Vineyard Golf Club will provide an environmental model for Rio

An artist's rendering of the golf course that will be designed for the 2016 Olympics with the city of Rio de Janeiro in the background. — Photo courtesy of Larkin Group

Martha’s Vineyard will be represented at the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil. Although it remains to be seen whether an Island-grown athlete will make the Olympic cut, the golf course Brazil will build to reintroduce the sport to the Olympic games will be modeled on the environment principles of the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown.

Olympic organizers announced last month that a team that includes noted golf course designer Gil Hanse and Vineyard Golf course superintendent Jeff Carlson assembled by The Larkin Group, headed by Owen Larkin, a seasonal Edgartown resident, would design an environmentally sensitive course that will be located in Rio de Janeiro.

Mr. Larkin was the managing partner of the development company that built the Vineyard Golf Club and also the Club’s founding president. He was responsible for navigating the projects through one of the Island’s fiercest regulatory storms in recent memory.

In doing so successfully he outmaneuvered two competing groups of would-be golf course developers who foundered on the shoals of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission regulatory process.

Early on in the development battle, the club developers forged a strategic business relationship with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, a respected Island conservation group that would prove beneficial to both parties.

Throughout the long regulatory process, Mr. Larkin and his partners repeatedly promised that the course would be among the most environmentally sensitive ever built. Mr. Carlson’s environmental stewardship has brought the course and him national recognition.

In January 2009, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America board of directors presented Mr. Carlson, a member of the Edgartown conservation commission, with its 2008 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship.

In winning the contract to design the Rio course, the Larkin Group beat out seven other finalists that included teams headlined by golf greats Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, and Gary Player, The Palm Beach Sun Sentinel reported.

The Rio course is the first to be built for an Olympics since the sport was dropped after the 1904 St. Louis Games. It was reinstated in 2009 and is guaranteed through 2020.

The design contract is to be signed in Rio in late April and likely will carry a price tag topping $5 million, pending final details, Mr. Larkin said.

“The opportunity to work on this historic course for the Olympic Games is the realization of a dream,” Mr. Larkin said in an email to The Times. “I’m extremely pleased to be able to marry Gil Hanse’s aesthetic with the Larkin Group’s model of environmental sustainability. We think this will be a rare opportunity to present golf and sustainability on an international stage.”

Mr. Carlson said it would be gratifying to see the club’s Island accomplishments spread. “Sometimes you feel like you are the only ship in the sea, that you are not making a difference beyond Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “So this Olympic project enables us to showcase some of the sustainable golf course management concepts developed over the past 10 years at The Vineyard Golf Club.”

The Vineyard Club uses no fungicides, no herbicides and a small number of organic pesticides. It also works to minimize water usage.

“How cool is it that what we started on Martha’s Vineyard 15 years ago has resulted in an important seat at the table at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” Mr. Larkin added.

“As it marks the return of golf to the Olympic Games after over a century of absence, this course represents the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the sport,” Carlos Arthur Nuzman, President of Rio 2016, said in a statement. “It will enable Rio to host important events in the international calendar and it will be an example of sustainability and preservation of an environmentally protected area.”

Prior to leaving for Rio de Janeiro to begin the Olympic course, this summer Mr. Hanse will travel to the Island to begin a renovation of the Vineyard Golf Club course.

The renovation will eliminate the need for golfers to take a motorized cart around the frost bottom, visible from West Tisbury Road, that lies between what are currently the seventh and eighth holes. This will make all the holes contiguous on what is primarily a walking course, according to a press release.