When we featured the work of Shayne Savident in issue 55, the plan was to follow this up in the next issue with an article on his father and mentor, Martyn Savident, Course Manager at La Grande Mare Golf Club on Guernsey. However, for Martyn, things took a decided turn for the worse, which saw him spend a considerable amount of time in Southampton General's cardio unit. Now, thankfully recovered, we catch up with a man who says he "feels like a teenager again"
La Grande Mare Golf Course is set in 120 acres of land on Guernsey's western coast, adjacent to the sandy beach of Vazon Bay. It offers a unique opportunity for golf on a delightful Hawtree-designed 'parkland course' with the facilities of a four star hotel. La Grande Mare Golf Course opened for play in March 1994. It was originally designed around 14 holes with four double greens and extended to 18 holes in 2001.
Course Manager Martyn Savident has been with the club from the very beginning. "I was approached to take the job at La Grande Mare (LGM) in March 1990. It took a few months of offers and terms, plus several site visits, before I finally accepted. At the time, permission for the course had not been obtained from the Island Development Committee (planning department), but the chance to build a full 18 holes course was difficult to turn down. Four years later, after a lengthy planning inquiry, permission was given and we opened 18 holes on 14 greens; the double greens of 1, 2, 3 and 4 became 15, 16, 17 and 18 on the back nine."
Martyn began his career in 1980. "I applied for the position of labourer at a new build 9 hole (Tony Jacklin design) course at St Pierre Park hotel - my eldest son Shayne is head greenkeeper there now - which was only a five minute walk from where I then lived. I soon got involved in all aspects of course building, from stone clearing, hand digging irrigation trenches, green construction (from drainage mat to rootzone level) and then, finally, tee construction and bunkers. The course opened in 1983 and, when the then head greenkeeper Chris Nicole left for a position at Effingham Park some four years later, I was given the head greenkeeper's job. I remain grateful to Chris for his enthusiasm and giving me the opportunity."
The resort is family run, so Martyn is in the enviable position of only having to answer to the director of golf, Chris Vermuelen. "It is Chris who sets the budgets, usually going on the previous year's expenses and any major projects we have planned for the year. He might ask me to save money, but I am never told that there is less than we need. Chris plays golf, sometimes with me, and he knows the standards that he wants on the course, so there is no scrimping and scraping and no make do and mend. We all try to save money where we can, especially in the current climate, and getting the best deal from suppliers is what we are all after. The current carriage charge to the island is over £60 per tonne - one of the reasons there are no granules in my shed - so 100 tonne of topdressing comes to us at £6000 carriage; a bit frightening for you on the mainland!"
"When people see the par and length of the course they think it must be easy to play but, with three miles of ditches - douits, pronounced dwee in the local patois - it is not a case of booming a driver off the tees. Each hole has to be thought about, even the short 13th, stroke index 18; if you're short, you're bunkered; if you're left, you're bunkered; if you're long, you are out of bounds and, if you are right, you found the douit. So, it's not big, but it is clever and the course record is 64."
"It is the largest privately owned block of land in Guernsey. Nearly all of the resort is golf course, with around half being rough or wooded areas, plus there are some areas that I consider out of play and these are only cut once a year. We used to employ seasonal staff just for rough cutting, but we are trying to get some of these areas back to natural habitat. The tees and greens take up a couple of hectares and there are thirteen ponds and lakes. Some of these have mirror, grass and koi carp. The largest of the lakes is where we take much of our irrigation water from. Water enters the course from over twenty different places, but there is only one outlet to the beach."
Martyn has a team of four to assist him. "Geoff 'Duquey' Duquemin is my mechanic/engineer. He used to have his own garage (Duques) but, after retiring early, felt he needed a challenge. I was lucky to get him, but he's been with me for ten years now. He works until noon five days a week and keeps all our fleet in tip top order."
"Paul McGahy has been assisting me for five years. Duquey looks after the bodywork and motors, whilst Paul and I look after the blades and cylinders. Both Paul and I change the height of cut, but it is normally me who sets the cylinders to the bottom blades."
"We have recently taken on Aidan Corlett and my youngest son Martyn Jnr - known to all as Winnie! After a suitable probation period, we will enroll Aidan with Myerscough College to complete Level 2 in Sportsturf, whilst Winnie will complete Level 3."
"I am qualified to Level 3 in Sportsturf and have PA1, 2 and 6. I have also had several opportunities to receive quality training in maintenance and machinery set up with Toro Lely UK's Ian Sumpter and Clive Pinnock - two top men. A couple of days with these two can set you up for years. We bought a grinder for our cutting fleet and I initially had two days training with Ian Robson from Hunter Grinders. Now, when we have the grinder serviced, I always get Dave Mitchison, their service technician, to give me a bit of a refresher as well as a full days training for one or two of the lads. Winnie and Paul have recently been taught by Dave."
"When we changed our fleet to John Deere, we had several days with Ian Booth - another top guy - there is nothing he does not know about JD machines. It's important that the lads get the training as they are on the machines a lot more than I am now."
"I try to stress the importance of training to the boys; right from when I got the job at St Pierre Park, I read as much as I could. I think Chris Nicole sometimes got fed up with my questions. Back then, we didn't have laptops, broadband and Google at home; we had to read or ask if we wanted to advance, but the most important thing we had to do was listen, watch and remember."
"Today, there is a world of knowledge out there and it is up to each individual to find out as much as they can about our trade. There are plenty of magazines and publications in our rest room for the lads to peruse if they want. Some of the lads that I have had at LGM have gone on to look after their own grounds and courses; I'd like to think that I helped them, even if only a little bit."
Because the area LGM is built on was under water for centuries, Martyn says that the soil types are very diverse. "You can dig through clay three feet and come to a layer of sand. In some areas, we have pulled three thousand year old oaks out of the peat."
"Other areas look like potters clay, whilst another area close by can look like usga spec. When we were constructing the course we would cut and fill from one area to another."
"All the greens and tees are push up construction, apart from the last four we built that took us to eighteen separate greens. With a wide range of soils, I ended up walking around the site telling the three carters on tractor and trailers to take thirty loads of sand to this one or take more peat to that area and then it was mixed with a rotavator, mounted on a tractor, before levelling, heeling in and raking out. It wasn't the best way to construct, and we still have pockets that have either too much clay, too much peat or are too sandy but, with the equipment we had and seeing the end result, we didn't do too bad."
"We use a lot of biostimulants, combined with lots of solid coring, with various diameter cores from 8mm to 12 mm, and we go from 50mm to 275mm deep, although we do not use heave on the greens. We can get out on the greens weekly during the summer; our Wiedenmann GXi160 has not been off our Kubota for at least two months; the only thing that has changed are the tines."
"We don't always core the whole green; there are areas that need more regular attention, so these get extra. We also use liquid fertilisers so core holes allow ferts to get to the roots quicker, although they are used for quick uptake through the leaf primarily. We do not have a problem with thatch; I'm not saying we have none, but what is there is manageable. We have not hollow cored for several years now."
"We have an automatic irrigation system that covers all greens, with 4-6 sprinklers on each; tees are also fully covered. The par threes have one or two sprinklers on the approaches, whilst the par fours and fives have the final 100 yards of fairway covered to try and avoid any awkward bounces during the summer months."
"My pump room is an old boiler house from a part of the course that used to be a vinery. Under the floor there is a reservoir that holds about 30,000 gallons of water ready to be pumped around the course at night. As soon as the level drops an inch, another pump at the central reservoir comes on and pushes water 500 yards to keep the level up under the floor; I have two pumps that keep the irrigation system pressurised at around 6.5 bar. Even at the extremities of the pipework, I have enough pressure to put three or four greens on at the same time, although mostly they are programmed to come on at night, when needed."
"Aside from filling from the main lake, I have a well right next to the pump room that can supply 25,000 gallons overnight to top up if needed and, just in case, there is another well that holds over 30,000 below ground, with a holding tank above ground with the same capacity, and this can feed the pump room by opening a valve and letting it gravity feed from underground pipes we fitted twenty years ago."
"At our sheds, we have a borehole that is used to wash the machines and equipment down. We are not covered by the same restrictions as on the mainland, at the moment, but we do have other restrictions we follow and I know what I have to do to keep our areas safe."
Water would seem to be a major consideration, whether it's from a mechanical or natural source. "Because of the low lying position, we can suffer from flooding in the winters, especially if excessive rainfall coincides with high tides. When this happens, our sluice gate on the outlet to the beach - which has a massive non return valve fitted half way down the pipe, so no salt water can come back towards the course - can be closed for anything up to eight hours, meaning any water coming onto the course cannot escape, causing the ditches to fill and overspill on to fairways. This is not normally a great problem as the course drains really well and, with two high tides a day, this often happens at night. It is often only the debris line left by the water that tells us that we suffered a flood."
"Unfortunately, the last two winters have been quite bad, with this last one being a complete disaster for us, golf wise. The local water board decided to divert the overflow from the islands reservoir over a hill to a pumping station that stands half a mile from the course, and then let the outflow come through the course. This caused the worst flooding I have ever seen and it was only when the properties on the perimeter of the course became close to flooding that they installed two pumps on my eighth tee to help alleviate the problem. The outlet pipes ran across the coast road - which had to be closed - and they pumped out ten million gallons a day. These pumps were in place for nearly a month and then I was left with the task of bringing the tee back in play!"
"Our own pump, situated by the outfall to the beach, comes into play when the high tides close the sluice gate and the ditches start to rise. The pump is left on automatic for the winter months and will come on when triggered by a float switch that is set at 18 inches above normal ditch level. This last winter, the pump activated on 19th December and worked 24/7 right through until March. In total, this cost us over £8000 in red diesel; not something you want when your flood control budget is about £1000 for fuel and about the same for contractors!"
"We use contractors to clear our douits. Having three miles of them, we cannot keep them all clean and, by law, we have to have them cut and cleared by 15th June and again by 15th September, after which they are inspected by the parish officials, who then send me a report on their current condition and whether we have to complete any remedial work. At the moment, we are getting good reports but, during wet periods, we still walk the course with rakes clearing any silt build up that we get due to the vast amounts of water that flows through the site."
Martyn states that the local flora and fauna is very important and must not be altered too much. "I think a lot of courses now are trying to reinstate what they had previously. I was fortunate that I was here from the start to see what the land originally supported, plant and animal wise. When we picked the trees to line fairways or develop into small copses, we had good knowledge of what would grow in the areas we had chosen and, considering the work they give us now, they are flourishing rather well!"
"When we started to build the course back in the nineties, the States of Guernsey, along with the Men Of The Trees, were running a free tree replacement scheme due to the loss of elms from Dutch elm disease, so we took the opportunity to get them on site and see where they could help us. We would show the officials an area and see if they had anything suitable on their list, they were able to help us out over several winters with copse and boundary planting, though I must say the ones that we took as cuttings seem to have been most successful. We have an area set aside where we plant saplings and cuttings for later use on the course."
"In recent years, we have collected native plant seeds and are trying to develop out of play areas on the course to encourage these species to flourish."
"I have planted nearly 20,000 trees in the past twenty-four years and, with these, we were able to choose their position. It is the original copses of willow, especially on the boundaries, that have caused airflow problems, but looking up a fairway to a green framed by trees is quite a picture. It is quite easy to clear an area in these copses and we burn on site. It makes a cold winters day go a bit quicker. I remember, in years gone by during construction, we could spend weeks clearing and our fire sites never needed to be relit the following day; the embers just needed to be stirred up and off we would go again."
"In those days, we never left the site we were working in and we would have baked potatoes for lunch. The lads and I would bring tubs of grated cheese, baked beans, pierce the lid and stand the tin on the edge of the fire. We'd even have prawns and crème fraiche. Our then boss, Pete Vermuelen, the father of my current boss, would join us in his camel coat, flat cap, wellies and leather gloves. He would always stop, look at his watch and say "late lunch?", which was the cue for him to join us. Good memories for me."
"There is still plenty of tree work to be done with raising canopies and keeping branches out of roll bar height. When we do get a good storm, we sometimes lose a tree or two, so there are a couple of areas on the course where we do a regularly burn; well out the way of the golfers, of course."
"We don't have a written environmental plan as such, but we do have a written plan for an area of SSSI that has some rare orchids, so there are management restrictions that we follow for this area, although the orchids are now popping up in many areas of the course."
"My engineer Geoff is the 'bird man' and he has put up bird boxes, including a couple for owls, and I wouldn't dare ask any of the lads to strim or remove any reeds from ditches or lakes until the reed warblers have fledged. It did happen once, but never again; an angry engineer is not something to be confronted!"
"Chemicals are kept in a proper safe storage cabinet and are used only if cultural practices are insufficient to keep the turf healthy, and then only when damage occurs to a larger proportion of turf than is unacceptable, and then only by qualified staff."
"We try to combat diseases with cultural practices rather than just grab the chemical and spray, but this is not always possible. Being in the middle of farmland, we get seed drifting in all the time so, when our job is to enhance plant growing conditions, we are at war with weeds all the time. We spray the greens and tees early in the season, but it would be far too expensive to blanket spray the course, so the lads and I go out with knives or weed wands several times a year on the greens."
"We do suffer from disease attacks now and again. It always amazes me when I read statements like; 'we haven't sprayed for disease for so many years now'. Well, I can say the same, but that does not mean we haven't been affected, it means we were in a better place to combat it culturally and watch it grow out."
"Since our aeration regime has been stepped up, we do suffer less than before, but we hardly escape totally. I'm not one who irrigates to excess, I am not too bothered about what the greens look like, it is more how they play. Our agronomist, George Shiels, when trying to explain my point of view to my boss, said; 'we play on grass, not on colour'. That about sums me up perfectly."
"George's input is invaluable and he always keeps me abreast of new products or cultivars that we could use in certain areas that are struggling. He visits us at least once a year, sometimes more, and it's good to get a view from someone who only sees the course on an irregular basis. You sometimes look at problems and can't see the wood for the trees. Then the magic man comes along and opens your eyes, just like that. He is always at the end of the phone or an email away, so is always available to me, not just on visit days."
"We are very lucky in Guernsey as we have no foxes, badgers or moles; it's a bit of a groundsman's paradise in that respect. What we do have are thousands of birds. We have all the common and garden varieties and, being next to the sea, we have gulls and terns. We have owls and marsh harriers, as well as the usual birds of prey and, around the course, you will always see mallards, coots, moorhens, pheasants and geese. It is the latter that are the problem, not the Brent or Canada that we see now and again, nor the pair of Bar Headed geese that moved in about six months ago. It is the Greylags that are my problem; they insist on digging in any puddle that appears on the greens after heavy rain and also pecking any repairs that we make; with the amount of mess they leave, you would think you had thousands of them. We have finally got them on the list of game that can be hunted on Guernsey and have started to control them a little."
"One of our members has permission to control any wildlife that starts to interfere with course presentation or condition. Rabbits are a familiar sight on the course and have not been too much of a problem over the years, with an outbreak of myxomatosis every now and then keeping them in check and, as everyone knows, rabbit tastes a lot like chicken!"
"During early October, we completely rebuilt the 6th green, which used to have a step across the middle that meant a lot of lost pin positions. It has now had the front portion raised by about 18 inches to make a more level putting surface, and the green has been extended right by about 8 metres."
"As the greens staff team had 'shrunk' somewhat at the time, I engaged a good friend of mine, Nick Russell, and his lads to help with this task. Nick is my local turf supplier, but he does not grow any greens quality turf. I was looking for a predominantly bent source and got what I needed from Tillers Turf, who were brilliant. They lifted the turf on a Monday and had it on the ferry and delivered to my maintenance facility by Wednesday. Nick and his team had finished by 7.00pm, with headlights on the machines shining on the site. We used the new turf for the putting surface, whilst the turf stripped from the green was used on the perimeter and greens surround."
"I was so impressed with the way Nick went about the task that, in recent weeks, he has helped me with a low area about 5m x 5m on one green, a small step that was too steep on another, and an area on the first fairway that was a bit thin over a concrete pipe and needed raising a few inches."
"We have our own turf nursery and turf cutter (that I bought second hand from Nick) and would have done all this work in-house, as we normally do, but when I saw how little waste there was when Nick did it, it was a no brainer to get him back."
"We have also been levelling and extending tees and reshaping bunkers and, most recently, have been revetting some faces -Winnie has become the revetting master. We've also realigned some fairways which meant some tree moving and last year we reshaped the 4th green. I also have plans for more bunker and tee work through to next spring, which Nick will also help us with."
"I read a lot about how undervalued greenkeepers feel and how they have to cope with cuts to budgets and staffing levels - I have suffered the last one, but not imposed on me. In the recent financial climate, I can understand their concerns but, as with everything, there will be dips and troughs in all economies. These are the times you have to dig deep (no pun intended) and try to weather the storm. Maybe it will take times like these for our members to realise a couple of hours a day grass cutting will not get the course in the condition they want. Maybe, through our adversity, it will actually help them to understand what we actually do."
"I don't know the answers and, to be honest, I have never felt undervalued in my job. Maybe I have been spoilt. Wherever you are, there will always be members who think you can do more than you do, there will always be the ones who don't make eye contact or speak as they walk past. Every club will have these types but, here, this is far outweighed by the vast majority who appreciate we are out in all weathers to get the course as good as we can, primarily for them. I have members who play a shot and hear my Gator in the distance and keep looking for me to wave and acknowledge them. Most of our members know me and my men by name and we know theirs. I play golf with them and I have represented the club many times in team competitions, both locally and nationally. "
"Living on an island, the biggest problem is travel and the associated costs. I have attended both association exhibitions, and we do get to have road shows and demo days in the Channel Islands; but usually in Jersey. I think a lot of companies think we just jump on an island hopper and fly over like its a bus service."
"Things are improving though and we now see more companies visiting us at our own places. A few years ago, we hosted a Toro maintenance workshop with greenkeepers from all three main islands. I confess that I got a bit nervous when we all left the hotel and made our way to my sheds to check my machinery set ups, but all was fine. I felt good that day."
Maintenance regimes at La Grande Mare
Guernsey is situated within the Cherbourg peninsular and, as with the other islands, gets a slightly warmer climate than the UK. We still get storms off the Atlantic - if you cross the road to the beach and head due west the next land you would encounter would be the east coast of America - but we get very few frosts and our spring growth starts as early as mid February. By the end of March, we are cutting the greens daily, surrounds and approaches every other day and tees and fairways the same. This will continue until the end of October and we only reduce the number of cuts from November.
We have two JD 2500 for the greens, both fitted with groomers and rear roller brushes. We sometimes send two guys out to cut, or we may have one cut and the other follow with our Greentek vibe rollers fitted; it takes minutes to change from cutting units to rollers, so this is not a problem and can be done several times a week. This method speeds up the greens for competitions and club matches. Sometimes we will just roll, especially during the summer, I don't think any handicap golfer would be able to tell the difference.
One morning, as we were getting the course set up for the LGM Open, one of the cutting cylinders was damaged by a metal spike off a golfer's shoe. Not having time to set up the grinder, I decided to just vibe roll slowly, we were told our greens were the best they had been that year. It just goes to show, it is all about appearance.
Getting our stripes right, whether they are on greens, tees or fairways, is important to us. On our tees we use a JD7200, also with groomers, presentation is good. We stripe in various directions, not just down the fairways, and this machine is also used on surrounds and approaches, which gives a good definition from green to surround and approach and then to fairway height cut with a JD7800, again fitted with groomers and rear roller brushes; something that is needed on dewey mornings.
We don't do a lot of maintenance to our fairways. If we get flooded, it is from run off from farmland and is normally nutrient rich, so feeding fairways is not needed, although we do need to aerate them several times a year. We use our Wiedenmann GXi160 mounted on our Kubota ST36 with various solid tines from 12mm to 20mm and also a variety of depths, and with or without heave; this can take up to a week to complete, depending on how busy the course is.
At other times, we will use our Earthquake Tremor; we can get the blades down to about 10 inches and this leaves a continuous channel, so following the actual fall in the land is important.
As we have so many ditches and ponds, we can normally find an outlet to start from; we often use the Tremor on the greens and tees as well; it is such a versatile machine, although you would not want a long dry summer after extensive use of this machine, as the lines can open up.
Following the extensive flooding last year, I even brought out our mole plough fitted to the Case 255 compact tractor. You have to be very aware of what is below the surface when you use this implement but, if you drop it over the edge of a ditch and move off in a low gear and 4-wheel drive, it can make a lovely channel a foot or so down with the bullet end. Water soon finds its way down the channel to the ditch - basic but worthwhile.
Also in our aeration armoury we have a Sisis outfield spiker; we use this all over the course, greens, tees and fairways; the two sprung rollers on the back keep any surface disruption to a minimum and, when we just want to open the top surface, we put on our Greentek sarrel rollers over the greens; we do this when we are about to overseed the greens in the spring and at the end of the season, followed by a light topdressing.
When we do overseed, we pick a week when there are no fixtures. If we can leave the greens a couple of days and roll only, we will pencil tine them to about 100mm, then we will heavily sarrel roll before broadcasting seed. We use Johnsons all bent, which has highly rated cultivars and we seem to get a very good percentage to germinate. This is helping us to reduce poa and increase the finer grasses in the greens; after we have overseeded, we apply a topdressing of pure sand, anything from half to a full tonne and then we will roll for the next few days, or longer if we can get away with it and still achieve a decent pace on the greens.
We also overseed the tees once a year. We have a divoting programme once a week, and the tees have improved in the last couple of years.
As well as the grasses starting to move earlier, so do the weeds. We use Re-act at 5.5 l/h to give an early spray when the plants really get going.
Presentation is right up there and we always strive to get the course in the best possible condition that we can. It doesn't matter if it's for a junior monthly medal or the club's Open.
We have tried to improve our greens every year and I think this past year we have delivered the best greens ever. Even at the end of the season, going into November, I had members commenting on the speed and smoothness of the greens.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 2500 greens mowers x 2
John Deere 7200 trim and surrounds
John Deere 7500 fairway mower
John Deere 1565 rough mower
John Deere 1200A bunker rake
John Deere TS 4x2 Gators x 2
John Deere 6x4 Gator
Kubota STa35 compact tractor with front loader and mid mounted deck.
Case 255 compact tractor
Massey Ferguson 360
Wiedenmann Terra Spike GXI 160
Sisis outfield spiker
Toro 2500 Topdresser
Team Club 300litre sprayer
Farmura 30litre walk over sprayer
Groundsman turf cutter
Toro hover mowers x 2
Stihl strimmers x 4
Stihl chainsaws x 2
Stihl and Echo blowers
Greentek Thatchaway, sarrel roller and vibe rollers
Hunter Juno grinder
"Most of our equipment is purchased outright, but our cutting fleet is on a lease deal of five years - perhaps a year too long. We started a while ago with a three year deal with Toro, then moved to three years with John Deere and we are coming to the end of our current deal and have invited John Deere and Toro to quote for the next four years.
We purchase from our local dealers wherever possible, but not all groundscare equipment is available that way and we look further afield. We try to get demos wherever possible, but carriage is so high not everyone wants to send machinery over to us if there is a doubt that we will buy (they are not all confident in their product!)
I would not say we are loyal to one manufacturer, when there are so many manufacturers around; some new to the market. You have to shop around for the best performance, even with our cutting fleet we have to make sure we are getting the best deal possible from our two main suppliers."