A friendly relaxed atmosphere, combined with the beautifully landscaped course, makes playing golf a memorable experience for all guests at St Pierre Park Hotel & Golf Resort, Guernsey. Kerry Haywood spoke to Head Greenkeeper, Shayne Savident, who tells us why he thinks he has the best job in the world
Shayne Savident was introduced to golf by his father Martyn, who used to be Head Greenkeeper at St Pierre Park and, from the age of four, has fond memories of picking up range balls and changing holes with him. In 1988, his father moved to La Grande Mare to build Guernsey's third and newest golf course and, at the age of six, Shayne learned about every aspect of the golf course whilst witnessing the construction of the new course from the early stages. He told me: "I remember going to the course in the evenings after school to watch the construction process and water the greens. I started working at La Grande Mare Golf Club at the age of twelve in my school holidays. I absolutely loved it, and knew then, that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! I left school at fifteen and took a Level 2 City & Guilds apprenticeship in Greenkeeping for three years at Guernsey's College of Further Education. When I saw the job at the impressive St Pierre Park advertised, I grabbed it with both hands!"
The golf course was built in 1980, and was designed by Tony Jacklin, whose main focus was improving a golfer's short game. He used the natural, hilly topography to provide a course with a wonderful variety of holes and an abundance of water hazards amongst the woodland landscape. It will always remain a nine hole, par 3 course, (although it is very challenging), due to not being able to extend around the location. The current play is 2,614 yards off of the white medal tees, and 2,465 off of the yellow tees.
"The parkland course covers twenty-five acres, which is sort of split down the middle due to the valley. On the 'top half' are holes 1-6, and then it moves down to number 7, which runs alongside the lake, and then crosses over it to the same side as 8, 9, and the putting green.
The first six holes were built on an old orchard, whilst the last three were built on meadowland that had a stream running through it, which ran down to the watercress beds that were situated where the golf club car park now lies," explains Shayne.
The course features lots of trees, so it does drain quite well, but lacks a lot of air-flow around some greens due to the amount and the size of the established trees surrounding them (many have been in since the course was constructed). Shayne commented: "We are trying to thin the trees out, little by little, to aid air-flow and shade issues, but we have to do this without disturbing the habitats of the local wildlife. I do like the trees and the fact that they are very big, but they are starting to cause a lot of problems for us and so they need to be cut back."
"Over the last couple of years we have had some really wet winters, which has caused problems with trees coming down. In turn, this creates a lot of extra work, contractors coming in (when they are able to get access to the course) and the course being closed for longer periods than usual. We can't control the weather, but we can learn from it and be prepared in case we get the same situations again, or even try and prevent them from happening again."
"When I started last June, we were still suffering from the damages and conditions left behind from the heavy snow in March - which was a bit extreme considering it was meant to be our summer! The course was closed for around three months before I started, due to heavy snow and fallen trees. The course conditions were so bad that we couldn't get anyone on the course to clear the trees! Luckily, as the weather picked up, the trees were cleared and everything was back on track."
Back on the course, the soil profile of the greens is generally a sandy loam profile. The greens and tees are all push-ups and do drain very well in general. Although, the 8th/17th green has been reconstructed to USGA spec.
Renovation work on the tees that are in poor condition is currently under way by Shayne and his team of four staff; Pavels Stolerovs, 39 - two years as a greenkeeper, Kalum Prigent, 18 - two months as a greenkeeper, Alex Ivanovs, 29 - two years as groundstaff, who also works on the golf course, Juris Butans, 31 - six years as full time groundstaff.
Some of the tees need completely reconstructing, some just need to be extended and some just need to be levelled. When Shayne first took on the role, the members used to play off mats, rather than grass tees. Moving to grass tees was a main priority so, within three weeks of Shayne starting, they were playing off grass. Last October, they completely rebuilt the 1st and 10th tee, giving it three tiers of equal proportion and all level. This year they started doing the 9th and 18th tee, making it two tiers, one for competitions and one for everyday use.
Renovation work is an ongoing project over the next few years, as well as reducing the organic matter on the greens, bunker renovation and tree work, and all this is scheduled around a typical day/week at St Pierre.
Shayne explains: "We cut the greens five days a week, with two rest days, cutting at 3-4mm in the summer, rising to 5-6mm in the winter, using a John Deere 2500B greensmower. Sometimes, I like to cut the greens by hand using a Ransomes Super-Certes mower. We cut the tees two or three times a week depending on the growth and weather. We use a Hayter Harrier 65 hand mower to cut the tees due to the size of them, currently cutting at roughly 12-15mm. The surrounds we cut three or four times a week depending on growth, using a Ransomes 185 T-Plex, at around 12mm."
"We are defining the rough a bit more this year, leaving the areas around the large pines as eco-rough. So it is just the areas from tee to green that get cut with a Husqvana front mounted deck rough cutter, cutting roughly at 25-30mm. We also use the rough cutter to cut two strips of semi-rough around each green at about 20mm."
Shayne continues: "We try and aerate as much as possible, at least once a month; with the greens in the state they are, we find ourselves constantly working on them between competitions and club fixtures. We either use our verti-drain unit with solid 12mm tines going town to a depth of 200mm, or our home made slitter, made using parts from a Sisis Slitter, or hollow coring with 12mm tines going down 50mm."
"We topdress heavily at the start of the season, spreading around six tonnes of straight sand over the ten greens, and then, using the little and often technique, we try and get some more down every month. We do this using a Mete-R-Matic walk behind topdresser, and then drag it in using a dragmat, which is towed by our rough cutter."
"We scarify to a depth of 10mm two or three times a year to try and reduce the thatch layer, using a Sisis Rotorake 600, which I find really good for the job as it has a front loading bin on it. If we see any weeds on the greens, we generally dig them out with a penknife; it's simple but effective at the same time. Not everything needs chemical treatment."
"Overseeding is carried out twice a year, we do it once in late March or when the weather allows, and then again in July. This is done at the same time as the hollow coring and topdressing."
"I do like to take soil samples, but not too regularly. We have a really bad problem with organic matter and the hollow coring and topdressing helps to attack this situation, as does slitting and deep scarifying regularly, without overdoing it. The 8th green does require more fertiliser on a regular basis, due to its sandy base, as it does more water during the summer. It drains very well, but is also close to the main lake, so it is just the surface that dries out."
All work is done in-house, as Shayne told me they have enough staff to cope with the demands, and targets that they set themselves. However, if there is a major tournament, of which there are a couple throughout the year, volunteers are in abundance to rake bunkers and suchlike. The golf club committee are always willing to help out, and give their opinion where needed.
Shayne attends the monthly committee meetings to let them know his plans for the coming months, as well as encouraging members' feedback, good or bad - which he doesn't always agree with! In addition, Shayne interacts with club members through a blog every month; and posts it on the club's Facebook page. He also does course walks with members, at their request, as they do take a big interest in the work, both planned and underway.
"Not a lot has been done over the last few years, which I feel has benefitted the course," commented Shayne. "A lot of work has been done to make it look nice, like a garden though, not very helpful in my opinion. Some of the bunkers have been filled in, which is something I would like to bring back as, having grown up here, I notice how different the golf course is now to the original Tony Jacklin design. Budgets play a major part in the renovation decisions and, of course, it is much easier to hire a mini-digger and an operator and tell them what you want, what shape and they just do it. Otherwise, it is just four of us with a turf cutter, rakes and a spirit level."
"I am responsible for the budgets and have a meeting with the Operations Manager and Financial Controller to discuss the budget at the start of the financial year. We work around what we used the previous year and see where we can make improvements. For example, buying a better quality grass seed or fertiliser, or more topdressing, and more sand for the bunkers, depending on what projects we are doing that year."
As well as Shayne's responsibilities for maintaining the golf course, he and his team are responsible for the hotel gardens and grounds. This is done with the help of one gardener; Juris, who works full time to achieve an excellent standard, plus Alex, who likes working on the course, but also mows the hotel lawns and surrounding areas. In addition, there is an eight bay, covered driving range and a putting/chipping green that are open to the general public, as well as tennis courts and a croquet set which is available to hire for use on the hotel lawn.
Obviously, this keeps Shayne and his team more than busy, which means they rarely get the opportunity to attend shows or seminars, but it is something he wants to look at in the future. It's also a big issue being on a small island, as it is expensive to fly anywhere, so it is not very cost affective.
Pests, Diseases and Wildlife
The greens suffer from a lot of thatch, so fusarium is a big problem on the course, and reducing the organic matter was one of Shayne's main priorities when he first took on the role. An agronomist visits every year to check on progress and, obviously, he has his father on the end of the phone and a five-minute drive away! Pests and diseases are sprayed regularly which is found to be quick and easy solution to the problems.
"We do have a lot of wildlife in Guernsey for such a small island. I think it is important and adds to the character of the golf course. People like to see different types of birds and animals around; it gives them something to talk about. We have a few rabbits that scrape certain areas, but it's not a major issue as we very rarely see them on the course, so we just fill in the holes with a seed and topdressing mixture."
"At the moment the club, whilst beautiful, is a landscape of green with a lot of huge pine trees, therefore the introduction of some wildflower planting in the valley and on the banks to bring some different colours into the area is under way."
Training and education
Shayne adopts an 'all hands to the pump' approach and encourages each member of staff to do all jobs on the golf course. Obviously, when it comes to using the chainsaws, only the qualified user, Pavels, carries out this work and, likewise, Shayne is the only trained pesticides operative. More recently, Shayne achieved Level 3 First Aid certification and is the only fully trained first aider in the department. Shayne considers this highly necessary and important considering all of the blades and engines and heavy equipment that are dealt with on a daily basis.
The newest member of the team, Kalum, is still undergoing training, but can do most things on the course. The hotel offers ongoing training to their staff, and Shayne has already done a fire safety course, and a first aid course, something which is of great benefit to both the company and personal development, therefore Shayne will be pushing for more of this in the near future.
After completing his Level 2 City & Guilds apprenticeship in Greenkeeping, Shayne went on to do PA1, PA2 and PA6 safe use of pesticides and, since then, has done a certificate in maintaining the health of sports turf (GTC).
I asked Shayne about the consideration to employ apprentices. "We do employ one young lad, but this is a recent thing. He is not an apprentice, as such, and I trained him up myself. I would very much like him to do an apprenticeship though, as I know how hard it is when you're young with no experience - no one gives you a chance unless you have a qualification these days."
"He does ask a lot of questions, which I always try to answer, and we have a lot of turfcare books and magazines that he reads through. It is early days yet, but it seems to be working out very well. It works for us, and that's what is important, everyone is happy. I explain to him how things have changed over the years; from back when I was his age, and how technology and research and development have helped greenkeepers over the years. I would much rather be a greenkeeper now than thirty years ago."
"I think our industry is bigger than ever now, due to the ever growing demand for sports, especially golf… it is getting more and more popular by the year. With the way technology keeps changing, everything is getting better and becoming more affordable. I think with the amount of work we do, underground work that people can't see, and don't realise it has been done; sometimes it feels like a thankless task."
"In terms of raising the greenkeeper profile; I think if we carry on doing what we are doing, we will get noticed for what we do as more and more people are becoming aware of the work that is required by us. When I used to say to people 'I am a greenkeeper' they used to say 'Oh, you cut grass.' Now, when I tell them, they say 'I'd love to have your job!'"
Shayne concluded by telling me his father was his inspiration: "I had always taken a keen interest in what he did from an early age, and was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work with him, and develop my own skills and knowledge. Some of my club members are also members at his club, and they ask about the banter we have about each other's courses. I have adopted his love of the sport and his perfectionist approach. Presentation is the number one priority for me; if it doesn't look good, then I am not happy. It doesn't really take a lot to tidy up where you have made a mess!"
What's in the shed?
John Deere 2500B Greensmower
Ransomes 185 T-Plex, for cutting surrounds
Ransomes 305 Fairway, for cutting the driving range
John Deere Gator buggy
John Deere 4700 Tractor with front loader
Husqvana rotary mower, for cutting the rough
Ransomes Super-Certes 51 hand greens mower
Hayter Harrier 65 Hand mowers for the tees x 2
Charterhouse Verti-drain unit
John Deere D45C Scarifier
Hardi 200L Sprayer
Scotts Fertiliser Spreader
SCH Hand Sorrel Roller
Stihl Strimmers x 2
Stihl Chainsaws x 2
Stihl Leaf Blowers x 2
I asked Shayne what was on his wish list and his excited response was a new workshop (as the current one is very old), and, due to his personal preference and ease of use, new John Deere mowers to help raise the profile of the course.
Since Shayne has been at the club, they have been looking at getting two new machines, one for the rough and one for the surrounds. So, when Capex requests roll around, at the top of his list will be to buy new equipment outright from their local John Deere dealer, Rabeys, who he championed for being 'very good and a 'helpful bunch of lads who know their stuff'.
Sometimes, they hire in a digger and operator, depending on what work is being carried out, as well as a pedestrian Groundsman corer, which is used on the greens and surrounds.
Servicing and machinery maintenance is currently outsourced to a local supplier, but Shayne is looking to obtain a service contract for all the machines.