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the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is tops in sports, neighborliness and outreach programs

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Small Community, Big Heart


Though not as large as some of its barrier-island neighbors, the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is tops in sports, neighborliness and outreach programs.

Small Community, Big Heart

by mary beth vallar

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2 An aerial view of the par 5, 18th hole of the Arnold Palmer champion golf course at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club


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photography by denise ritchie

Resident Terri Pistole makes sure the club’s scrapbook is up to date, while Pepper looks on.

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he Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is a relatively small private community on Indian River County’s barrier island, but it’s big in many ways as well. Big on amenities, big on heart and big on the wider community of Indian River County. Many in the close-knit community of 310 West Indies-style homes and 66 low-rise condominiums claim they were originally attracted to Orchid because of the lush and verdant beauty of its 600 acres, the Arnold Palmer championship golf course, and the elegant charm of the Beach Club. However, what keeps them wildly enthusiastic about living there five, 10, even 20 years later is still the Rich Waage, director of golf, oversees the activities at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club’s Arnold Palmer champion golf course.

collegiality of the community, the spirit of philanthropy they share with their neighbors, and the continuous upgrades that make Orchid Island a residential Eden. The history of Orchid Island is relatively short when you consider that just over 20 years ago citrus groves and little else covered the area, and the entire Town of Orchid that is now synonymous with the country club community, had only 10 residents. In fact, the town’s beginning was downright sleepy compared to the early days of the Golf & Beach Club.

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he Town of Orchid was incorporated in 1965 and the few families who lived on the strip of fertile land bordered by the ocean and State Road 510 produced Indian River grapefruit. In 1986 the residents sold the town

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to the Deerfield Groves Corporation, and it produced, well, more grapefruit. Yet it was inevitable that the real estate boom on Indian River County’s barrier island would reach the Town of Orchid and in 1988 Robert Haines III, a developer from Avon, Conn., created a limited partnership that raised some $20 million and bought the town and its farms with plans to transform it into a residential community. He built the Arnold Palmer golf course, the three-story, West Indies-style Beach Club, four tennis courts, and by 1990 had sold 10 home sites. By mid-1990, however, a recession had hit the nation. The economic downturn caused Florida’s real estate market to dive and construction at Orchid and the rest of Indian River County to stop. Four years later, billionaire Galen Weston of Canada, who had developed Windsor just north of Orchid, bought the property. Immediately the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club began its climb, slowly at first, then more rapidly. It has yet to cease.

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erri Pistole and her late husband, Chuck, were among those who discovered Orchid shortly after its rebirth. Longtime residents of Coral Gables, the Pistoles had finally had enough of South Florida and its growing crime rate. This experience made a gated community appealing to Mrs. Pistole, but beyond the security she found the peace and quiet and overall atmosphere of Orchid a soothing change. “It was so friendly and still is,” she says. “There were only 34 homes at Orchid when we moved in and as each new resident arrived, I would The three-story, West Indies-style Beach Club is the site of many club activities.


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denise ritchie

Residents Olivia Delacruz and Peggy Marino are leading Orchid Outreach this year. The focus of the community-sponsored effort is education.

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deliver a basket with champagne, cheese, a baguette and grapes. Soon we were growing so fast, I couldn’t keep it up.” Those days may have ended, but the spirit of neighborliness and friendship still prevails on the golf course, tennis courts, in the fitness center, at the bridge table and at myriad other activities shared on a regular basis. The golf cart-friendly nature of the community tends to slow the pace a bit. All homes are built with a golf cart garage and most residents have their own cart, frequently sliding into the electrically charged vehicle to drive to the first tee or other club destination. No matter how residents get around the community – in a golf cart, car or bicycle or on foot – they can’t help but notice

the abundance of wildlife, says General Manager Rob Tench. “Orchid is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and the community’s conservation practices help protect the 300 species of birds – including herons, egrets and spoonbills – more than 750 species of fish and 2,000 species of plants found in and around the Indian River.” Majestic white pelicans from the nearby Pelican Island National Wildlife Preserve glide over the community’s lakes, and Orchid’s secluded beach provides one of the densest sea-turtle nesting areas in the Western Hemisphere. The golf course is the crown jewel of the property, with some 325 of the households holding equity golf club memberships. Charles

McGovern, who currently serves as club president, bought property at Orchid in 1998 and says one of the main reasons was its golf course. “At that point Orchid Island was not well developed, but we knew it would always be a small community, and we liked that. Besides the size, I found the golf course challenging and knew it was a course that I wouldn’t get tired of playing.” That has remained the case, he says, especially with the renovations that were completed in 2005. Rich Waage, who has been director of golf since 1997, describes these course upgrades. “With the help of the Arnold Palmer group, we extended the greens back to their original size and specs, and we added undulation on some of the


denise ritchie

greens, most notably on numbers 5, 7 and 12, which are now triple-tiered greens. In addition, we re-grassed the greens with Tifeagle, which is noted for its true and fast-paced role. And we re-grassed all the tee boxes with Paspalum grass.” To attest to the course’s challenge, Orchid hosted the U.S. Open Regional Qualifier in 2009 and is in rotation with a handful of other local clubs to do it again. It also hosted the 2008 Professional National Championship for South Florida, and the Florida State Open Qualifier, and will host the Florida State Golf Association Open in the summer as a sister site to Quail Valley.

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number of distinguishing features of an Arnold Palmer golf course add to the challenge and the aesthetics of the course. These include green-side bunkers and walls in front of greens, such as Orchid’s numbers 8, 12 and 16. The course’s original terrain was flat, but the course designer added mounded moguls to the fairways to give them definition. Palm trees line the fairways and flowering oleanders and annuals add color to beautify the fairways. In addition, the course is certified by Audubon International. The designation was achieved through a rigorous process that includes environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, and water conservation. While Orchid touts its course for its challenges, it also recognizes the importance of keeping play fun for its members. So the club has adopted the PGA and USGA “Tee It Forward” initiative by adding tee boxes that shave off yardage for players in accordance with their average driving distance.

Director of Tennis Jim Buck heads the Indian River Tennis Foundation, which promotes junior tennis in Indian River County.

The social aspect of golf is also high on Orchid’s scorecard for keeping members on the links. The golf staff works closely with the food and beverage team to provide a number

of events that keep the members engaged and enable new members to make friends quickly and easily. Besides Ladies’ and Men’s Days they hold Twilight Golf every other week

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More than 30 classes a week are offered in the fitness center’s state-of-the-art group exercise room.

denise ritchie

during the season, and even in the summer, when only 18 percent of the members are in residence, they keep the programs active and have special golf events on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

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n addition to Waage, Orchid’s professional golf staff includes Jason Sedan, who is director of instruction. While they work on a golfer’s swing to correct flaws that take strokes off his or her game, they are also attuned to physical problems that could be addressed. Waage is a graduate of the Titleist Performance Institute, a program designed for the golf pro and, with a fitness consultant at Orchid’s fitness center, works to strengthen a player’s game. A tour of the recently renovated fitness center reveals that members can bring their golf, tennis or whatever other activity they enjoy to the top of their game. With the expenditure of significant dollars, the fitness center has been doubled in size

With the expansion and renovation of the fitness center the club added Director of Fitness and Wellness Denise Duda to enhance the programs and ensure that members are getting the most out of their fitness regimen.

to more than 11,000 square feet. A state-of-the-art group exercise room, Pilates studio, and new locker rooms equipped with steam showers have also been added. More than 30 group exercise classes a week are

offered, from cycling and boot camp to yoga. All new equipment, including 19 resistance machines, 17 cardio machines, three stretch tables – and large-screen TV’s everywhere – outfit the area.


Executive Chef Jeff McKinney and his staff take pride in making all meals and special events memorable occasions. Their cooking classes and wine dinners are also popular events.

With the renovation, the club added its own director of fitness and wellness, Denise Duda, to enhance the programs and ensure that members are getting the most out of their physical fitness regimen. In addition to Duda, the trainers, group exercise instructors and spa therapists number 15. The fitness center, which is open seven days a week, is never unattended. As for usage, it is up over 40 percent since the expanded facility was inaugurated just over a year ago. Orchid is an active community and Duda means to keep it that way. “Staying active is absolutely imperative,”

she says. “And Orchid has really gone all out to provide its members with the best possible equipment and service and the most effective classes to promote health and wellness. No matter what one’s level of fitness is, we can program to increase it.” The adjacent tennis facility, with eight Har-Tru clay courts, also got a bit of a face lift at the time of the fitness center expansion, according to Jim Buck, director of tennis. The popular deck area that oversees the exhibition court now features an awning, multiple overhead fans and new furniture, creating an inviting

area to sit and watch the action or just relax. Buck is in his 19th year at Orchid Island and has built an active tennis program that includes four drop-in events each week. Orchid’s tennis members are not only active players but also supporters of the Indian River Tennis Foundation, which promotes junior tennis in Indian River County. Buck founded the organization in 2005 with the encouragement of the tennis committee, and Orchid’s tennis players support the foundation with their financial memberships

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“Most of us looked all over the state of Florida, up and down the east and west coasts, before moving here. It was Vero Beach that drew us as well as what Orchid had to offer.”

– Club President Charles McGovern

and involvement in the annual Charity Pro-Am. With the funds raised each year the Indian River Tennis Foundation donates $1,000 to the tennis programs at Vero Beach High School, Sebastian River High School, Saint Edward’s School and Master’s Academy. Additionally, the foundation provides several $1,500 scholarships a year to graduating high school seniors in Indian River County who play on their school tennis teams and provides scholarships for local youngsters taking lessons and attending summer tennis camps.

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esides golf, tennis and fitness, there are a variety of “clubs within the club,” organized by the members themselves or with the help of Membership Director Jackie Kennedy. Bridge is by far the most popular activity with 100 people a week meeting at the beach club for American Contract Bridge League-sanctioned play. Other clubs include a book club, gun club, yacht club, laser sailboat racing and mahjong club. For those interested in a different kind of challenge, there are programs at “Orchid University,” offering classes in Spanish and Italian – with instructors from Saint Edward’s School – and beginning bridge, dance and painting. This year a class on iPhones is also planned. The main dining room at the Beach Club is where many of the activities take place. In the afternoon it could host card players, and then at night it may accommodate a band and dancing or be set up for an elegant dining experience. So the recent

redecorating of the facility not only gave it a fresh look, it also addressed its multi-functionality.  In particular, it was determined that different lighting could serve the changing ambiances and also increase visibility where it is needed for certain activities. This was accomplished with the addition of wall sconces, a chandelier and lamps. The lounge area also received a recent upgrade and both the lounge and the dining room retain their original West Indies style. The golf clubhouse, which was built in the early 2000s, is scheduled for redecoration in 2014.

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ood service is an essential ingredient at Orchid Island. The golf clubhouse is open for lunch and dinner daily and the Beach Club is open for dinner. In addition, lunch is served poolside at the Beach Club six days a week. The majority of the 60 employees, which the club adds each winter season to its year-round staff of 70, are assigned to the food service area. Executive Chef Jeff McKinney and his staff take pride in making meals and special events memorable occasions, and their cooking classes and wine dinners are popular events. In reality it’s not all play for the residents, and they don’t spend all their time within the boundaries of the residential community. For many, philanthropy and volunteerism might as well be classified as just another Orchid activity. Orchid Outreach, with its focus on education, is one such program, says Olivia Delacruz. She and Peggy Marino are leading the effort this

year. “We conduct an annual appeal to the Orchid community, and we are now in our eleventh year and have awarded a total of 26 scholarships,” she says. “We have two fully endowed scholarships: one is for Indian River County first responders and their families and the other is for Orchid Island employees and their families. And this year we are partnering with Indian River State College to establish an Orchid Island scholarship for a student attending the college.”  Other notable examples of Orchid’s community involvement include the two Habitat for Humanity houses that Orchid Island sponsors each year, with residents not only donating funds but also swinging hammers to build the homes for local families in need. As mentioned earlier, the Indian River Tennis Foundation, which fosters junior tennis in Indian River Country, was initiated at Orchid. And when Riverside Theatre launched its capital campaign to expand, Orchid Island residents raised $1 million and the entrance hall now bears the name “Orchid Lobby.” Finally, many members are active at the nearby Environmental Learning Center, whose mission is environmental education for children and adults. Club President Charles McGovern sums up Orchid’s generosity this way: “Most of us looked all over the state of Florida, up and down the east and west coasts, before moving here. It was Vero Beach that drew us as well as what Orchid had to offer. And now there probably is not a cultural or charitable organization in Vero Beach that does not have an Orchid Island resident on its board, or on its volunteer roster or list of contributors. This is a caring and compassionate community that gives back.” `


Small Community, Big Heart