Vineyard Golf Club

"Two and a quarter" to join and 100% organic, this Gil Hanse design lives at the top of Martha's Vineyard's totem pole
Vineyard

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The following story is part of a larger feature, Glories of the Island, which attempts to better understand Martha’s Vineyard through its five courses. View the full feature here.

Two things have been present each time I’ve pulled into the parking lot at Vineyard Golf Club: the aristocratic crunch of gravel under tire, and a pair of souped-up Suburbans with Maryland plates. The former because this is a classy joint—$225,000 to join (or “two and a quarter,” as one member put it to me)—the latter because Barack Obama is an honorary member and plays seemingly every time there’s a four-hour block available in his more-time-than-there-used-to-be schedule.

“You should’ve seen it when he was president, though,” the superintendent, Kevin Banks, said to me on a recent soggy morning. “The Secret Service, the local police, the state police…there were so many people, there weren’t any carts left for my crew.”

Vineyard

Banks’ staff requires more than a few carts because it is uniquely huge, in large part due to the fact that Vineyard Golf Club is the country’s only 100% organic golf course. What exactly does that mean? It means transforming a course into an elite arena with two hands and a foot tied behind one’s back—or at least without pesticide and fertilizer. The crew spends most of their day hand-killing weeds with handmade elixirs, which is kind of like fighting a modern war with muskets instead of bombers or drones. 

The commitment to organic—a condition by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for the course being built in the first place—creates an interesting dynamic with the membership, who are a well-golfed bunch. On the one hand, they take pride in the fact that this is regarded by some as the most environmentally friendly course in the world. On the other, these are people for whom this high-ticket club is the second or third or fourth in a collect-’em-all set that includes the most elite—and elitely manicured—courses in the Northeast, the Midwest, California and Florida.

“These are members,” Banks says, “who are coming to our course for the weekend after playing Seminole all winter, or Pebble Beach and Muirfield Village the week before, wondering why there’s some crabgrass in the fairways and the greens aren’t fast enough. It’s a matter of just catching everyone up to speed on the how and the why of what we’re doing here.”

Vineyard Golf Club, Martha's Vineyard

VGC represents the stratum of Martha’s Vineyard that probably most closely resembles the expectations a newcomer would have about the place, catering to bankers and politicians and attorneys whose names appear on the door of the firm. This is the crowd that owns the private planes that buzz into the airport at any hour of any Friday during the summer and out again Monday morning. When I was at VGC recently, one member was bemoaning to another that there had been a delay at Teterboro the day after some historic flooding in northern New Jersey. As a fraction of the general population, these kinds of Vineyarders are few, but those who fit the description are members here. 

The price tag is high by design, and a select few can afford it. However, like Edgartown and Farm Neck, this cordoned-off club offers memberships to locals, and they make up roughly a quarter of VCG’s roster. Times are restricted during the prime summer blocks, but there is an effort to make the club more closely resemble the island’s year-round population. Everything about VGC on paper resembles a place that plants tall trees around the edge of the property, but like Edgartown, the animating idea is more permeability, not less. 

The course is in its second iteration, after the failure of a first attempt that opened in 2002 and was, by all accounts I heard, so comically penal and riddled with biblical trials (insects, invasive species, interminable walks from green to tee) that they had to cut their losses and take a mulligan. Ten years ago, the club hired Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, who transformed the property into a gently rolling playground of fairway, sand and chopped fescue that showcases the island’s inland terrain. Today, it is aggressively fun. Casual, grand and anchored by a beautiful shingled clubhouse at the foot of the diamond-shaped property, VGC feels precisely like the kind of place a former president might play every day.