There was strong opposition to build a new golf course, the first in 30 years, on Martha’s Vineyard because there is only a single-source aquifer for the whole island. But when the Martha’s Vineyard County Commission weighed the prospect of an organic golf course (something that had never been done in the United States) against a 148-lot subdivision, the golf club won with the condition that they offer 125 low-cost memberships for islanders.
Carlson’s challenge was to oversee a course that is absent of pesticides, fertilizers or other products whose active ingredient was synthetically produced. Despite having his doubts Carlson set out to accomplish what he thought almost impossible.
After trial, error and experimentation, Carlson found what worked for his course. They use nematodes, or microscopic worms, to fight against the white grub, an oriental beetle that plagued the course. They do what they can to limit the wetness of the leaves which contribute to fungal diseases. And they have fought their biggest challenge, weeds, by using a product out of New Zealand called Waipuna. It’s an environmentally friendly machine that heats water just below the boiling point and then adds a wetting agent to create a foam that they brush on the weeds.
A 100 percent organic course cannot exist in the South or in the transition zone, but Carlson has made the impossible possible in the Northeast, with the cooperation and understanding of the membership that the course will not be visually perfect. The pressure that superintendents face to make courses appear like the courses you see played on the PGA Tour are a huge deterrent for superintendents interested in organic practices. They’re scared it could mean their job.
For the organic movement to gain more momentum, superintendents need the support of golfers and a change in the perception of what makes a stellar golf course. Members must accept the visual blemishes that come with managing golf courses more organically. Vineyard Golf Club’s 290 members who pay a $350,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $12,000 have been converted. And I’d bet the additional island members who enjoy it for $400 a year have as well.