Organic golf course lets the weeds grow
By shedding artificial fertilizers and pesticides, a Massachusetts golf club goes organic.
Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 05:19 PM
Photo: John Foxx/Getty Images Stockbyte
It is one of those great ironies that pesticides and other chemicals are widely used to keep most golf courses looking lush and green. But a tony course on Martha’s Vineyard is changing that notion by going “organic,” according to The New York Times.
The Vineyard Golf Club is thought to be the country’s only organic course, meaning not a single pesticide, fertilizer or artificial chemical touches its hallowed 18 holes. It is not, the paper writes, a course known for being “unnaturally perfect,” as so many unblemished greens are.
“When we started here, some of my peers thought this golf course would be a dust bowl,” said Jeff Carlson, the club’s superintendent. “I admit I wasn’t so sure it could be done myself.”
Opened eight years ago, the Vineyard Gulf Club is using alternative techniques for keeping the grass vermin-free. Carlson uses boiling water to kill weeds. He has imported microscopic worms to attack grubs. Local fisherman trap raccoons and other critters that find their way onto the course. The mating cycle of oriental beetles has been stunted by strategically placed scents.
Still, not everyone thought going green was the right idea, including some conservationists. The Vineyard Golf Club is a favorite among well-heeled summer patrons. (President Obama has tee time there this summer.)
But Carlson had personal experience with mercury-based fungicides typically used on golf courses: One of his earliest jobs was to mix the stuff by hand. He learned it was toxic when his wife’s hair started falling out. Before the Vineyard club, he built the Widow’s Walk Golf Course in Scituate, Mass., a course known as the first environmental demonstration course.
It’s not entirely clear what it means to be an organic course.
“The Vineyard Golf Club has gone further than anyone organically, especially for that level of golf course and considering what they’ve achieved over the years,” said Paul Parker, author of a 79-page report by golf and environmental experts. The report listed more than 20 other courses that call themselves organic, despite using some chemical agents.
The Vineyard Golf Club gets its share of weeds. “We had to promote the notion of playability rather than visual perfection,” said Carlson.
“It is not perfect out there, but even if your ball comes to rest next to a shaved-down broadleaf weed,” Gene Mulak, the club’s golf pro, said, “it’s not going to affect your shot.”
Indeed, Carlson told The Times he doesn’t want it to be known as just the organic golf course. “I don’t want people to come here and say, ‘That was a real good golf course for an organic golf course,’” he said.
Related on MNN: 11 ways to control weeds without chemicals
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