In 1922, the Washington State Golf Association (now known as Washington Golf) was founded for one specific reason: to conduct an annual state amateur championship.
The first championship was held at Yakima Country Club, which at the time was a nine-hole layout that covered about 3,000 yards and was bordered by apple and pear orchards. Bon Stein, a 24-year-old golf equipment salesman and former caddie, shot rounds of 69-70 to earn the No. 1 seed, and then marched his way through the match-play bracket to become the first champion. He would win four of the first five championships.
The Washington Men’s Amateur is the only championship – amateur or professional – that has been held continuously since its founding. While all other golf championships were canceled in the early 1940s during World War II, the Washington Men’s Amateur modified its format and continued to be played.
J.C. Baldwin served as the vice-president and then president of the WSGA in 1942 and 1943, and it was he who championed that the event continue during the war “for everyone’s good health and general well-being.”
The championship has been held in different formats over the past century. From 1922-1941 it was conducted as match play.
From 1942-1945 it was contested as a two-day, 54-hole stroke-play event, because restrictions during World War II allowed golf to be played only on weekends. In 1944, Harry Givan and Scotty Campbell tied after 54 holes, and had to wait until the following Sunday to square-off in an 18-hole playoff.
Givan won that playoff, and repeated as champion the next year, bringing his total number of wins to four. Campbell would win the title three times. Both players would eventually be inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame.
When the war ended in 1945, the championship reverted to a match-play format from 1946-1964. And in 1965, to join all other significant tournaments, the championship again was held as stroke play, which continues to this day.
Over its first four decades, the Washington Men’s Amateur presented the championship trophy to a wide array of golfers that included businessmen, insurance salesmen, stockbrokers, future golf teaching professionals, military officers, a postal worker, a shipyard worker, a shoe salesman and a future U.S. congressman.
Players in the championship to that point included future stars, such as World Golf Hall of Famer Gene Littler, PGA Tour players Al Mengert, Kermit Zarley, Rod Funseth, Mike Reasor, and Bill Wright, as well as iconic crooner Bing Crosby.
However, the 1960s brought a decided shift to the kind of player who won this championship. These were guys who carried golf bags with school colors, answered to team nicknames and took final exams. Collegiate players began to dominate the leaderboard, with booming drives and fearless play, hungry for experience.
There had been several players with multiple titles in this championship, but the competition gradually became so fierce over the years, with young players using a victory as a springboard to bigger stages, that there was a 52-year gap between when Don Scott won it more than once, with back-to-back titles in 1968-1969, until RJ Manke did it in 2018 and 2021.
The most well-known of these young collegians was Fred Couples, who won the championship in 1978, held that year at Olympia Country and Golf Club. After the future World Golf Hall of Famer won the title, players from then on tried to win it simply because Fred won it.
“For me personally, 100 years is a long, long time to be part of anything,” said Couples recently. “Washington is known for its sports, but it’s really known for its golf. It’s got everything going for it. It’s a huge landmark for me to be part of.”
Couples (in 1978) and Bud Ward (in 1938) are the only players to win the Washington Amateur and the Washington Open in the same year.
Since then, players and champions of the Washington Men’s Amateur have included future PGA Tour players Nick Taylor, Alex Prugh, Richard Lee, Troy Kelly, Brock Mackenzie and Bill Sander, among others. Hall of Fame instructor Jim McLean and local PGA Professional hall of famer Bill Tindall also competed in it.
The youngest champion is Joe Highsmith, who won the title in 2017 as a 17-year-old. In 2021, Highsmith won the team NCAA National Championship with Pepperdine, and competed in the U.S. Open.
In 1981, John Bodenhamer won the title. He would later serve as CEO and executive director of the WSGA for 21 years (1990-2011) before becoming director of championships – including the U.S. Open – at the USGA. The perpetual trophy of the Washington Men’s Amateur is now named The John M. Bodenhamer Trophy.
Joel Dahmen, a University of Washington player who is now a PGA Tour winner, won the title in 2007, fully aware he now shared this same distinction with Couples.
“I knew if you were a good player in the state, you should play in this event,” Dahmen said. “Through the years, it was something that stuck out to me – that Freddie had won the Washington Amateur. Whatever Freddie did, I was trying to do.”
Dahmen knew what the title meant for him. “The win brought me a lot of opportunities in the next couple of years – the Pacific Coast Amateur, Sahalee Players Championship, the Western Amateur – just a ton of amateur events, all big ones. I got to represent Washington in team matches, play in Mexico twice. As a kid trying to play elite amateur golf, that win got me into almost everything I wanted to be in. It was almost like a PGA Tour win; I got a lot of exemptions. It was a springboard to where I am now.”
Beginning with that inaugural State Amateur held at Yakima Country Club in 1922, 48 different courses statewide have hosted the championship. Indicative of how statewide golf dynamics and the quality and variety of venues have expanded over the past 100 years, 46 of the first 47 championships were held at private courses, while 19 of the past 22 events have played out on public layouts.
After a century, the Washington Men’s Amateur remains the premier golf championship in the state.