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Agronomy volunteers get insider’s look at Farmers Insurance Open

5 Min Read

Beyond The Ropes

DEI effort by Golf Course Superintendents Association of America sent two to Torrey Pines

    Written by Helen Ross @helen_pgatour

    She has her favorite players, like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. But when Dee Robideau goes to a golf tournament, she’s not like most golf fans.

    Robideau usually gets to the course when the gates open so she can walk the course in relative solitude. Practice rounds are the best since the golf course superintendent isn’t looking at the shots the players hit – she’s checking out the bunkers and the tightly-mown greens.

    And the equipment. Robideau, who oversees the nine-hole golf course at the Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club on the upper peninsula of Michigan, loves, loves, loves the equipment.

    “I think it was last year when I was at the Ryder Cup, I’m like, I want to get in their maintenance barn,” she says with a chuckle. “I want to see the equipment now. What do I need? What can I put in my budget and on my wish list?”

    Robideau got her wish – and more this week -- at the Farmers Insurance Open. She and Agustin Galvan are going behind the scenes this week at Torrey Pines as agronomy volunteers.

    The two were selected by the Diversity, Education and Inclusion Advisory Board of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America to work at the event. The initiative also supports Farmers’ commitment to continuing education, as well as to DEI.

    For Galvan, it was a short trip. He’s the landscape manager at The Santaluz Club, which is about 20 miles away from Torrey Pines, the scenic municipal layout on the Pacific coast. But what happens at Torrey this week is on a much bigger scale than the Rees Jones layout he helps maintain.

    “We have golf tournaments here at work, but they're just different,” Galvan says. “This is professional. This is, everyone's watching, everyone's looking at the grass on TV. It needs to be perfect. I just wanted to get an experience for what that entails.”

    The two have been on the property since a welcome dinner on Saturday night. They’re working daily shifts from 5:15-8:30 a.m. and 2:15-7 p.m. doing a variety of assignments like bunkers, data collection, hand-watering and course cleanup. They can use their free time to rest, network with peers or check out the competition between the PGA TOUR’s best.

    “They’re all great to watch,” says Galvan, who has a 15 handicap. “They're like robots. Their swings are just, I mean, it's all that practice. They do everything. It's just, wow.”

    Galvan came to the United States from Mexico when he was 4. He had his own landscape company until rising insurance costs compelled him to look for a job with benefits. He now works full-time at Santaluz and recently completed his Turf Grass certificate at Penn State.

    “It's great,” says Galvan, who gets up at 3 a.m. each day and drives 90 minutes to Santaluz from his home in Hemet, California. “I like to play golf and I do enjoy the whole aspect of the scheduling of, like, the fertilizer program, the mowing program. There's always something to do.”

    As the landscape manager, Galvan is responsible for the environs around the course outside the rough, fairways and greens. Among his responsibilities are tree-trimming, planting seasonal vegetation and removing plants that have seen better days.

    “I guess you could call it golf course maintenance but it’s a separate division,” says Galvan, whose crew also takes care of requests from homeowners who live on the golf course.

    Next, the 39-year-old plans to work on his Associates of Science degree. He hopes to move to the course maintenance side of the operation at Santaluz, an upscale private community that also includes a vineyard that makes Merlot and Sangiovese.

    Unlike Galvan, Robideau only works part of the year. The winter has been mild in the UP of Michigan – she saw patches of green when she walked the golf course over New Year’s weekend. But she was still shoveling snow when she was interviewed last week.

    Robideau’s family has been a member at Hiawatha, which encompasses five miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, for three generations. Both sets of her grandparents had homes on the property. She remembers swimming with her cousins at one home and fishing and trail-riding at the other.

    “I always said I had the best of both worlds,” Robideau says. “It's 35,000 acres, so there's a lot of big playground.”

    After getting a degree in horticulture from Michigan State, Robideau worked in landscape design for 10 years and moved briefly to Florida. She went back to school after her divorce and got a degree in business, thinking she might start her own company, but the economic climate wasn’t right.

    She continued to dabble in landscape design. She also started working in the pro shop at Hiawatha, and it didn’t take long for her to know her heart wasn’t in being inside, making tee times and collecting greens fees.

    “I've always worked outside. I've always done landscaping, garden centers, worked with my hands, and it would just drive me crazy being inside the pro shop wondering, how can I get out there,” Robideau says.

    Luckily, the course superintendent, Gary Thrombley, needed someone to help out after one of his crew was having knee problems. He asked Robideau, who used to beg him to let her clean up flower beds that had been neglected, to fill in one summer as a mower, and suddenly, she found her niche.

    “I jumped on it and he was the one that saw my love for working outside and mentored me towards this path, really,” she says.

    When Thrombley retired, the members at Hiawatha, which features trout ponds, hiking trails and rental cabins, didn’t need to look far for a replacement. Robideau is in her second year on the job and has helped bring innovative projects like bee pollinators and butterfly preserves to the property.

    So, what’s her favorite part of the job? It’s not hard to guess.

    “I think when I come in first thing in the morning,” Robideau says. “I'm usually the first one there. Just the quiet, getting on my golf cart, kind of tooling around in the morning … just getting a feel for what the course needs that day.”