EDGARTOWN, Mass. — Standing alongside the 13th green at the Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard, Jeff Carlson spotted a small broadleaf weed between his feet. As the superintendent charged with maintaining the club grounds, he instinctively bent to pluck it, then stopped.
“We have a weed here or there,” he said unapologetically.
It was the rarest acknowledgment in American golf course landscaping — the Vineyard Golf Club is not meant to be as unnaturally perfect as many of the country’s best-known courses.
Opened eight years ago, the club is thought to be the only completely organic golf course in the United States, its 18 holes groomed without the use of a single synthetic pesticide, fertilizer, herbicide or other artificial chemical treatment.
“When we started here, some of my peers thought this golf course would be a dust bowl,” Carlson said, walking across a lush, smooth green toward a rolling, verdant fairway. “I admit I wasn’t so sure it could be done myself. People said we were crazy.”
The club has a more prominent endorsement now. The nation’s first golfer, President Obama, is expected to play here while vacationing this month, after playing the course twice last year.
With golf courses increasingly being criticized for environmentally unfriendly practices, the Vineyard Golf Club has become a petri dish for alternative maintenance techniques. Carlson has learned to kill weeds with boiling water and a natural foam cocktail and to remove moss with kitchen dish detergent, and he has transported microscopic worms from Iowa to attack turf-ruining grubs. He has disrupted the mating cycle of damaging oriental beetles with a strategically placed scent and has grown grass that he believes is more resistant to disease because it developed without chemicals.