The Askernish course was created by Old Tom Morris back in 1891 but over the years, it fell into disrepair. Some of the course was levelled and used as an airstrip in the 1930s then a 12-hole course was laid out to the north of the original holes but this became a 9-hole affair with 18 tees back in the 1970s.
It was in 2006 that Gordon Irvine (the man responsible for the restoration of Royal Cinque Ports in Deal) embarked on the quest to bring the original course back to life. He, along with architect Martin Ebert and a stack of local volunteers, then spent the next two years transforming the Askernish Machair into an 18-hole layout that most closely resembled the routing of Old Tom’s course.
The first four holes head north from the clubhouse then the next eight, from holes 5 to 12, run in and out of the dunes parallel to the coastline before the last six holes are played slightly more inland, returning back to the start. The outward half has a par of 37 and the back nine are 150 yards shorter with a par of 35.
The restoration project is the focal point of an effort to regenerate the area and it is hoped the evolving course development will attract a growing number of golfers who are curious to discover what the fuss is all about in such a golfing outpost as South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
Course architect Martin Ebert writes:
The project really will present a course which is a Living Golf Course Museum and is already in play after the official opening in August 2008, the year of the 100th anniversary of Old Tom’s death.
The creation of the course is so similar to the way that the first courses evolved. Golfers just playing the land as it lies with the greenkeepers refining the course as it becomes more popular.
Rudimentary putting conditions to begin with but gradually an improvement of the surfaces by minor levelling and conditioning. Tiny tees which will, over time, need to be made larger. Bunkers formed by the cattle and where the golfers’ divots will wear the grass away.
Golf as it used to be, following in the footsteps of Old Tom Morris…
I made the pilgrimage to Askernish in 2018, at the end of the hot and dry summer. The course was a delight with it's rugged condition and location. This course is not trying to compete with the pristine, it is trying to replicate the courses of old and it succeeds in abundance. I felt the first five holes were plain and tidy in their lay out but definitely not that special, however from this point onwards I felt the course really ramped up and with a southerly wind I struggled my way down to the southern edge of the course. The trip to get here is long but I am very glad i made it. Askernish stands as a perfect example of what I envisage the early 1900 golf courses to have been. The green complexes were a delight with a few reminding me of other Tom Morris designed courses. At times my green side putts had to be judged like a crazy golf/mini golf challenge, with large and difficult breaks. The greens were slow but this allowed for the large undulations to be better managed. My favourite holes were obvious in the 11th, however I really liked the 16th and signal this out. A tough drive and lofted approach into a raised bowl green, a lot of fun. Don't bother going if you want championship golf, go here if you love the history and can appreciate the vision of the past.
Askernish despite its isolated location is well worth a trip to the wild and rugged island of South Uist, probably the most natural links course you’re every likely to play. I played in mid September on windy but dry day, untypical Uist weather given you’re normally guaranteed a soaking at some point. The first 5 holes are fairly mundane but from 6 onwards it moves into the dunes and begins a sensational stretch until it slows down on the 16th as you return to the club house. My personal favourites were holes 7 & 11. The 11th is one of the best par 3’s you’ll ever likely to play, requiring a 185 yard carry over a deep gully to the top of another dune into the prevailing wind, I needed to hit driver to make it and thankfully still managed a par with an audience of grey seals watching from the shallows on the beach below. Don’t come expect perfectly mown fairways or manicured greens, despite that they still rolled reasonably fast and true. The only negative points were the rabbit problem which blights almost every hole, the club needs to fix it before the course is damaged further, it would also benefit from some yardage marker posts, my golf course app didn’t have the course mapped so bring your rangefinder!
Following a 4am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The 'Lord of the Isles' took a further five and a half hours before it eventually docked a little after seven that evening. We were tired and hungry, in need of food and sleep.
The decision was simple; eat at our place of residence for the night, the Polochar Inn (last food orders 8.30pm), or play golf until sunset and go to bed on empty stomachs.
Later that evening we were feasting upon a 3-course meal... it consisted of a packet of midget gems, an emergency tin of tuna (ring pull of course) and an over-ripe banana that was found at the bottom of one of our golf bags. Over ‘dinner’ we were recounting the greatest golfing experience we'd ever had. Welcome to Askernish.
It takes a strong will and a lot of determination, as well as plenty of planning, to reach Askernish Golf Club on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. It’s very much a journey into the unknown. But if you have the desire and a love for pure, undiluted links golf it’s a voyage you simply must make. I repeat, you simply must make.
For it is here you will find beautifully raw golf distilled to its origins; a mix of simplistic brilliance and crazy genius.
A little bit like the journey itself Askernish starts at a relatively slow pace before gathering momentum and building to a climax that effectively takes place over the bulk of the course; a run of holes from the 7th to the 16th that we simply dubbed ‘The Stretch’.
The ‘Stretch’ doesn’t really have a signature hole; there is an autograph book full of them. At times it leaves you speechless.
The real beauty on this sequence of holes is that Askernish gives you all the pieces of the puzzle but allows you to solve it in your own imaginative way. The options are endless.
The 17th and 18th holes gradually retreat from the duneland and ease you home in the form of a par three and a boomerang-shaped par five that completes an anti-clockwise loop of the course. Despite the final two holes allowing time to come down from the inevitable high you still walk off the final green in a daze and wonder if it was all real.
On reflection there are two different courses being played at Askernish. The plain and transparent holes like the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 13th, 17th and 18th; subtle yet alluring. And the deeply complex holes found between seven and 16. Admittedly you don’t have to go to Askernish to play holes like the former batch; there are enough top links courses in the UK where you will find plenty of these type of stellar holes. But you do need to go to Askernish to experience the latter.
Askernish is a golf course like no other. A place your life will be better for having visited. Beyond words. Beyond brilliance.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The first five holes are on flatter terrain near the clubhouse. From the 7th to the 16th, there are some very good holes in duneland that at times was reminiscent of Ballybunion. The par three 14th is in the heart of the dunes and runs almost in the opposite direction to the 11th. It is only 141 yards but into the breeze it is a scary proposition with trouble if you land anywhere except the green.
Don’t expect a manicured look here. The greens are merely an extension of the fairways and there are some rough tracks to and from some of the tees. The biggest problem however is the rabbit population which is out of control. Most links courses have plenty of rabbits in the rough or the dunes but at Askernish they are also burrowing in the middle of the fairways.
You will also need to have a good eye for spotting your ball as the machair is profuse with white, yellow and purple flowers which makes it almost impossible to pinpoint a golf ball lying in its midst. If the conditioning can be improved just a little and the rabbits defeated then Askernish could represent a rare chance to play genuine links golf in a lovely remote setting.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.