Family and Community – Riverwoods Golf Course

by Bart Potter

A large blended family bought a dilapidated golf course and breathed new life into it.

It might be a year and a half or two before Riverwoods Golf and RV grows into the golf course its owners want it to be.

It might never turn a profit.

But it’s open, hard as it might be to imagine around here.

It’s enough of a golf course, right now, that tee times are being made and rounds are being played. If it’s less of a golf course today than it will be in due time, Heather Hamilton can tell you one thing she knows, for sure, by evidence of eyes, ears and heart: It’s more than a golf course.

A half-decade ago, this 100-year-old golfing ground, known since 1924 as Willapa Harbor Golf Course, was no longer a golf course at all. It was closed,

abandoned by all but some campers, a sad lament along a country road. A lost cause.

Hamilton, a Raymond real estate investor who has never played golf, and her husband Daniel Hamilton, a dentist in town who loves golf, didn’t see it that way.

They bought it.

The story of how they rebuilt and renewed a golf course, now freshly renamed Riverwoods and daily rejuvenated, is about family – a large blended Hamilton family of sons and daughters and cousins – and about Pacific County residents who brought the love, embracing the work of restoring a community resource.

It’s about a retired PGA professional who signed on, bringing a career’s worth of golf course expertise to the cause.

The Hamiltons, who moved to Raymond from Connecticut in 2000, live five minutes from the golf course. Driving by it every day, they watched it decline beginning in the late 2010s from a working golf course into 88 acres of sorely neglected greenspace.

“It was sad to see,” Heather Hamilton said.

To understand how great the Hamiltons’ undertaking, it helps to know how far Willapa Harbor had fallen. When they took over in July 2021, the course was strewn with trash and rusting junk. The grass on the former fairways stood dauntingly high. The greens were unrecognizable as such.

Foreign absentee owners, lack of resources to make the big changes needed, a small-town demographic – name your blame. That’s the unfortunate recent history before the Hamiltons jumped in.

Willapa Harbor Golf Course opened its nine holes in 1924 as the first golf course in Pacific County. When Heather asked around the community for help in charting the Willapa backstory, she got an outpouring.

A 1940 article in the Raymond Herald notes the acquisition of the course by South Bend businessman William Leber, patriarch of the ownership succession at Willapa, which included two generations of the Runge family.

Hank and Leah (Leber) Runge owned Willapa Harbor for more than 35 years.

Their son, Louie Runge, owned the course from 1993 to roughly 2008 before he sold to the Korean businessman from whom the Hamiltons bought the course.

Louie’s son, Mitch Runge, learned to play at Willapa Harbor and is now the head PGA professional at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash.

Kevin Bishop, a longtime Olympia-area PGA professional and former golf coach at Saint Martin’s University, posted on the Riverwoods Facebook page that he, too, learned to play at Willapa Harbor, tagging along with his father, Roy Bishop, who won multiple club champion trophies at Willapa and later was the pro/owner at Capitol City GC in Lacey, Wash.

Bishop wrote, “That was a great golf course, and the Runge family put their blood, sweat and tears into making it a great place to go. It had the best milkshakes in town for sure!”

Greg Carter had taken a medical retirement after five years as general manager at Ocean Shores Golf Course on the Washington coast when he heard through the small-world golf professional grapevine that the Hamiltons were reaching out for help.

Carter, 65, came on staff as a volunteer and immediately lent a professional’s sensibility born from GM jobs at larger golf courses in California, Nevada and Oregon. He now lives next door to the refurbished Riverwoods golf clubhouse (there’s a clubhouse for the 20-space RV park, too) with Oliver, his Yorky-Scotty-Chihuahua mix, who loves to ride on golf carts.

“Greg is our miracle worker,” Hamilton said.

First things first: “Everybody was helping mow,” she said, “to even see what was there.”

It was a haying operation. “Bale it up and take it out of there,” Carter said.

Meanwhile, they were carting away dumpster after dumpster of garbage and assorted junk.

A more recent project for Carter involved locating and mapping the underground irrigation on the course.

The Riverwoods greens, re-planted in Two Putt creeping bluegrass seed, are smallish and flat-ish, with “gentle rolls to ‘em,” Carter says. They’re maybe 18 months from being the greens he’d like to see, but patrons have been okay with them since the Hamiltons re-launched with a soft opening on June 1, 2023.

“We weren’t really ready to open last summer, but the community really wanted to play golf, so we opened,” Heather said.

For a country nine-holer, Riverwoods is no pushover. A recent re-assessment put the course rating at 70.9 and the slope at 126 for players doing 18 holes at 6,049 yards; for the red/yellow (women’s) tee combination at 5,512 yards, the rating is 73.7 and slope 129.

Carter said he was fortunate to get a deal on 11 new golf carts, with potential for seven or eight more.

“We could actually do a tournament if we want to,” he said.

High school golf is also returning to the golf course after a multi-year absence. David Gunnarson, a PE teacher at South Bend High School, welcomed a turnout this spring of 10 players (eight boys and two girls) to his tri-district team from Raymond, South Bend and Valley high schools.

The Hamiltons’ 15 children, eight of which Heather gave birth to, range in age from 13 to 30. They don’t all live nearby, but they all seem to help around Riverwoods, in some way or another, when they’re around.

Likewise with volunteers from the community, who do everything from watering the grounds, to inside work, to marketing, to helping Carter with maintenance.

When Heather says Riverwoods is more than a golf course, she’s not talking about the RV park, which is growing, or the vacation rental by No. 9 (Louie Runge’s home, back in the day).

She’s talking about the people, about the community events coming back to Riverwoods – the weddings, Easter egg hunts, reunions – the gatherings that bring life to a property.

“I’m not eloquent,” she said, but in her voice was gratitude.

“We kind of started it, but so many people have been involved to make it happen.”

Bart Potter has taught journalism in higher education, and won awards for sports writing and news reporting as a daily journalist. He manages the golf website,