American Lake VA course has a special friend

The new Rehabilitation and Learning Center at American Lake Veterans Golf Course could get an added boost if you mark your ballot for one particularly dedicated volunteer.

Thanks to the many people who’ve already voted for him, Harold “Pepper” Roberts, the founder and president emeritus of Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course, is a finalist for the Brotherton Community Champion award.

A $5,000 award will go to winner’s charity of choice, and Roberts’ choice, without a doubt, would be American Lake.

Roberts, who lives in Lakewood and is a veteran of the Korean War, has volunteered at American Lake for more than nine years, donating more than 4,400 hours of his time. Besides teaching golf to wounded warriors and establishing the American Lake fundraising arm, Roberts has helped recruit close to 200 volunteers who run the course.

Roberts led fundraising for the construction of the Rehabilitation and Learning Center, dedicated last Friday, and is working now to raise $3.5 million for a new nine holes at the course.

American Lake, which is in Lakewood and has both Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the VA Hospital on its shores, is thought to be the only golf course in the country designed specifically for wounded and disabled veterans.

The course, which also welcomes able-bodied veterans, has been maintained by volunteers since 1995, when federal funding for all Veterans Administration courses was eliminated.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his firm, Nicklaus Design, donated design services for the new nine holes, along with enhancements to the current nine, to make them more accessible to mobility-impaired veterans.

Roberts and other volunteers are featured in a seven-minute mini-documentary, posted on the KOMO News website at, where you can also cast your vote.


Reader Betty Alongi saw last week’s column and sent along a note about another golf course on a river, although not named Riverside.

Alongi grew up in Breckenridge, Minn., a tiny town that shares an 18-hole course with Wahpeton, N.D., on the Bois de Sioux River. The front nine is in North Dakota, the back nine in Minnesota.

The Bois de Sioux Golf Course is the only golf course in the U.S. to have nine holes in one state and nine in another. The clubhouse is on the North Dakota side, with access by footbridge from Minnesota (or you can drive through town), Alongi said.

Robert Bruce Harris designed the original (Minnesota) nine in 1924, and the course was redesigned and rebuilt in 2008 after the river flooded.

As for the golf, Bois de Sioux is no novelty. It offers a good challenge at about 6,700 yards, with a course rating of 71.3 and slope of 122.

Alongi moved from the area in 1968 and has not been in the clubhouse since, but said she did play the Minnesota nine several years ago.


Tumwater High girls golf coach Brent Bryant wondered early this spring, for print, why he couldn’t attract enough golfers to fill out a full roster. And why did the players he had seem so lukewarm toward practicing and getting better at the game?

Now, a few weeks later, things are looking up. The Thunderbirds are 4-0 in Evergreen Conference 2A dual matches, and 6-1 overall after Monday’s match with River Ridge.

“Most of them are buying in,” Bryant said of his players.

The turn came by stressing accountability, the need to practice, and teaching, teaching, teaching his mostly inexperienced team.

“Just caring, I guess,” he said.

Tumwater can edge closer to the Evergreen championship with a victory against Black Hills, another team with a small turnout and successful season, when the district rivals meet Wednesday at Tumwater Valley.