Chasing Birdies in Galveston

Water hazard alongside a green at Moody Gardens Golf Course

“Keep your eyes on the ball,” my dad’s voice whispers as I settle into my stance between the maroon markers and look down at the yellow ball. My dad introduced me to golf decades ago, and even though he is no longer with us, his coaching still guides me on the course. If I’m nervous on the first tee, returning to the basics helps calm the pre-drive jitters, especially when I play with rental clubs on a new course.

A few of the hundreds of palms at Moody Gardens Golf Club

Moody Gardens on Galveston Island in Texas, is a public, non-profit educational destination featuring a hotel, spa, theme park, theaters, Rainforest Pyramid, Aquarium Pyramid, and, as of 2008, a par-72 Jacobsen Hardy design golf course. While tourists and school kids, given the long line of orange buses in the parking lot, are experiencing the exotic animals in the Rainforest Pyramid and the ocean exhibits in the Aquarium Pyramid, I’m chasing birdies.

Putting at Moody Gardens Golf Course Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens

I squint at the target over 350 yards down the dew-covered paspalum grass fairway before looking down at the ball and preparing to take my first swing. Keen to avoid deep, sand-filled bunkers and a considerable water hazard, I drive my ball near a grove of palm trees on the left side of the fairway. I’m taking the long way to the first green, but I prefer to play it safe. Golf course water hazards like ponds and streams can be magnets for golf balls. At Moody Gardens Golf Course I discovered that they are also magnets for something else—local and migrating birds.

At Moody Gardens Golf Course Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens

Galveston Island’s abundant natural habitat and location on a migratory flight path extending between South America and Alaska make it a top bird-watching destination. At the 18-hole Moody Gardens Golf Course, around 170 acres of open grass landscape, freshwater pond habitats, hundreds of palms, shrubby borders, and wetland areas provide rich bird habitat and a fantastic opportunity to birdwatch while you play.

Reddish Egret at Moody Gardens Golf Course Photo courtesy of Greg Whittaker

On the way to the second tee box, a graceful black-necked stilt with skinny pillar-like pink legs foraged along the edge of a pond. Further into the course, an egret stood statue-like with its eyes and long black beak pointed at the shallow water, no doubt hunting for breakfast. Later, a squadron of prehistoric-looking pelicans darkened the sky.

Tropical landscaping around the Moody Gardens Golf Course Clubhouse Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens

The current bird species count at Moody Gardens Golf Course is 207, and the course is in the process of getting fully certified under the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Information about bird surveys and sightings at Moody Gardens Golf Course is available on eBird, an online program that tracks bird sightings. While I didn’t score any of the golf birdies (one under par) I was chasing, I saw plenty of the winged variety on one of the best public golf courses in Texas. If you want to chase some birdies of your own at Moody Gardens but don’t play golf, check out the Chasing Birdies activity at Galveston’s annual Featherfest. During this birding and nature photography festival, 18 participants can bird by golf cart and enjoy the natural beauty at Moody Gardens Golf Course.

Sandy-filled bunkers protect the greens at Moody Gardens Golf Course Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens
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