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Orchid Island is a Haven for Environmental Practices October 8, 2018 | Vero Beach, Fla. By Lisa D. Mickey

The anhinga is just one of the interesting wildlife species that can be found on the grounds of Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

Walk the fairways of Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club and you can see fish swimming along the bottom of water hazards. In and around the aquatic plants on the course, you might see comical otters, flitting dragonflies or wading egrets and herons. Butterflies and pollinators hover over flowering lantana and dune daisies around the tee on the fifth hole.

And when hundreds of migratory white pelicans soar in and settle in the greenside ponds to forage for the winter, it’s much to the delight of golfers.

“The white pelicans add a real natural beauty to our course,” said Ted Hutton, a club member and chairman of this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship. “When you’re hitting into holes on the golf course where water surrounds the greens and you see the white pelicans adjacent to the green, it’s just an incredible sight.”

Hutton credits Orchid Island superintendent Matthew Boyd with leading the charge when it comes to protecting the pristine environment at the club, located within the watershed of the adjacent Indian River Lagoon – which is considered the most biologically diverse estuary in North America.

It’s a source of pride for club members that the course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary that works closely with the neighboring Environmental Learning Center (ELC), the championship’s charitable beneficiary.

The clear water, healthy plants and superb turf require a carefully orchestrated year-round plan by Boyd and his staffthat delves far deeper than sheer aesthetics.

“We’re doing everything we can do from a sustainability standpoint to make sure we’re applying the right pesticides and fertilizers and doing the right things to make sure we’re not impacting the environment,” said Boyd.

Otters are a common sight at Orchid Island, to the point where there is an 'Otter Crossing' sign on one of the roads. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Education has been a part of Boyd’s best practices since his arrival eight years ago. Sometimes he will answer questions at the ELC’s annual EcoFest about golf course operations. For example, he has explained that the buffer zones around the course’s numerous water hazards aren’t designed to prevent golfers’ errant shots from rolling into the water; rather, they’re designed as zones where chemicals are not applied to prevent nutrients from leaching into adjacent waters.

Boyd also pairs with the ELC to host nature walks and birding walks with naturalists. The club even has its own bird guide, featuring 32 of the documented 60 bird species that have been spotted on the grounds of Orchid Island, as well as a birdhouse location guide for members who might want to watch activity in the 20 birdhouses located throughout the course.

“Members like to learn which baby birds are fledging and from which boxes on the course,” said Boyd. “We also plan to build an osprey nesting platform.”

Behind the scenes, Boyd and his staff have plenty to consider from a sustainability standpoint. They utilize a wash-down station for their mowing equipment, trapping grass clippings and retaining water for reuse. The water remains on the course and never enters the lagoon, drains or lakes.

Water usage on the course is always a careful consideration at Orchid Island, which has 110 acres of managed turf and 50 surface acres of fresh water. In his tenure, Boyd has slashed water consumption by 20 percent, carefully managing turf in an environment that typically receives up to 70 inches of rainfall each year.

Interestingly, the golf course at Orchid Island was formerly a grapefruit grove with several Artesian wells that still operate like natural springs on the course. Boyd can use the wells for irrigation in an emergency, but he prefers to utilize the on-course water that is carefully managed and even tested by volunteers.

“We have some water-quality challenges, but we can manage that and make the water more usable,” said Boyd. “You might not realize how difficult it is to manage a course with high-sodium water.”

Environmental practices at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club result in notable sustainability efforts as well as terrific scenery. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Drainage issues and poor overall turf health will result when water is not properly managed, added Boyd. A saturated golf course may also invite a shallow root system for turf.

To prevent the overuse of water, the staff at Orchid Island use moisture meters to gauge the need for water on tees, fairways and greens, rather than just placing irrigation on a timer without regard to actual need.

“I’m of the mindset that less is more and being green is overrated,” added Boyd. “We have irrigation audits at least once a year to make sure our irrigation is being as efficient as possible. I’d say that managing water is one of my biggest challenges, but we do a fairly good job at it.”

Maintaining or eradicating invasive plant species is always a challenge in a subtropical climate. Plants such as Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, carrotwood, strangler fig, hydrilla and air potato plants keep Boyd’s staff busy cutting and even using biological warfare – in the form of special beetles supplied by the University of Florida to eat air potato plants – to fight the invaders.

“Chemical treatments don’t work on the air potato, so we have to find the roots and hand-pull it out the best we can,” he said.

Boyd showed he was more willing to apply physical effort than potentially harmful chemicals several years ago when he solved the problem of overgrown plants in water hazards. The plants had clogged the ponds and thrown the course’s ecosystem out of balance.

So Boyd entered the ponds wearing hip waders. He and his staff used rakes to pull “trailers and trailers” loaded with vegetation from the ponds. The effort took weeks, but once the aquatic environment was back under control, the fish, insect, reptile and amphibian population was restored in cleaner water. And once that was accomplished, happier otters and bobcats returned to the area.

“Matt goes the extra mile and understands the implications of his actions taken here,” said Addison Barden, USGA agronomist for the Southeast Region. “What he’s doing here benefits not only the course, but the entire community of Orchid Island. Sometimes it costs a little bit more in time to do the right thing.”

And for Boyd, that’s the idea. He sees the golf course as a part of a greater community.

“We live here too, and we want our children to be able to enjoy the Indian River Lagoon and the area surrounding it,” said Boyd. “Of course, we want our membership to know that everything we’re doing is tailored to the environment, but truly, we’re all in this together.”

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