On familiar ground at Hiawatha Sportsman's Club

Superintendent Dee Robideau has gone from a grateful member of the century-old Michigan club to its caretaker.


Dee Robideau
Superintendent Dee Robideau is in her element at Hiawatha Sportsman's Club in Engadine, Mich. After all, she spent part of her youth there. Photo by Katherine Sirvio

Three generations of Dee Robideau’s family belonged to Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club.

As a young girl, Robideau spent memorable moments on the property in Engadine, Mich., which stretches 5 miles along Lake Michigan frontage in the state’s Upper Peninsula. She swam in Lake Michigan and was mesmerized by her grandmother’s flower garden. In her later years, Robideau owned a home there along more than 30,000 acres of forests, spring-fed rivers, trout streams and small lakes within its boundaries.

Now that she’s superintendent at the nearly 100-year-old golf course at Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club, this is Robideau’s turf — and it sounds as if she’s dominating.

“I’ve never seen anyone work harder in my life. She leads by example. Nobody’s going to outwork her,” says Don Naylor, pro shop manager at the club. “It’s Dee’s show.”

In her second full year as superintendent at the nine-hole course, Robideau has worked her way up the ranks. In 2016, she was hired in the pro shop. Two years later, she moved to the grounds maintenance department, implementing her background in landscape design into the role. “Once I got on the mower, I was hooked,” says Robideau, a three-year GCSAA member and native of Tecumseh, Mich.

Robideau shadowed then-superintendent Gary Trombley, who spent more than two decades at Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club. For a while, Trombley had been searching for the right person to step into his spot when he retired. Robideau’s emergence provided clarity. His confidence in her ability to lead once he was gone soothed any concerns about the club’s future.

“I was looking for somebody I thought could handle it. I wasn’t going to let someone take over and let it fall apart,” Trombley says. “I knew by the middle of the first year with me she could survive. She had the right attitude, the right instincts — and the right ideas.”

Example: Trombley once attempted to plant trees between the fifth and sixth fairways, but the plan was tabled. Robideau tried again and made good on what Trombley envisioned once upon a time. “She thought it needed barriers. Well, they’re there, and they’re growing,” says Trombley, adding that since he retired in 2020, all he has heard about her overall efforts “are compliments.”

It was his idea, Robideau says, for her to go all-in. “Gary took me under his wing, sent me to Michigan State field days to see if this was something I wanted to pursue. With my background in landscape (at one time she considered using her business degree to open her own landscaping operation), it seemed like a natural transition,” says Robideau, who would within hours return to the site to trim tree branches any time she was forced to duck under them while mowing. “This was Gary’s baby. He gave me free rein. When I became superintendent, I felt I was ready.”

There is no question in the mind of Doug Sanborn that she was way beyond prepared. “In today’s workforce, you can’t find a more dedicated employee. Passion. An incredible thirst for knowledge. She’s not satisfied with what she thinks she knows,” says Sanborn, the club’s manager. “Dee is beyond reproach.”

Robideau has tackled bunker improvements on her watch as superintendent. She and her crew have developed bee pollinator gardens and butterfly preserves. She calls it “naturalizing with a purpose.” Perennials have been planted around the women’s tees. “That’s part of my landscape background that will never leave me,” Robideau says.

This month, Robideau plans to attend the Michigan State Turfgrass Short Course for four days. In February, she’ll attend her first GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando. It’s all part of her desire to improve. “We’re working hard to keep this thing polished,” she says.

After all, Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club is in her blood, and she intends to protect its history, which includes those times she teed it up. “I have a lot of fond memories. I get choked up,” says Robideau, briefly halting her thoughts as she reminisces. “My stepfather was a golfer. When I came here with my two girls, we always had golf scrambles. He took one daughter, me the other. That’s what I remember.”

Robideau also cannot forget what Trombley once mentioned to her.

“Gary said I was here to put the icing on the cake, take it to the next level. I think I’ve held true to his words,” she says. “You’ll still see me digging in the dirt.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor