By Clifford Cowley
Occupations—Assistant Golf Coach—Univ. Washington; Pro Shop Manager– Glendale Country Club and Seattle Golf Club; Board of Director–Trans National Golf Assoc.; Nutritional Lifestyle Educator, and TPI certification; and manager of family properties.
Location—Sand Point Country Club, Seattle, Washington
Status—Current President Washington State Women’s Golf Association; Member–Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame and NWAACC Sports Hall of Fame (Northwest Community College Athletic Association)
This August, the Washington State Women’s Golf Association (WSWGA) will be celebrating their 90th year promoting the game of golf. Since 1922, the mission of the WSWGA has been to promote the game of golf, competition and camaraderie for women, of all skill levels, who are members of recognized clubs within the association. Ann Swanson is the current President, and fittingly, her home club, Sand Point Country Club will host the Championship July 30-August 3.
Swanson, winner of nine championship titles, holds the distinction of having the most. She is also a champion player with nine runner-ups and nine titles. She won her first state championship in 1973, and her second in 1981. From 1988 to 1990, she dominated women’s golf in Washington State, winning the championship for three consecutive years, with back-to-back wins in ’92, ’93; ’95, ’96, and three consecutive wins in the senior division from 2003 to 2005
Swanson grew up in Central Park, Wash, a suburb of Aberdeen, and graduated from J.M. Weatherwax High School and Grays Harbor College, completing her education at Seattle University.
She grew up in a neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of kids, so she and her sister did what their two older brothers did such as building tree houses, playing football, basketball and baseball to pass the time.
Her father owned a chain of supermarkets, started by his father, C.O. Swanson, in 1905. Currently run by the third generation of Swanson’s, it is the Pacific Northwest’s oldest running, family-owned grocery business.
Growing up, all the kids had to work in the stores.
“My dad always felt it was important to instill a respect for hard work and earning our own way,” says Swanson. “I remember when he brought home the latest gas-powered mower, and immediately took off the seat. He wasn’t going to have his kids ‘riding’ when we mowed the lawn.” The lawn was over three acres.
The Swanson family was always interested in sports. Her dad was a good athlete, a believer in physical fitness and ahead of his time in recognizing the importance diet played in healthful living. He loved boxing and baseball and was a friend of former middle-heavyweight boxing champ Leo Lomski. She remembers Lomski coming over and showing all the kids in the neighborhood how to use a punching bag, skip rope and the basic moves.
Swanson’s mother was an athlete too. She was a champion swimmer and although supportive of all her kids’ endeavors, swimming was special to her. “She wanted all of us to be good swimmers,” says Swanson, “but it wasn’t to be for me. All those lessons, and I still don’t like swimming unless it’s getting in the water to cool off.”
Her parents were the catalyst for Swanson’s love of sports and she always dreamed of being a champion at something. Amazingly, it wasn’t until she was 17 that she found golf, her true passion. Her parents didn’t play, but they belonged to Grays Harbor Country Club where her oldest brother, Larry, occasionally worked as a caddie. One day, he brought home two old persimmon woods. He sank orange juice cans in their three acre “yard” and constructed a makeshift golf course. Swanson and her sister began hitting balls as far and as hard as they could. Seeing their interest, their mother signed them up for lessons with Dan Strite, the Grays Harbor pro. Out of their savings, they each purchased Patty Berg Wilson starter sets from Dan. The rest is history.
Life Lessons Kick In
Combined with the family’s natural athleticism, and the work ethic instilled by her dad, Swanson became an excellent golfer.
“There were no organized sports teams for girls in the 1950s and 60s. So when I entered Grays Harbor College, I asked if I could play for the men’s golf team. I was the first female in Washington to play on a community college men’s golf team,” she says proudly. “There was no ’resistance’ from my team members, but it was a character-building experience and had its moments. I can still remember the looks I got when my opponents found out they had to play a girl. You can imagine the grief they took from their team mates when I happened to beat one of them. Not only that, but I can still remember the teasing we endured when we showed up in our team jackets with our college’s mascot on the back. Coming from logging country, The Grays Harbor college teams were called ‘The Chokers.’ I have to admit, we were probably the only golf team in the nation that thought it was honor to be called that”
Swanson is also proud of the fact that at the peak of her career, she worked full-time in addition to golf. “My own personal motto was to be the best I could be, based on my ability and the amount of time I had to work at it. I was also driven, obsessed with the game. I simply loved playing golf,” she admits. She believes the one characteristic all champions –in any walk of life– share is tremendous sense of pride. They are driven because they want to excel.
Game of Life
As with any golfer who plays the game regularly, Swanson points to the sense of integrity and respect in golf that mirrors life. “It’s an individual game that teaches self-respect, discipline, and inspires confidence in our decision making. The nature of the game teaches us to respect our fellow players and keeps us honest at all times. It’s a true test of one’s character,” she says.
Heroes of the Game
The person she admires most is her mother. “She was always my biggest supporter,” says Ann. “She is also my hero, although I didn’t realize it until I became an adult,” she adds. Her golf hero is Pat Lesser Harbottle, one of the greatest woman players to ever come out of the Pacific Northwest. “She has a well-developed sense of integrity. Her love for the game and her ability to be a good friend transcend all else.”
Another person she has greatly admired is her golf teacher, Joe Golia, a 50 year member of the PGA. “He has stuck by me through thick and thin and has always encouraged me to keep playing and competing.”
Her favorite players on the tour right now are Seattle’s Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and the young guns Rickie Fowler, Rory McElroy and Matt Kutchar. On the women’s side, she thinks Lexi Thompson is very special. “It will be fun to watch her career,” says Swanson.
Ultimately, she feels Title IX, is what has allowed women to prosper in sports. According to Swanson, women no longer have to play on the men’s team to compete in sports, and the early focus on sports helps to make them mentally stronger. “Plus, it is okay now to be a jock and a ‘girly-girl,’” she adds with a smile.
Swanson is an athlete, a champion in golf, in life, and a lady. Her grace and style serves as a model not only for women’s sports, but also for all athletes, male and female, in all sports. Serving as President of the WSWGA is a fitting testament to her impact on the game of golf, and the game of life.
Carry on, Ann