by Jack Berry
The best women golfers in the world, professional and amateur, are putting their games on view in Michigan and neighboring Ontario this summer and the final one, the $1.2 million du Maurier Classic at Essex Golf and Country Club in Windsor, July 30-August 2, may be an historic performance.
The du Maurier is the Ladies Professional Golf Association's fourth major championship and was accorded "major" status 20 years ago by the LPGA, five years after the Canadian tobacco company first began sponsoring the tournament.
But tough anti-tobacco legislation in Canada is aimed at banning tobacco companies from sponsoring sports events. LPGA Commissioner Jim Ritts praised du Maurier for sponsorship of the Classic and for, in recent years, sponsoring the du Maurier Series, a number of Nike Tour-like events for Canadian women.
Ritts said he hoped to continue the association for another 25 years but added that in order to plan for next year, the LPGA had to know by June 30 whether or not du Maurier would continue as sponsor.
That issue so far has overshadowed this year's event which will be played in Windsor for the first time. The club, unfortunately, has had to get used to that.
Essex hosted the 1976 Canadian Open, won by Jerry Pate who fired a course record 63 enroute to beating out Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw. The players loved the heavily-treed Donald Ross course but the Open didn't get a lot of outside notice because the Olympic Games were being held in Montreal at the same time and no Canadian (or American) network televised Pate's victory.
In 1983 Essex agreed on short notice to take one of PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman's new Tournament Players Series events. The Tour didn't give Essex a lot of support in getting a representative field and, even though top Canadian Jim Nelford won, the tournament was a financial failure and resulted in an assessment on the membership. But, again, the pros who played praised the course.
Ritts figures the LPGA players will love Essex too.
"I'm incredibly impressed, "Ritts said after playing Essex in early June. "This will be one of the best courses our players will play all year -- we don't play many Donald Ross courses. I'd take a steady diet of this, week in and week out."
Essex is flat but heavily treed and the title will go to the person who can keep the ball in play. And, like all Ross courses, get the ball below the hole on the greens. They aren't big and they have subtle breaks.
Essex hired architect Arthur Hills to put in five new bunkers -- actually, several Ross fairway bunkers had been taken out in past years and they were put back -- and enlarge and add some tees. Essex also spent more than $2 million to renovate the clubhouse and locker rooms and it is a first class championship facility.
Essex is about 15 minutes from the Ambassador Bridge. All parking will be at Windsor Harness Raceway and spectators will be bused to the course. Parking is free and the shuttle bus is $2 round trip. For ticket information, call 1-888-734-0910.
The Health Ministry of Canada recently announced that it was granting a two-year reprieve to the du Maurier sponsorship so that the LPGA and tournament officials have more time to secure a new title sponsor.
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