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…
Forget making the ferry or plane journey to South Uist if you are looking to play a manicured, pristine golf course at Askernish – this is not the place for you as they play elemental golf in the raw here with postage stamp tee boxes, rough and ready fairways and basic, bumpy greens.
I played on the opening day of the new 18-hole course on 22 August 2008, participating in the club’s first Open competition and loved every minute of it - the official opening of the new clubhouse by honorary president Kenny Dalglish, the piping onto the first tee of the inaugural three ball match, the ceremonial first tee shot by the club captain, the evening presentation of prizes at the club’s ceilidh in the local community centre.
What a great day it was, and you know, the course was almost incidental to the proceedings as the day was really all about the islanders and what they have achieved in such a short space of time. It was a very humbling experience and just the place to get your golfing feet back onto the ground after you’ve been playing some of the so-called top tracks.
I only hope architect Martin Ebert never does cash the cheque for £9 that President Ralph Thompson has given him (the sum that Old Tom claimed for his work over 100 years ago) as he surely owes agronomist Gordon Irvine half of it anyway!
I look forward to returning some time to see how things develop here as it’s a real golfing fairy tale that deserves a happy ending…