, Ross had completed
several notable courses in the Detroit area; fifteen in all,
including the famous North and South courses at Oakland Hills
Country Club, 36 holes at Detroit Golf Club, Grosse Ile, Franklin
Hills, and Windsors Roseland Park.
His talent and abilities as a golf architect were well advertised
to Essex directors. They were easily convinced Ross was indeed
the man for the job. In fact, there is no evidence another
golf architect was considered.
Ross remarkable reputation as a competitive golfer,
a respected teacher and an accomplished greenkeeper preceded
him as well. He is widely acknowledged as Americas first
Today, he is credited with laying out some 399 golf courses
across North America. According to his biographer, Bradley
S. Klein, author of Discovering Donald Ross, the Architect
and his Golf Courses (Sleeping Bear Press, 2001), Ross
visited approximately 75% per cent of those courses in person.
This in an era when the principle mode of transportation was
Donald Ross designed the Matchette Road course, but it was
Essex longtime greenkeeper, John Gray, who built it.
it came time for Ross to appoint a supervisor for the construction
of the new Essex course in 1928, Grays previous experience
in golf course construction was invaluable.
are certain Ross courses, such as Essex, acknowledged to be
superior to others. Some benefited from the natural topography
of the given land, or a healthy construction budget. Others
profited from Ross personal time on site.
Ross frequent absences, however, the man charged with
supervising the course construction had a significant impact
on the overall quality of the finished product. Modifications
to an architects drawn plans are not out of the ordinary.
Thus, an educated, experienced foreman is required to successfully
execute those necessary changes in the field.
of the Matchette Road course began in May 1928. It was to
be the last of 16 Donald-Ross-designed golf courses constructed
in the Windsor-Detroit area between 1910 and 1929.
When he arrived at Essex, Ross was arguably the busiest golf
architect in the world. Based on accounts, he visited the
Matchette Road site personally at least once. However, there
is no evidence suggesting a second visit.
Gray: "Mr. Essex"
15 months of construction and grow-in on Matchette Road, Gray
supervised up to 135 men and 80 teams of horses. The Matchette
Road course was completed in 1929.
It is interesting to note that Ross original plans for
the course do not denote par. According to Pinehurst,
North Carolinas Outlook newspaper, Ross was of
the puritan school, a lover of the old Scotch foursome.
He abhorred the lavish use of a scorecard.
When the new Essex opened for play in July 1929, it measured
6,683 total yards and played to a scorecard par of 72. Then,
the 461-yard fourth hole was labelled a par 5. It was amended
to par 4 in 1965 on advice from Royal Canadian Golf Association
officials who rated the course that year.
An aerial photo of Essex taken in
1998. Note the water tank at centre an Essex landmark.
In 1953, the original wooden tank erected in 1929 was replaced
with a new steel tank at a cost of $7,925.
As a result, total par for the course is now a challenging
71. Its total length has changed very little in the intervening
years, measuring 6,703 yards from the back tees today.
Gray was greenkeeper at Essex until his sudden death in 1958,
at the age of 73; he was simply Mr. Essex to all
who knew him.
Golf and Country has earned a deserved reputation as one of
the finest courses in North America if not the world.
course has hosted major tournaments, including the Mens
Canadian Open Championship in 1976 and the LPGA du Maurier
Championship in 1998. And in July, the club will stage the
2002 AT&T Canada Senior Open, from July 1-7.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus
driving at the 1976 Canadian Open
to golf architect Bruce A. Hepner of Renaissance Golf Design,
Inc., the original design at Essex is the perfect blend
of complex putting surfaces matched with the varying lengths
of tee and approach shots. It is a golf course that, throughout
the years, has challenged every type of golfer from the greats
of the game to your average Sunday afternoon member.
73 years after it opened for play, the Matchette Road course
continues to exemplify Ross brilliance as a golf architect
and a labour of love that was John Grays.
One Hundred Years: A History of Essex Golf and Country
Club, 1902-2002, by Jeff Mingay and Richard H. Carr,
The Walkerville Publishing Co., © 2002