Sitting in a parked golf cart near the seventh hole of the Mattapoisett Bay Club, John O’Connor took a moment to marvel at three tree swallows attempting to skim water bugs off the surface of one of the club’s lakes.
“These are little ones,” he said of the baby birds learning to catch food for themselves. The small birds flew close to the water, sometimes creating ripples when they got too close.
“That’s not supposed to happen; they have to learn to stay just above it,” he said.
The swallows, which hatched this spring, have made themselves at home at the Mattapoisett Bay Club thanks to O’Connor’s bird houses scattered across the 625-acre property. O’Connor, who is the club’s course superintendent, has included boxes for bluebirds, bats, barred owls and wood ducks to encourage wildlife on the property. There are also protected mating areas for box turtles, which are threatened in Massachusetts.
“This is a special course and I wear a lot of hats,” O’Connor explained Monday during a tour of the Bay Club. “My degree is in agronomy, but sometimes I act as a naturalist or botanist. People don’t expect that from a golf club.”
The bird boxes are just one environmentally friendly measure the Bay Club has taken in its eight years of operation.
Of the club’s 150-acre golf course, 50 acres are made up of naturalized grasses a blend of hard fescue and blue sheep fescue that make up much of the course’s rough. Unlike the blend of Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue grass that makes up other parts of the course, such as the green, the naturalized grasses do not need to be mowed or irrigated and rarely need to be weeded.
“We save dramatically in water use, diesel, gas, manpower and our fertilizer and weeding has been dramatically reduced. We also save on our electricity because it takes energy to pump water through the irrigation system,” O’Connor explained.
The naturalized grasses, which reach up to O’Connor’s knees in a “meadow or prairie look,” not only save the club money on expenses but also attract wildlife.
“We get more field mice, so we get snakes now and a huge increase in red tail hawks,” O’Connor said.
The club uses water from the golf course’s three artificial lakes to water the grass that must be irrigated.
O’Connor said the club’s environmental efforts are especially important because 400 of the property’s 690 acres are protected wetland. The golf course itself weaves between protected land, with a wooden bridge carrying carts over the wetlands between holes 10 and 11.
The club’s environmental measures are not unrecognized; it is one of 66 golf clubs worldwide to earn a “Silver Signature” status from Audubon International, a nonprofit group that promotes environmental property management.
The club is reviewed by the organization each year to ensure it is up to the silver standards that, according to the Bay Club web page, it remains committed to habitat enhancement and wildlife conservation as well as efficient water and energy use. That’s something O’Connor said he hopes will be the case for a long time.
“Golf courses can get a bad rap for being bad for the environment and wasteful because of all the water we use,” he said. “But we do everything we can to protect the land first and foremost.”
“We have to be good stewards because what people sometimes forget is that these things we play on, they’re alive,” he said.