In the fall of 1922, more than 80 golfers traveled to Yakima to play in one of two inaugural tournaments, or both – the Washington State Amateur and the Washington State Open – which together formed a newly created golf showcase.
They checked into one of three local hotels. They registered to play at Yakima Country Club, which at the time was a nine-hole layout that covered 3,000 yards and was bordered by apple and pear orchards.
These eager golfers arrived mostly by train, or traveled however they could, to reach Yakima from Spokane, Walla Walla, Bellingham, Vancouver and Aberdeen. Others came from out of state – from Portland, from Butte, Mont., and Victoria, B.C.
The two events were held back-to-back during the week of September 25-30. The Open was up first and catered to the pros for 72 holes over two days. The amateurs followed with a medal round qualifier and three days of match play. Some of the amateurs teed it up in both competitions.
Washington’s first State Amateur was put together by a committee led by A.S. Kerry, president of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and a Seattle Golf Club member. He shared this task with W.E. Draper and George Wise, both from Yakima Country Club; R.E. Peyton of Spokane Country Club; and Homer P. Brown, president of Grays Harbor Country Club.
Kerry not only helped organize the State Amateur, he donated a handsome silver cup in his name that went to the winner. As he explained it, the event was sorely needed to advance the game among the lesser visible clubs statewide and to encourage more people to play.
While the new amateur event was the big lure for its 50 entrants, it was a half-dozen men who made golf history at the Yakima course without swinging a club. Formed as a board of directors, they met on the final morning of play to award the 1923 site to Grays Harbor Country Club in Aberdeen.
By conducting business, according to news accounts at the time, these six people – J.C. Adams of Bellingham Golf and Country Club, W.W. Baker of Walla Walla Country Club, Neil Jamison of Everett Golf and Country Club, J.P. Kohls of Yakima, Alex Rose of Earlington Golf and Country Club, and Brown of Grays Harbor – informally created the Washington State Golf Association.
The WSGA installed Kerry as its first chairman of the board, or president, suggesting it would do it this way thereafter. The fledgling group also agreed to hold its events only at nine-hole clubs that were accredited PNGA members until the list of Yakima, Walla Walla, Aberdeen, Everett, Bellingham and Earlington had been exhausted. They would do this to give these smaller courses more visibility and attract more golfers to the point they could become 18-hole layouts.
Now celebrating its centennial, Washington Golf began with strong-willed leaders in Kerry and J.C. Baldwin, who were decisive in their ways; gained traction with people such as Charles Draper and John Bodenhamer, who introduced change; and rests in the capable hands of Troy Andrew, a progressive leader for a new era. They’ve kept the organization near the top of America’s amateur golf leaderboard.
After a century in existence, the former Washington State Golf Association-turned-Washington Golf has evolved into a full-service golf organization providing benefits and services to all golfers.
The association runs a full calendar of championships and events catering to all abilities, ages and genders. It provides handicapping and course-rating services. It offers numerous benefits to its members on golf rounds, equipment and apparel, to all levels of golfers in Washington and Northern Idaho.
The association started with 50-60 club representatives and now has more than 300.
Washington Golf has changed as the game changed. It now caters to a membership that is 75 percent public courses and players, whereas in the beginning it represented predominantly private clubs.
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 during 100 years of the association, 46 of the first 47 championships were held at private courses, while 19 of the past 22 events have played out on public layouts.
The championship – since 1922 for the men, and 1994 for the women – provides the association with a common thread that weaves throughout its existence. The event has helped local players such as Rod Funseth, Al Mengert, Kermit Zarley, Joel Dahmen, Paige Mackenzie, Jimin Kang, Heather Graff and Fred Couples fulfill ultimate golf dreams.
“A hundred years is a long, long time to be part of anything,” said Couples, the State Amateur’s most famous past champion (winning it in 1978). “The state of Washington is known for its sports, but it’s really known for its golf. It’s a huge landmark for me to be part of.”
Dahmen grew up in Clarkston, in the most southeastern corner of the state, and he followed up his only season at the University of Washington by winning the Washington State Amateur in 2007 by six strokes. This victory enabled him to advance his career. He would later become a winner on the PGA Tour.
“The more I’ve traveled and the better I’ve played, and the more I’ve been around other people in the game, the state of Washington is underrated for its golf, and you can go back forever on that,” said Dahmen. “I think it’s a testament to all those people who have been around the game in Washington for the last 100 years. Those are people who cared about the game and who cared about making it great locally.”
Paige Mackenzie, who went from Yakima to the University of Washington to 2002 Washington Women’s Amateur champion to the LPGA Tour to the TV booth, still talks about her roots in the game. “Growing up, everybody who plays the game in Washington had such pride and a knowledge for its history,” she said. “I grew up knowing who (World Golf Hall of Famer, and Washington native) JoAnne Carner was. That’s not typical for a 12-year-old. I remember when Fred Couples won the Masters. I was nine years old.”
Over the past century, Washington Golf has developed into more than just a way to enjoy competition within golf. It has grown because its core mission is to make sure the game stays healthy in the state; that more and more people every year have the chance to be part of a game that provides exercise, fresh air and, most of all, enjoyment.
The game for a lifetime.