Missouri Marvel: Ledgestone Country Club’s Kolby Armbruster

The GCSAA Class A Superintendent has brought more efficient irrigation strategies to this Branson West golf course.


Kolby Armbruster
GCSAA Class A superintendent Kolby Armbruster has won over those who play Ledgestone Country Club in Branson West, Mo. Photo by Brian Wright

The first time Kolby Armbruster played Ledgestone Country Club at StoneBridge Village, he liked it. To say that those who are invested in the facility like what he has done to the place since becoming a regular there classifies as an understatement.

Six months after his round at the Branson West, Mo., course in 2019, Armbruster became a fixture when he was hired to be its superintendent. Ledgestone CC member and staple Dale Russell has never seen anything like it since Armbruster’s arrival. “He came in with a written five-year plan of what he was going to do. He’s ahead of schedule, actually,” Russell says. “He has taken the course to another level. There’s not anything bad I can say about him.”

Armbruster, 35, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and nine-year association member, is a Show-Me Stater through and through. He was raised in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., located south of St. Louis along the Mississippi River. After he graduated from Southeast Missouri State University, Armbruster launched his career at the 36-hole Country Club of St. Albans (Mo.). “I’d been playing since I was 10 or 11 but didn’t know what went into managing a golf course,” Armbruster says. “I realized it has a dramatic impact on playability and the golfers at the golf course.”

His progression continued in the St. Louis area at a historic location. Armbruster went to Bellerive Country Club, which has hosted major championships, including the 1965 U.S. Open. For more than three years, Armbruster worked as a second assistant for John Cunningham, CGCS, at a time that Bellerive hosted the 2013 Senior PGA Championship. “It was intense. I really learned about attention to detail, that everything had to be in a certain place, every time, every day,” Armbruster says.

Now the general manager/COO at Grandfather Golf & Country Club in Linville, N.C., Cunningham still speaks often with Armbruster, whose actions speak volumes. “He didn’t just answer, ‘Yes.’ He always asked, ‘Why?’ and he’d keep asking, ‘Why?’ He had a lot of drive, always motivated, driven. My point to him was everything that you do, day in and day out, that’s your résumé,” says Cunningham, a 26-year GCSAA member.

From his office, Cunningham witnessed Armbruster’s passion for the sport. “He, probably more than just about anyone else, has a love for the game — a true love for the game,” Cunningham says. “I’d look out my window and can remember seeing Kolby with his golf bag after working 12, 13, 14 hours in the heat. No one else would stay. Kolby would play golf till dark, walking the golf course.”

He went on to spend nearly six years as assistant superintendent at 27-hole Forest Hills Country Club in Clarkson Valley, Mo. Four years ago, Armbruster moved to southwest Missouri and Ledgestone CC. His experience teeing it up earlier that year sold Armbruster on Ledgestone when he interviewed, and, ultimately, he was offered the job. “I told myself I have to work at a golf course I enjoy playing. I thought it was a pretty cool place,” he says.

Kolby and Katie Armbruster
Armbruster and his wife, Katie, participate in the couples league at Ledgestone CC. Photo courtesy of the Armbrusters

Armbruster hit the ground running. The to-do list was loaded. Immediately, he performed a course analysis and developed a prioritized action plan. Once approved by the club board, he communicated it to the entire membership. Armbruster embraces technology and science. “You use technology to your advantage. We have the Sun Seeker app. I’m a huge moisture management person with the TDR soil moisture meter. We brought in 2000s technology they’d (club) never seen. That blew them away,” he says. “If you water properly in the morning, you’re not chasing things in the afternoon. We do all watering on the putting greens in the morning. Moisture readings, watering, is done before golf. That allows you to get to other things.”

A major irrigation system overhaul was monumental. “The communication system had not been working for three years,” Armbruster says. “We went hole by hole, box by box. Just about every box had a component fried or surge protectors not working properly. We dug up several bad splices. We got it back running in five to six weeks.”

The 30-year-old, two-row irrigation system needed some TLC. “We changed out all 618 nozzles. Every individual head was looked at, mapped, inventoried and evaluated,” he says, “and a new pump station was installed that was already in the works prior to my arrival. The irrigation program is on cruise control now.”

As noted, the checklist was massive (it also should be noted work has been completed under budget). “We had to get a consistency with collars. The weed pressure here is something I never experienced before. We had explosive goosegrass. We wanted to get greens where we want them, trees where we want them, and so on from there. It was about getting the proper areas dialed in,” Armbruster says. “There was encroachment with cedar trees. I can’t put a number on it (how many trees were eliminated, but he ballparked it at 300). Trees in St. Louis are massive, 60 to 100 feet tall. Here, we have 30- or 40-foot cedars that suck the life out of them under the ground. Any time we take them down, it’s for turf health and playability reasons. We’re also giving (grass) a little food to chew on while improving fertility and conditions.”

The artificial tee on the driving range was redone, including removing battered mats, old infrastructure and crumbling asphalt. A new cart path with safer access was placed adjacent to the range. It all was done in-house. “I like to think we’re handy at laying concrete. I’ve got staff that likes to do more than just mow and weed-eat,” he says.

The crew’s buy-in invigorates Armbruster. “Our staff is visible. They wave to members. They smile. I’ve heard comments like, ‘Where did you get all this new staff?’ It’s been a new culture and atmosphere they’re working under now,” says Armbruster, whose 12-person seasonal staff includes assistant Andrew Mills, a two-year GCSAA member. “We’ve gotten a lot done quickly. We couldn’t have done it without the team. A lot of it is educating them the how and the why.”

The mission is a constant. “It’s establishing consistency. Not just hole-by-hole but day-by-day basis,” he says.

Besides recognizing what Ledgestone CC meant to him that first time he played the course, Armbruster got a taste of what the course’s presence means to members at this place that is part of a property owner’s association (although it has transitioned to semi-private by allowing public play). “On April 29, 2021, we had a microburst. Trees on the ground. The creek that runs through the course flooded. I got emails, calls from members, saying, ‘How can I help?’ They showed up with rakes, blowers. Twenty of them cleaned up debris. I never experienced that before. They take ownership as much as our staff does. That’s kind of what I already knew, that this is a special place,” he says.

On Thursdays from April to October, Armbruster and his wife, Katie, play in the club’s couples league. Although they live an 18-minute drive from Ledgestone CC, it sounds like a second home to them. “We feel like part of the family. We’re pretty happy here,” Armbruster says.

He is welcome to stay as long as he wants, if one member has anything to say about it. “I don’t want to lose him,” Russell says.

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor