Green or not to Green? Politics of Martha's Vineyard "Organic" Golf Course

When President Obama hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club while on vacation this week he wasn't just trying to get the ball on the green, he was also playing a course that is considered to be the most organic and "green" course in the United States. But, if the president and his foursome were hoping to take their game to another "green" course, they should think again.

The course on Martha's Vineyard is the "only" organic course, because it's the only one that is forced to be.

Aren't most golf courses "green" or "organic" by nature you might be wondering? After all, sure the lawns are meticulously manicured, but it is just a bunch of grass and trees with some holes peppered throughout, and not to mention all you see IS the color green.

On the liberal leaning island of Martha's Vineyard, where candidate Obama got over 70 percent of the vote in the 2008 election, this unique golf course can't be duplicated. Greg Lyman of the Golf Course Superintendants Association says the area's unique temperate climate makes it perfect for vacations and organic golf courses. "You're going somewhere cooler and disease intensity is not the same as it is inland."

But for some environmentalists even an organic golf course is not enough and, they wish the land could have remained more natural.

The course opened eight years ago, and originally faced stiff opposition because the land was zoned for a 148-lot subdivision. The Martha's Vineyard Commission finally agreed to allow the course to be built but only if it did not use any active ingredients that are synthetically produced. Tom Chase of the Nature Conservancy says the course, while beautiful, does not protect the land, but he admits there are real benefits to the course.

Vineyard Club is one of the few 18-hole courses on the island and President Obama golfed there both this year and last.

There are a number of environmental issues facing Martha's Vineyard. A project designed to generate 420 megawatts of electricity which would generate 75 percent of the energy needed for Cape Cod as well as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, is facing huge opposition in the area. The wind farm, proposed for a site that's said to be a major migration route for dozens of bird species, has been debated for years in the area. In addition, water issues run deep on the Vineyard as the island seeks to control the nitrogen levels that are inserted into the coastal ponds.

Chase says without the 148 homes, there's less nitrogen in the water and less disturbance to the island, but he admits it would have been nice to leave the land untouched.

"The best thing to do with that land would have been to put it in conservation holdings," Chase told Fox News. "But, it wasn't an option because there are no funds available for that massive acreage."

Golf experts say the idea with all courses is to create and maintain a sustainable environment, but they also say the organic practices at Vineyard Golf probably won't be trending across the country.

Lyman, the director of environmental programs at GCSSA says a course not using synthetic inputs has to be creative to ensure disease and pests don't ruin the course, as Vineyard Golf Club,and he also says "organic treatments are not proven to be reliable."

Chase says in the end, the course can be seen as a win and a loss for the Vineyard. "It does minimize nitrogen in the water. It would be really difficult to maintain Edgartown Great Pond,(with more houses and plumbing) but the thing it does not do, is that it does not maintain the integrity of the land. It's not as bad as 148 houses but it would be better as grass and shrub land." But Chase wants to be clear, he's not upset with the course. "I'm pretty darn happy with what we got out of it."

And Lyman has a warning to anyone - even President Obama - thinking of enjoying a sandwich on the course fertilized by manure, "I wouldn't recommend laying your sandwich down anywhere.

Photo Credit: Fox News