Les Ormes is Jersey's only self catering holiday resort. The five star facility offers a host of activities for guests, including a 9-hole golf course with stunning sea views.
In this question and answer session, Head of Golf Course and Grounds, Oliver Pennington, explains how he got into the industry and what he has been up to in the twenty months he has been back on the island
Pitchcare: How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
Oliver: I started in the industry by accident. I left a construction course run by a local college when I was sixteen years old. I saw two local advertisements for golf greenkeepers and applied to both.
I was playing golf off a handicap of nine at this time and I was extremely interested in the game. I was usually a critic of the course conditions, so this made me apply for these jobs. Unfortunately, I didn't get either, as more experience was required and I was still very young at the time.
I was, however, lucky enough that Bill Lyon, the Course Manager at La Moye Golf Club, telephoned me and asked if I was interested in working with him for the summer and to see if there was a possible full time job after that period. I have never looked back and continue in the industry that I love.
I worked at La Moye Golf Club for seven and a half years. I then moved to St Annes Old Links Golf Club for ten months. On my return to Jersey, I had a year at a local turf farm, where I was responsible for bringing the turf ready for harvest. The Les Ormes vacancy was advertised and I applied. I was very pleased to be offered the job.
What training have you undertaken?
I am still training, and my education is ongoing. I have completed NVQ level 2 and 3, NPTC PA1, PA2 and PA6, and also NPTC level 3 in Automatic Irrigation. I have also attended the following BIGGA Continue to Learn workshops.
- Drainage - theory practice and realities
- Basic Golf Course Mechanics
- Introduction to hydraulics
- So you want to be a golf course manager
I am about to undertake an FdSc in sports turf.
Was there one person who inspired you?
There have been a few people over the years who have helped me gain valuable knowledge. Viewing each one's passion for the job was a valuable lesson learned.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to a committee or greens chairman?
I am not responsible for budgets, but I work closely with the facility manager and managing director on financial issues such as machinery purchase and requirements for the course.
Tell us a bit about the club
Les Ormes is built on top of a sand dune system, which a lot of people would say should make it a Links style course. Whilst some holes are very Links looking, others are not so much. So I call it a coastal course type.
What is the history of Les Ormes?
In January 1989, the late George Bisson transferred the Les Quennevais camp site and the surrounding properties to the Bosdet Foundation. The principal aim of the foundation is to help people in need in Jersey. The funds are distributed to local charities, which have since been raised via the Les Ormes Leisure Facilities and the revenue from the property portfolio.
The portfolio currently includes sixty-eight self-catering units (with 142 bedrooms). These units can sleep up to 348 people. We also have seven two-bedroom staff units and nine residential houses.
Over the last few years, we have donated funds to the sum of £500,000 to the redevelopment of Maison St Brelade residential home and the Jersey Marine Lake, which was built in Queen Victoria's Jubilee year and is one of the largest seawater pools in the British Isles. Les Ormes has also donated to the Women's Refuge, the Youth Big Band, Sea Cadets, Jersey Cheshire Homes and many others.
We have recently reviewed our long term strategy in light of anticipated increased funds, which will be available to distribute from this year onwards, which is a reward for all the hard work put in by all the staff at Les Ormes and the continued success of the sporting facilities and the self-catering units.
Les Ormes offers lots of activities, such as a high rope adventure centre, Jersey Sports and Injury Clinic, indoor club fitting system and teaching bay, golf pro-shop, hair salon and swim school. There are three indoor football pitches, four netball/tennis courts, a gym and we also offer climbing, abseiling and coastering.
Can you tell us about the golf course set up?
The course is a 9-hole, par 33 off the white tees (measuring 5012 yards, par 66 for 18 holes). Our staff for the whole site are myself as head greenkeeper; Sergio Miguel, greenkeeper/gardener; Bradley Bell, apprentice greenkeeper for the past four months; Carlos Cancela, grounds and internal handyman (seasonal); and John Pinto, who has just been given the job as a mechanic. He was trained in Portugal and will be further trained as a mechanic here in Jersey. His main responsibilities are to record and keep a well maintained fleet, which includes the course machinery, the housekeeping buggies and vehicles, all maintenance vehicles, course buggies and the two activity busses. We have used a local dealer to service all machinery in the past but, with John now onboard, we hope to keep the majority of the work in house.
This includes the irrigation, which I am now up to speed on how the full system works, and will be able to carry out a lot of the works associated with watering myself.
Although Les Ormes does not have an agronomist, I am lucky enough to be a friend of Anthony Asquith, who has been an incredible help to me when certain issues arise.
The greens are made up mainly of a local sandy material and drain very well. We topdress the greens with material brought into Jersey, as the local sand is very fine. This is a huge cost - mainly for shipping and transportation - but it is too important not to carry out. Living on an island puts costs up dramatically as all materials have to be bought from the mainland.
We do have issues with shading, especially our sixth green; a good proportion is in shade for long durations during the summer months and, during the winter, hardly sees any light at all, so I hope to address this as soon as possible. We do not use temporary greens during the winter. The ten greens are only 4,000 square metres in total and they do take a lot of traffic.
What are your maintenance regimes?
We cut the greens six times a week, in conjunction with rolling two or three times a week. During stress periods, we may relax on these - instead of cutting in high temperatures, we may just roll. Every day can be different, so this is just a general rule of thumb. We also verti-cut and topdress every three weeks. We sarrel role every two weeks.
The greens have a high organic matter content. We are trying to reduce this by deep scarification in two directions, then coring with 16mm hollow tines at 50mm spacings twice a year - spring and autumn. We also regularly verti-cut and dust every three weeks to further dilute the OM. The greens are made up of Poa ssp which, in their current state, are quite disease prone. To combat this, we spray fungicides as and when required. Last year, we applied 96kg of nitrogen - 6kg applied every two weeks.
During July and August, we get noticeable nematodes damage on the greens, mainly from root knot and spiral nematodes; we have tried to suppress them by applying cold compressed seaweed this year. Next year, I hope to try a garlic nematicide to really try to reduce the numbers. With nematodes, it is all about the timing of the application, so cores will have to be sent to the lab to try and establish when they will hatch and when is best to start applying to achieve optimum results.
Our cutting heights are as follows:
Greens - winter 5mm, summer 3.75mm
Tees and approaches - winter 12mm, summer 10mm
Fairways - winter 15mm, summer 14mm
Rough - 30mm
We take soil samples in the winter which help me to determine which products to purchase for the coming season. For example, this past winter, we were low on sulphur, so I decided to go with a 50/50 ammonium sulphate/urea fertiliser.
I am yet to take OM levels, but I know that they are really high. I am going to keep coring and scarifying twice a year, along with the application of fifty tonnes of sand to further dilute the thatch. Over the next few years, I will start getting levels tested to see where we are and adjust as necessary.
Presentation ranks highly at Les Ormes and the staff are very good at cutting straight lines and edges, and also mowing the required patterns. We also strive not to have anything out of place.
We have irrigation on the tees, fairways, approaches and greens, but the system is coming to the end of its lifespan. We have regular leaks and faults. Irrigation is a very important tool as Jersey is the warmest place in the British Isles. With water usage becoming more and more restricted, an efficient irrigation system is vital for us. We have just started the ball rolling with various companies to quote for a new system.
We are hoping that this will get past our internal review, as I have spent many a late afternoon/weekend here hand watering and sorting out faults on the existing system.
Do you experience any weather extremes on Jersey?
As we are on a sand dune system, and on the west coast of Jersey, so we experience high winds from time to time, with general sand and debris blowing everywhere. Wind and weather always determines what we do on the course, especially where green speeds and spraying are concerned.
We generally stay open in light frost, but they are not that frequent anyway. Last winter, we delayed opening the course on three occasions because of frost, but were open by 10.00am each time.
What winter projects have you planned?
Last winter's work included the refurbishment of the bunkers on the 7th hole as they were in a very poor state. We decided to go with the original course design of a pot bunker built to a revetted style. These were completed in February and opened at the beginning of April.
Carrying out this work has improved the hole, and we are looking to do the same with the bunkers on the 3rd hole this winter.
We have also constructed new paths around the course and added many new flower beds and lawns around the resort. We have a lot of additional areas to maintain, from all the gardens, hedges, lodge sites, and car parks to the other sports facility buildings.
Do you offer ongoing training and education to your staff?
All staff are compliant, within their roles, with current legislations. We offer ongoing training to staff, both for our needs and for the benefit of the staff. These include chainsaw, pesticide application, health and safety, mechanical, first aid and work based diplomas.
We employ an apprentice. He has been with us for four months and, in September, is going to start his diploma level 2 through Myerscough College.
How do you purchase machinery?
We generally purchase machinery new, but if we can get a reasonable price for secondhand equipment we look into this option on occasions. We have a good working relationship with Ernie Le Feuvre Ltd - the John Deere dealer in Jersey. They have helped us, over the past two years, with getting parts here by the next day. I will generally go with John Deere as the back-up locally has been very good.
We have recently purchased a core harvester, which will save us a huge amount of time from having to push all the cores off the surfaces. We are able to complete greens, tees and approaches in a week now. We have also purchased a sarrel roller to give light aeration and to help us get products through the thatch layer. It is quick and easy and takes one hour to do all ten greens.
What about the local ecology and environment?
We consider the local flora and fauna very important and there are plenty of bird boxes on the site. We are also lucky enough to have Red Squirrels living on the site. We have started removing invasive species of trees on the course, with the Holm oak (Quercus ilex) being a major problem. We are also looking to grow long rough areas to help support bird and insect life, and have also introduced a wildflower area to promote bees and other insects.
And finally, is our industry in good shape?
I think the industry is in as good a position as it has ever been, with greenkeepers and groundsmen being recognised as highly skilled professionals and with the stereotype of the 'daft guy with a mower' slowly being lost. In general, people are starting to understand that it is both an art and a science.
I know a good proportion of golfers really value the work we do here, but with others not really having an understanding of what we do, or our achievements. They think that it is as simple as jumping on a mower.
I would like televised tournaments to have a ten minute window showing what goes on; not just about the mowing, which is skillful enough, but also such things as taking Clegg hammer readings, moisture levels, trueness readings and stimpmeter readings - this would show off our job to the wider audience.
Thank you for your time.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 220 pedestrian greensmower
John Deere 2500E greensmower
John Deere 2500 used for verticutting and scarifying
John Deere 2653A tees and approaches mower
John Deere 7700 fairway mower
John Deere 7400A rough mower
John Deere 2320 compact tractor
John Deere Eztrac 2425 general lawn area mower
John Deere Gators x 3
Kubota L 3300 tractor
Tru Turf greens roller
Massey Ferguson front loader
Yamaha maintenance buggies x 2
Allman power sprayer
Turfmech SQRL 600 core harvester
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7316
Kilworth TRIS H150 scariffier
Ryan Junior sod cutter
Toro hover mowers x 2
Stihl chainsaws x 2
Hitachi strimmers x 2
My wish list includes a Toro ProCore, Air 2G2, Graden Sand Injection, Smithco Roller, John Deere 2500E greens mower with groomers and brush attachment and a Hunter grinder.