An Early Start in Golf
Ah, to be a "swampboy." It was the job coveted by all the caddies at Seattle Golf Club during the 1920's. Being a swampboy meant being assigned to the ponds adjacent to either the 11th or 16th greens, and retrieving errant golf balls struck by members into what otherwise would have been watery graves. With the job came a small, flat raft, a pair of rubber boots, and a chance to find a few extra golf balls, which would be sold to the pro shop for a dime apiece. But the best part of the job was that swampboys were given golfing privileges at the club on selected days, something strictly forbidden for caddies.
From swampboys to successful Seattle businessmen and to respected family men, brothers Carl and Ernie Jonson never lost touch with their roots nor their desire to return something to the game that gave them so much. Each was instrumental in carrying forth the PNGA torch during a time when, arguably, the association's flame might have burned out. In so doing, they left an indelible mark on Northwest amateur golf. It was only fitting that, in 1997, both Jonsons were presented with the PNGA Distinguished Service Award.
During the 1940's, Ernie voluntarily administered the Alex Rose Caddie Scholarship Fund for the PNGA, which was named after the popular Seattle golf writer. The scholarship was a precursor to the Evans Scholars Program in the Northwest. Ernie also had the foresight to envision, as early as the 1950s, that computers would revolutionize the way handicapping computation would be done. From this vision he would lead the PNGA to becoming one of the first amateur golf associations in the nation to organize its membership through centralized, computer handicapping. Also, as a founder of Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent, Washington, Ernie played an integral role in the creation of one of the Northwest's finest championship golf courses.
Likewise, Carl had a strong influence on the Northwest golf scene. He is widely regarded as the driving force behind the formation of Sahalee Country Club, in Redmond, Washington, host of the 1998 PGA Championship. Also, largely as a result of Carl's ingenuity and persistence, the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur Championship has become one of the nation's premier amateur tournaments. The event, which brings together the finest men's amateur golfers from 16 western North American golf associations and the Republic of China (Taiwan), is touted as the finest amateur championship west of the Mississippi River. It was largely initiated by the PNGA, led by Carl's efforts.
The Jonsons were also responsible for helping save the PNGA during a tragic period. When Forest Watson suddenly passed away at the PNGA's annual meeting in 1964, the Jonsons stepped forward. From 1964 to 1971, Ernie operated the PNGA from his office and paid for an administrative secretary. From where did this tireless devotion to bettering the game of golf come? One must return to the days of their youth to find the answer.
The Early Years
As with most youngsters in the 1920's, the Jonsons' first exposure to golf came while caddying. Shortly before their 10th birthdays, the brothers made the short walk to Seattle Golf Club, about a half-mile from the family home on 143rd Street. They looped for some of Seattle's most prominent businessmen: Joshua Green of Peoples Bank; A.B. Stewart, the founder of Carnation Farms; and D.E. Fredericks, co-founder of the Frederick & Nelson department store chain.
Carl recalls caddying for Walker Cupper, Albert "Scotty" Campbell, at Seattle Golf Club the week after Campbell won the 1933 PNGA Men's Amateur Championship at Victoria Golf Club. Carl described Campbell as "the finest ball striker from the Northwest I ever saw." While he held Campbell's playing ability in high regard, Carl recollects not being very fond of his golf bag. "It was before the USGA instituted the 14-club rule [limiting the number of clubs a player may carry]. He must have had at least 30 clubs in his bag, including three or four putters, and in those days, every match was 36 holes!"
Caddying has its Rewards
Carl Jonson recalls how being a caddie helped him become a better player. "I caddied until I was 18 [by then the age limit had been raised from 16]. I probably caddied for Frank Dolp and Don Moe. I know I was in a foursome with Doc Willing when Waverley Country Club and Seattle Golf Club had team matches. I have a vivid memory of A.S. Kerry, for whom I caddied many times in the late 1920's. I caddied for one of the Seattle players when Jock Hutchison and other Eastern golfers played Seattle Golf Club. The first significant tournament I caddied in was the Western Amateur in 1928.
"You had to do more than carry a bag. Even when caddying for high handicappers, you were expected to 'club' them and know the distances. There were no distance markers to help. That's how the kids who took an interest in the game got to be good players. Every caddie area had a few old clubs, balls and holes in the dirt to play to. At Seattle, down below the caddie house, now a club-storage area, kids used to hit rocks from a short, slanted board with a maple tree branch. A caddie swinging his player's club was prohibited. But you would go ahead of the players while they teed off and go down below the hill where you couldn't be seen, and swing clubs until they started walking down the hole being played.
"After getting some experience, you were expected to gamble on your player, nickels and dimes. Some golfers played 'iggerote' without a partnership game. But, usually, there was a partnership first and a second game for 10 cents a point, or 25 cents a point, and the high rollers [playing] $1 Nassaus, or partnership with 'X' each nine and on the 18. Pushes were unusual. Sometimes the caddies would be betting the same amount when in the nickel or dime level. The better the player, the higher the amount.
"I caddied for Dixie Fleager many, many times, and he was tough and didn't lose very often. He didn't like to lose, the same as Jack Westland. I came back as a member of the UW golf team in the late 1930's and played Fleager, beating him with a birdie on 18, winning 1-up and shooting 70. He didn't like that at all. I beat Westland in an Everett-Inglewood team match individually, 1-up, shooting 70 also, and he was very unhappy. That was after World War II when Ernie and I rejoined Inglewood and Porky Oliver was the pro."
Starring in the Public Arena
During the 1930's, the Jonsons came up through the public-links ranks and were active in the King County Public Links Golf Association. Ernie once served as the association's executive secretary. Carl won the Seattle City Caddie Championship in 1932. In the 1937 King County Public Links Championship, Ernie and Carl squared off in the finals of the match-play event at Seattle's Jefferson Park Golf Course. Carl jumped out to an early lead, but Ernie caught and passed Carl with the unusual nine-hole totals of 33, 33, 33 – 99, en route to defeating his older brother, 3 & 2. This was somewhat of a coup for Ernie, as Carl was the one who had previously garnered the most acclaim by being one of the four Seattleites who captured the 1936 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship Team title at Bethpage State Park Golf Course in Jamaica, New York.
Moving on to Successful Careers
A few years later, they would both graduate from the University of Washington, Carl with a law degree in 1939, and Ernie with an accounting degree in 1941. Carl briefly attended Columbia University in 1946 after a four-year stint in the Navy Supply Corps during World War II, and Ernie became a special agent in the FBI. Carl joined a small law firm in 1946, and became a partner in 1951. He started his own firm, Jonson and Jonson, in Seattle in 1969 with his sons, Michael and Richard. Carl and his wife Leanna also had another son, Gerry. Ernie operated the accounting and business software development firm of Ernest Jonson and Company with his sons, George, Jon and Ernie Jr. Ernie and his wife, Dorothy, also had a fourth son, Edward, an engineer.
Ernie recalled their college days fondly. "We played a lot of golf at Inglewood Country Club in those days. They had a special college student membership with dues of $2.20 a month. We certainly got our money's worth."
It was shortly after World War II ended that Ernie had his PNGA "moment in the sun," during the 1946 PNGA Men's Amateur Championship. Although Northwest golfing legend Harry Givan defeated Ernie in the finals, it was his quarterfinal match with two-time U.S. Amateur champion, Marvin "Bud" Ward, that he remembers best. "To say I was the underdog is an understatement. No one gave me a chance. The match was close through nine holes. Then, I started the back nine at Fircrest Golf Club with five straight threes to win, 6 & 4. As we were walking in after the match, everyone was congratulating Bud for dusting me off so handily. Needless to say, I beamed with delight when they learned of the actual outcome."
Several decades later, Carl also enjoyed his time in the PNGA spotlight, capturing the 1975 and 1977 PNGA Senior Men's Amateur championships, an event he helped initiate in 1965. However, some might call it poetic justice that neither Carl nor Ernie was the first Jonson to win a PNGA Championship. Ernie's youngest son, Ed, captured the 1974 PNGA Men's Amateur at Sahalee Country Club, which his uncle Carl had been so instrumental in founding a few years before.
Undoubtedly, Carl and Ernie Jonson have left a legacy for all Northwest golfers to enjoy for generations. Initiating the Evans Scholars Program in the Northwest; pioneering centralized, computer handicapping; sustaining the smooth operations of the PNGA during a difficult period; and creating championships of excellence, are immeasurably valuable contributions these men made to the golfing community. In examining the contributions of the Jonson brothers, it's obvious their efforts were labors of love.