It was in the early 1990s, and Jerry Matthews walked with a reporter down the fairway of yet another Jerry Matthews-designed golf course that was opening. He stopped and pointed at the river running along a picturesque par 5.
“Instead of being on a golf course I would rather be over there with a fishing pole,” he said and chuckled. “One problem with that though, nobody would pay me to go fishing.”
Jerry, who was paid to design or remodel over 200 courses in Michigan, passed away Thursday night shortly after being introduced, cheered and honored for his lifetime of work in the golf industry during a ceremony for the Michigan Golf Live Grand Golf Getaway at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Bill Hobson of Michigan Golf Live posted on Facebook early in the evening a picture of him with Jerry and golf course architect Paul Albanese, one of the architects who worked for and with Matthews & Associates.
Hobson then posted again the sad news of his passing.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we share the sad news of the passing of one of the legendary figures in the history of golf in Michigan,” Hobson wrote. “Thursday evening, shortly after receiving a rousing ovation during a reception on the front porch of the Grand Hotel in recognition of his immense impact on the game, prolific golf course architect Jerry Matthews passed away at his most favorite of places in the world.
“Our hearts and prayers for comfort go to his wife Carol and the entire family. If you’ve played golf in Michigan, you’ve likely played one of the great courses designed by this special, humble, brilliant man. Thank you, Matthews family, for sharing Jerry with us for so long. May he rest in peace.”
Reaction Friday morning was one of sadness across the Michigan golf landscape.
From Chris Whitten, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan:
“The GAM is saddened to hear about the passing of Jerry Matthews. If you play golf in Michigan, chances are that you have enjoyed Jerry’s work as a renowned, prolific golf course architect. He was a friend of the game and gave back as a past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and instructor in the Turfgrass Program at Michigan State University. Michigan golf is better because of Jerry’s passion, effort, care and friendship. We send our deep condolences to the Matthews family.”
From golf course architect Raymond Hearn, a former associate:
“The Michigan golf industry lost one of its legendary individuals in Jerry Matthews. I had the honor and privilege to have worked for Jerry as an apprentice, associate and senior designer from 1986-1996. Jerry had an incredible impact on the Michigan and National golf scheme. He designed and redesigned more golf courses in Michigan than any other designer. His accomplishments were many: past president of the ASGCA, Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Member, winner of many national design awards. He was a true “lay of the land architect” who respected the terrain and natural ecosystems. Jerry gave me my start in the golf course design industry for which I am forever grateful. He was a friend and one of my mentors. He was a true gentlemen and one of the nicest and most humble men in golf. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Carol and the Matthews Family.”
From Greg Johnson, chairman of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame:
“Jerry and his father Bruce were the first father-son duo named to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, and their shared legacy is dressed in the rolling waves of green that cover so many Matthews-designed golf courses in our state. I first met him in 1983. He was humble, gracious and kind. Every meeting that followed, and there were many, he was always humble, gracious and kind.”
The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, inducted in 2005, was a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and he concentrated his golf course design efforts in Michigan starting in partnership with his fellow Hall of Fame member father, W. Bruce Matthews. Jerry started his own company in 1985, a few years after his father retired. Together they counted 47 courses where they worked together on the design.
In 2005 when he went into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, Jerry counted 90 course designs in 42 of Michigan’s 83 counties. Among the award-winning courses were Birchwood Farms in Harbor Springs, Elk Ridge in Atlanta, St. Ives at Tullymore Golf Resort, Timber Ridge in East Lansing, Hawk Hollow in East Lansing and Sundance at A-Ga-Ming in Kewadin.
Detroit News golf writer and fellow Hall of Fame member Jack Berry aptly described Matthews as the “Johnny Appleseed” of Michigan golf.
Jerry also taught golf course design and construction at Michigan State University, and several of his former staff architects, like Hearn and Albanese, have gone on to award-winning solo careers.
Jerry started in golf at age 12 in 1946 working on a golf course maintenance team for his father, who at that time was designing courses and serving as the superintendent at Green Ridge Country Club in Comstock Park. The Green Ridge property was later sold for development and the club members built a new facility at what is now known as Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada Township.
Jerry was born in Grand Rapids in 1934 and the family lived for several years adjacent to Grand Haven Golf Club, an award-winning Matthews duo design once considered one of the top public courses in America. That course is now the site of the Jack Nicklaus redesign American Dunes Golf Club, home of the Folds of Honor Foundation.
Jerry was a proud Michigan State graduate with multiple degrees in landscape architecture and urban planning. He also served in the U.S. Army.
His handprint is on courses everywhere across Michigan: The Natural at Beaver Creek in Gaylord, St. Ives Golf Club at Tullymore Resort in Stanwood, Timberstone Golf Course in Iron Mountain; Bucks Run Golf Club in Mount Peasant and so many more.
He did design outside of Michigan, but only a handful of projects. He admitted he didn’t like travel all that much and Michigan was a beautiful place with great landforms for golf.
"I like Michigan and I was really lucky to come along with my dad at that point in history," Jerry Matthews told a Golf Advisor writer regarding the first golf boom in the 1960s "There was so much work and I was learning so much."
The peak of Jerry’s career came in the 1990s and from 1995 to 1997 his firm opened 17 new courses in the state.
"I'm not a bulldozer guy," Matthews said in what he called another semi-retirement interview with the Grand Rapids Press in 2008. “I never try to not move much dirt. I just like to take what's there and see what I can do. I’ve also hired a lot of talented people, so many great students from Michigan State to work with us over the years. I know two heads are better than one. Working with my dad taught me that."
Funeral arrangements are pending.