life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

Two Other Donald Ross Courses You Can Actually Play

Roseland Park Country Club, 1926

story by Jeff Mingay
from: One Hundred Years: A History of Essex Golf – 1902-2002,
Walkerville Publishing

Wholly flat land is rarely thought to be desirable for golf, and it is likely to be chosen only as a last resort. I am quite sure this is a mistaken view. Not only some of the most popular but some of the most interesting courses have been made on flat land.
Excerpt from “The Links” by Robert Hunter, 1926

World-famous golf architect Donald Ross’ original plan for Roseland, on Windsor’ s south side drawn by his chief draftsman in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Walter Irving Johnson

Throughout a career in golf course design that spanned nearly four decades and spawned 399 courses, it is estimated Donald Ross designed fewer than 15 courses in Canada. Curiously, two are in Windsor: Essex Golf and Country Club and Roseland, once known as Roseland Park Country Club.

It was Harry Neal, a successful local entrepreneur and avid sportsman, who first brought Ross to Windsor in 1926 to lay out an 18-hole course as the centrepiece for Roseland Park, a stately residential neighbourhood he was developing on the city’s south side. Neal’s plan was for those who purchased homes in Roseland Park to automatically become members of Roseland Park Country Club, completed in 1928.

Then, suddenly, in October 1929, development in Roseland Park stalled with the onset of the Great Depression. The sale of homes and lots surrounding the course, from which Neal and his brothers expected to recoup their investment in the golf course, ceased.

The Neal brothers managed to endure until 1933, when, faced with an unbearable financial burden, they were forced to turn over Roseland Park Country Club to bondholders.

“There was no bitterness,” Harry Neal wrote in his memoirs many years later. “The Neal brothers were victims of the times. They had lost, but they took with them full realization that they had built a championship golf course.”

Since 1972, Roseland has been owned by the City of Windsor and operates as a public golf course.

An Architectural Marvel

Ross was the most sought after golf architect in the world when Neal invited him to design Roseland Park. Between 1919 and 1925, five of seven United States Open championships were contested on courses designed by Ross.

In late July 1926, Ross personally visited the proposed site for Roseland Park, during which he devised a routing for 18-holes and drew rough freehand sketches of the proposed greens and their surroundings. Neal was anxious to begin construction, so Ross hurriedly mailed his preliminary drawings to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where they were formalized by his chief draftsman, Walter Johnson.

“This is a rush job,” Ross explained to Johnson in a letter dated August 3, 1926. “I would like you to lay everything aside and do the general plan first. They will want to start clearing the fairway widths. It is very urgent, so give it your best attention.”
The Roseland Park site was poorly drained and absolutely flat, much like the Matchette Road property Essex directors would present to Ross two years later.

“The main ditch which I have shown in front of the Club House and across #8 and #9 holes, is at present located through the lot lines back of the Club House,” Ross continued in his letter to Johnson, “but it is to be changed to suit the golf course. The swails which I have shown in red are subject to slight adjustments as the construction work progresses but as the land is dead flat and badly drained those swails could be very useful both for filling material and drainage purposes.”

Ross’ routing of 18-holes at Roseland Park took full advantage of a featureless 124-acre tract bordered on all sides by home lots. Aside from back-to-back par 4s at the 10th and 11th, no two consecutive holes play in the same direction and the variety in the types of holes is equally impressive.

The par 3s are particularly varied. The fourth and 16th holes, 182 and 172 yards long respectively, are both medium in length, but they play very different: the green at the fourth is open in front and angled to prefer a shot on a right-to-left trajectory. The 16th green is perched high on an artificial plateau, defended in front by a deep sand bunker and is more likely to accept a soft cut shot from a right-handed golfer.

The 183 yard eighth was originally planned to play as long as 210 yards. It was a diabolical par 3 with a creek cutting through the line from tee-to-green only a few yards short of its relatively small putting surface. The creek has since been converted into a grassy swale.

Offsetting the eighth was the 140 yard 13th, which somewhat resembled the short par 3 seventh hole at Essex, with its tiny pear-shaped green virtually surrounded by sand. It has since been lengthened to 177 yards through the extension of the tee.

The most interesting holes at Roseland Park were the short par 5s at the second, fifth, 12th and 14th – none of which were longer than 470 yards. Originally, these holes were wide open and littered with sand bunkers that set up a number of alternate routes to their greens. Today, however, many of those original bunkers are missing and have been replaced with trees that have significantly narrowed corridors of play.

Roseland’s third and 15th holes are still neat little drive-and-pitch affairs that call for delicate second shots to tiny, heavily bunkered greens.

And the closing stretch, beginning with the demanding par 3 16th, is indeed of championship caliber. The 434 yard 17th, with its sublimely contoured green, and the mammoth 449 yard finishing hole can easily destroy an otherwise good round.

The greens at Roseland, none of which have been altered from their original design, are most conspicuous. Predominately pitched from back-to-front, they are typical of Ross, with multiple tiers, diagonal swales and centre ridges dividing each into a number of distinct “cupping areas.” Not a single one resembles another.

Indeed, there are many similarities between Roseland and Essex – and one marked difference too. Whereas Essex was a “design and build” contract, Donald Ross and Associates were hired to layout the Roseland course only. Ross’ detailed plans were handed to a construction company without previous experience in golf course construction. As a result, Roseland’s tees, bunkers and greens have an abruptness about them– they “pop up” out of the ground and do not tie into neighbouring features.

In contrast, there is a relatively seamless flow to the Essex property. Tees flow into fairways, fairways into greens, and greens into tees.

On paper, Roseland and Essex are comparable golf courses. It is the detail work that separates Essex from its sister course; a craftsmanship that is attributable to the on-site presence of one of Ross’s top associates (either Walter Hatch or James McGovern) and the knowledge and experience of green keeper John Gray.

Two Other Donald Ross Courses You Can Actually Play

by Chris Edwards

What a Difference 53 Years Makes
Two aerial photos of Roseland show changes to the original layout of Roseland Park and the surrounding area over half a century. Originally featuring some 90 bunkers, Roseland was almost completely devoid of trees in 1947 (top). The course is heavily treed today, as evidenced in the 2000 aerial photo (bottom); Roseland is now completely surrounded by homes, and a par three course has been added. The original frame clubhouse at the foot of the circular drive (top right corner, top photo) was torn down and replaced with a new clubhouse and curling rink in 1978. The original golf shop between the first tee and the 18th green was replaced in 1999. The planting of hundreds of trees has significantly narrowed corridors of play throughout the course; nearly 30 original sand bunkers are missing as well. The par three course can be seen at the top right, 2000 photo, with its two ponds (used to store irrigation water for both courses).

While it would be great to play a round of golf at Essex Golf and Country Club, or other fine Donald Ross-designed local courses, such as Oakland Hills (site of the 2004 Ryder Cup), the Detroit Golf Club or the resplendent Franklin Hills Country Club, the reality is most of us will never have the opportunity to follow Ross’ footsteps on these private grounds – let alone play them.

While golfers are indeed fortunate to play golf at Roseland, two lesser-known Ross-designed local courses are also accessible to the public – Rogell Municipal Golf Club on Seven Mile at Grand River in Detroit and Rackham Golf Course, next to the Detroit Zoo off I-696 in Huntington Woods. Rogell Golf Club Local golf course architect and author Jeff Mingay gave me the inside track on Rogell and said it was one his favourite Ross courses – mainly because little has changed since Ross designed it in 1921. Renamed after Detroit Tigers’ great Bill Rogell, it was original known as the Redford Country Club; the course is now run by the city of Detroit.

Rogell is vintage Ross – rolling fairways and small undulating greens. While the front nine has a few holes that are less than spectacular, the sloping terrain can make things very challenging.

The back nine features a set of holes that are a pleasure to play, beginning at the 11th hole, cut though a narrow chute of trees and the 12th – a vintage Ross hole that must be seen to be appreciated.

With its many hills and dales, Rogell is a tough walk compared to the flat courses of Essex County. And don’t expect a pristine course at Rogell – it can be a little rough around the edges. Do expect to be surprised, and to enjoy a sensational round of golf at one of the best kept secrets in the Border Cities. Rackham Golf Course in Huntington Woods, adjacent to the Detroit Zoo, is easily accessed from this side of the river. There are no water hazards, and most trees scattered about the property can be avoided. Unlike Rogell, Rackham is very walkable.

A favourite among local golfers since 1924, Rackham features Ross’ trademark well-bunkered, smallish greens. Rated one of the top ten municipal courses in the state of Michigan, Rackham once earned a reputation as one of the top courses in the state. Rackham’s golf pro Ben Davis was one of the first black golf course instructors in the country. Detroit native Joe Louis the “Brown Bomber” reportedly enjoyed Rackham’s charms; and the clubhouse is a beautiful structure.

For a course that gets a lot of play, Rackham is well conditioned with consistently defined sand traps and true rolling greens. When the I-696 freeway was built, several holes had to be moved on the front nine. The first couple of holes are therefore quite noisy with incessant freeway traffic, but once you make the turn toward the back nine, the course becomes a pleasure and those with a keen eye will appreciate Ross’ touches.

I love the signature number 15, which plays uphill and is protected by magnificent Donald Ross bunkers that line the fairways. You can hear the birds singing and the big cats growling, as this hole plays alongside the Detroit Zoo!

As a final note, while conducting research for this piece, I uncovered another Detroit municipal golf course designed by Donald Ross: Warren Valley Golf Club in Dearborn Heights, featuring an east and west course, 18 holes each. Much research will be required there – a publisher’s work is never done!

Rackham Golf Club, opened in 1924, designed by Donald Ross
Green Fees: $26 US weekdays/$32 US weekends
10100 West 10 Mile Road (next to the Detroit Zoo)
(248) 543-4040

Rogell Golf Course, opened in 1921, designed by Donald Ross
Green Fees: $21 US weekdays/ $23 weekends
18601 Berg Road, Seven Mile at Grand River (Redford Twp.) (313) 578-8006

To learn more about Roseland Golf course and the history of Essex Golf
& Country Club, visit The TIMES Book Shop for a copy of “One Hundred Years, A History of Essex Golf and Country Club: 1902-2002”
by Jeff Mingay with Richard Carr. You can order it by phone
519-255-9898 or email:



©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved