Golfing 'birders' will find birdies and birds in Texas, Florida and New Jersey

By William K. Wolfrum, Contributor

For outsiders, golf and bird watching may as well be the same thing. They can be looked at as things to do to make being outside more enjoyable, plus practitioners of both activities have a propensity for getting completely entranced in their intricacies.

Egrets are a common site in South Florida for golfers and birders.
EgretRockportEmerald Hills
If you go

And while Tim Finchem looks to "sex-up" golf some, he's unable to do what bird watching has done, which is to change its name. No longer is it bird watching. Today, the cool kids call it by the streamlined moniker "birding" with its practitioners dubbed "birders."

According to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 51.3 million Americans report that they watch birds, nearly doubling the 26 million that play golf. Of course, there is a fairly high likelihood that many birders are also golfers, or golfers who are birders.

Luckily, it appears birds and golfers both thrive in the same climates, as nearly all the best birding locations have nearby golf courses available. In Texas, Florida and New Jersey, you'll find areas where the birds are plentiful and the golfing is readily available.

Upper Texas Coast

Texans get the best of both worlds when it comes to birding and golf, with birders flocking to the Upper Texas Coast for maximum viewing. This are between High Island and Rockport is home to three national wildlife refuges - Aransas, Anahuac and Brazoria.

Aransas, which contains more than 400 species of birds in the wild, is where birders go to get great views of the endangered whooping crane, which chooses the area as a winter migratory stop.

The refuges and surrounding areas are a virtual smorgasbord for birders, with reddish egrets, snow geese, sandhill cranes, scissor-tailed flycatchers, brown pelicans and roseate spoonbills all available to get in the cross-hairs of birders' binoculars.

Where to golf: Rockport Country Club is a perfect spot to go for birdies while watching the birds. Designed by Bill Coore, with Jimmy Demeret as a consultant, Rockport plays to about 6,500 yards from the tips with a 123-slope rating. With water on 12 holes, bunkers aplenty and towering oaks framing fairways, it's a course brings the golf, as well as a registration with the Audubon Society.

"We have a lot of people who became members to the club who have become avid birders over time, said Bill Kirk, general manager of Rockport. "Especially this time of year, we just get so many varieties of birds. It really lends to the ambiance of the course."

South Florida

If you combine all the golf balls and birds in flight at any given time in South Florida, it's a wonder they have any airspace available, such is the popularity of both birding and golfing in the lower portion of the Sunshine State.

If you're thinking South Florida for birding, one place is can't-miss: the Everglades. Heading through Everglades National Park, your field of vision will be full with a spectacular array of birds, including herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, hawks, kites, wood storks, gallinules, ospreys and even bald eagles.

Where to golf: In the South Florida the golfing options are many, so why not go for the extreme at Emerald Hills in Hollywood. Playing at more than 7,100 yards with an eye-catching 147-slope rating from the back tees, the only birdies many of us will see at Emerald Hills will be the winged variety.

The club's toughness has been recognized, as it one of the host site for the U.S. Amateur qualifier and U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifiers, and the entire South Florida area sits as a birding area with a world-class reputation.

"We get egrets and ospreys here," said Emerald Hills Assistant Professional George Kallay. "On the front nine it's more commonplace because of the water, plus we'll have fish jumping out of the water."

New Jersey

Travel along the southeastern tip of New Jersey, between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay and you'll find Cape May, where birders will exhaust themselves with more than 400 species of birds calling this small area home at one point or another of the year.

Known for its songbirds in locations like Cape May Meadows, Higbee Beach and Cape May State Park the area draws such birds as warblers, vireos, flycatchers, orioles and tanagers. During winter months snow geese, Canadian geese, and Tundra Swans can be easily viewed.

Where to golf: A writer captured Cape May National perfectly as a golfing/birding destination:

"Many courses tout nature. Cape May National is nature, essentially built smack dab in the middle of one of the largest private bird sanctuaries in the state," Chris Baldwin wrote.

While not the toughest course you'll ever play, Cape May will hypnotize you with nature as well as the 317 different species of birds that call the sanctuary home. Cape May is a course to walk and enjoy, with no homes to clutter the views and songbirds to serenade you throughout the course.

Fast fact

According to the Southern Research Station, birding is second only to gardening as a leisure pursuit and has grown by 155 percent over the last 12 years.

William K. WolfrumWilliam K. Wolfrum, Contributor

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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