Ridgetop Golf (Part 2): Making the Rounds – Installment 29

Glendale Country Club Superintendent Steve Kealy
Glendale CC Superintendent Steve Kealy

This column features recollections of the author’s 37 years as a golf writer. These installments stem from his many travels and experiences, which led to a gradual understanding that the game has many intriguing components, especially its people.

This is the continuation of my Q&A with the co-owners of Ridgetop Golf, Kip Kalbrener and his son Casey (Part 1 here). Kip said that the company got its name after a Snoqualmie Valley neighborhood where his young family lived in the early 1990s. Called the “Ridge” plat, the homeowners dubbed it “Ridgetop.” Though their residence there was short-lived, when Kip, his wife Nancy and their children relocated to Gig Harbor east of Tacoma the company’s name was retained.

Casey & Kip Kalbrener, Kip's dog Bay, Jaran & Josh Jahns
Casey & Kip Kalbrener, Kip’s dog Bay, Jaran & Josh Jahns

The Kalbreners have worked hard to forge their niche in Western golf circles, with Ridgetop’s trucks trekking 30,000-40,000 miles a year to job sites. Among their loyal customers are several golf course superintendents who’ve worked closely with them on remodeling projects.

“We are very fortunate to have Ridgetop Golf in the Pacific Northwest,” said Sean McDonough, chief of agronomy at Broadmoor Golf Club in Seattle. “I have had the privilege of working with Kip and Casey Kalbrener on many projects through the years. Their skill set is unparalleled, and they have always performed at a very high level on the projects we have worked on together, ultimately completing a long-range golf course master plan renovation. Their hard work and dedication were integral in the successful completion of restorative-based construction of a 100-year-old course.”

Kip & Grandson Hank on the Jobsite
Kip & Grandson Hank on the Jobsite

Marcus Harness, superintendent at Sand Point Country Club in Seattle, is equally laudatory. “Ridgetop Golf has been the go-to golf course contractor in the Pacific Northwest for decades. They are experts in navigating challenges to efficiently produce a quality product. Being a family business, their service extends beyond construction as they maintain compassionate working relationships with their clients. In large projects, you work very closely on a consistent basis in a high-stress environment. Partnering together with them in the trenches has cemented lifelong friendships with Kip and Casey. Their engagement and support for long-term success makes them an irreplaceable asset to our golf course.”

Here’s my Q&A with Casey. A native Washingtonian, the 31-year-old lived in Carnation, Wash., until 4th grade when the family moved to Gig Harbor. After graduating from Gig Harbor High School, he attended Washington State University and received a degree in Construction Management.

After college, Casey was employed by Atkinson Construction as an engineer, managing large-scale highway plans involving bridges, tunnels, and road construction. These infrastructure projects had budgets ranging from $50 million to $500 million, providing him with vital experience in seeing budgets and complex schedules through to completion.

Jeff Shelley: How old were you when first worked with your parents at Ridgetop Golf?

Casey Kalbrener: I grew up sitting on my dad’s lap on construction equipment from the time I was born. Through middle and high schools, I worked for my parents on weekends and summers.

JS: What’s it like working so closely with your parents?

CK: “My parents are truly the hardest-working people I know. I have always looked up to how they built this company and respected the amount of work and effort it took sustaining it. I feel very fortunate to be able to work closely with them and learn what it takes to run a business and raise a family side by side. They are true role models of how I want to be as a parent first and a business owner second.”

JS: What unique skills do you bring to the company?

CK: “I have been able to learn from a young age how to run construction equipment, particularly on golf courses and for golf course features. I also developed a good eye for what superintendents and architects are looking for in golf design and function because of how early I was brought into this business.

“Though the actual operation and physical work of the job would not be what I would label as my most unique skill, I have been able to look at this from a different angle than my dad due to my background in construction management and past job as a construction engineer. I have been able to focus more on contracts, scheduling, and value-engineering for our projects. As the company grows it has become very important to give course superintendents confidence in us that all these aspects are being looked at and executed properly, and this is a role I have become very confident and comfortable in.”

JS: What are your favorite aspects of the job?

CK: “Relationships. I have always respected how my parents created repeat customers in this industry. It is what I believe sets Ridgetop apart from many other companies. We are still working with a lot of the same golf courses my dad started with 30 plus years ago. To me, that has everything to do with our ability to continue with these relationships.

“It is a unique industry in the way that everyone is working toward a common end-goal of enjoying golf. The game is supposed to be fun, and we are lucky to create a product that should be aesthetically pleasing as well as providing a good time. So, while we are building it, I feel we should be enjoying it as well. That is one of my favorite parts, especially after coming from an industry building highways. Those are not particularly aesthetically pleasing, and it’s sure not much fun working alongside a freeway with cars and trucks speeding past at 60 or 70 miles per hour.”

JS: What future do you foresee for Ridgetop Golf and what role will you play moving forward?

CK: “My hope and ambition are that Ridgetop remains the recommended and preferred contractor in the Northwest. We have worked very hard at establishing this reputation. Our repeat business proves to us we have done this, and I never want to remove that as the backbone of our business.

“I truly feel that our team is some of the most hard-working, talented, and dedicated groups out there. It excites me to see what we have all built together. Because of this, I don’t want to overlook any opportunity that would give us a chance to show this to new markets, superintendents, architects, or owners elsewhere around the country.

“My role in this moving forward would be to continue being the direct contact to our clients, as well as a leader of our team in the field and in the office. I want to do this by taking what I have learned from my parents and continuing to grow from all the lessons learned in the past to create a better future for our family company.”

Just like his father, Casey takes his growing family along on jobs outside the metro Puget Sound region. That includes his wife Taylor, 3-year-old son Hank, and baby daughter Joey.

Casey's Family - Taylor, Hank, Casey and Joey 2023 Gig Harbor WA
Casey’s Family – Taylor, Hank, Casey and Joey 2023 Gig Harbor WA

JS: What’s it like having your wife and kids accompany you at work?

CK: “Having my family travel with me during our travel jobs are some of our fondest memories to date of our young family. We have been fortunate to work in very beautiful parts of the world, such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Bend, Ore. This has created so much adventure and great memories for us together we may not have had otherwise.”

Casey and Hank  2021 Jackson Hole WY
Casey and Hank 2021 Jackson Hole WY

JS: Please include any funny/memorable experiences you’ve had with Ridgetop Golf.

CK: “Some of the greatest memories on projects are the BBQs we get to have with the superintendents and crews on projects. We get to meet so many great people and share good times even during long, hard days.”

Hank at Sand Point CC jobsite 2022
Hank at Sand Point CC jobsite 2022

I asked Kip the same question. “When Casey was 12, he and I were pushing sand for a practice putting green at Glendale. Casey was running the dozer and I advised him that if superintendent Steve Kealy asked how old he was, say [the state of Washington’s minimum working age] 16 years old. Later, Steve came and messed with Casey, asking his age. Casey admitted he was 12. At least he was honest!”

Kip added that the most memorable and rewarding aspects of Ridgetop Golf have been working with his son for so long. “Casey is now rebuilding golf courses that I had done 20 to 30 years ago. It is very fun to watch.”

The senior Kalbrener made sure to mention other members of his immediate family. Daughter Anna Kalbrener, 34, is a talented artist who lives in Hood River, Ore., where she is a self-employed graphic designer and painter. She also built and manages Ridgetop’s website. In addition to Casey’s kids – Hank and Joey, Kip and his wife Nancy will be welcoming another grandchild as Anna’s delivery date is in April 2024.

Ridgetop’s “family” extends to two loyal employees, the brothers Josh and Jaran Jahns. “They have worked for us for over 12 years, starting as 18-year-olds and grown to become very capable shapers as well as job managers,” said Kip. “They have been a pivotal part of the growth of our business and are truly a part of our family.”

Joey & Nancy Kalbrener
Joey & Nancy Kalbrener

Kealy, Glendale’s superintendent for 34 years, has worked with the Kalbreners the longest. The multiple GCSAA national award winner sums up Ridgetop’s skill set and work ethic: “My first project with Kip at Glendale was in 1992, when he was a subcontractor for another golf course builder,” said Kealy. “Kip was on an excavator expanding the size of our irrigation pond. When the builder bailed before the end of the project, Kip finished off the remaining work for us.

“The next year we needed to rebuild some tees. I called Kip to ask if he was interested. He did a great job, and the rest is history. Since then, he has rebuilt eight greens, many tees, two complete bunker renovation projects 17 years apart, two forward-tee projects, a practice area addition, enhanced drainage, and a lot more,” added Kealy, who was instrumental in the development, growth and the GCSAA’s adoption and expansion of First Green into an international educational program.

“With the addition of Casey and superintendents, Josh and Jaran, the company has grown and so has the size of the projects they can build. The quality of their work is exceptional, and there is no other golf course construction company I would ever work with.”

Thanks to this hard-working, close-knit family – and universal acclaim for its professionalism and skill set – it’s no wonder that Ridgetop Golf enjoys a stellar reputation in West Coast golf circles.

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Jeff Shelley has written and published nine books as well as numerous articles for print and online media over his lengthy career. Among his titles are three editions of the book, “Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest.” The Seattle resident was the editorial director of from 2000-15. He also co-founded the Northwest Golf Media Association in 1995. For seven years he served as the board president of First Green, an educational outreach program that is now part of the Golf Course Superintendents of America and Environmental Institute for Golf.

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