When you think of Scottish golf, certain courses are bound to come to mind; Turnberry, Carnoustie, St. Andrews, and many others. When you think of Old Tom Morris and Scottish golf, however, many people immediately jump to St. Andrews in particular. Old Tom designed many famous courses, but there is one in particular that is perhaps the truest links experience you could hope to find. That is, as long as you know where South Uist is…
Erisksay island, located at the southern tip of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.Machair, gaelic for a fertile, often sandy, sometimes farmed or grazed coastal plain. It is typical for the outer…
South Uist is the second-largest island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It has a permanent population of less than 2,000 people, but it is home to an Old Tom Morris-designed golf course that is much the same today as it was when Old Tom first came to the island in 1891. He was originally asked to design what became Askernish Golf Club for Lady Cathcart, a wealthy landowner, who wanted a course in order to impress her high-society guests. The original course was used for a few decades, but gradually fell into disrepair due to a lack of consistent maintenance. By the 1930’s, Askernish was largely forgotten. In 1970, Dr. Kenneth Robertson and his wife Asp were instrumental in designing a different layout on the old course grounds, with 9 holes and 18 tees. After they left the island in 1982, however, the course once again fell into disrepair and was only maintained sparsely by local volunteers.
The Askernish “Restoration Project” began in earnest in 2005, when Gordon Irvine, a golf course architect and consultant, visited South Uist after being convinced that there was an Old Tom Morris course on the island. He assembled a team to work with many local volunteers to bring the original course layout back to playing shape. After a few years of painstaking work, the opening tee shot on the restored course was struck on August 22nd, 2008. Since then, this little course on this little island in the Outer Hebrides has attracted a surprising amount of media attention.
As part of their GW Destination Series, Golfing World paid a visit to Askernish, and published a YouTube video on their journey in 2014.
In the video, Golfing World interviewed Allan Macdonald, Askernish’s Head Greenskeeper. He says that, although there are “no maps of the original course,” the restored layout was done in as close a style as possible to how Old Tom Morris designed his courses, and the present version of Askernish is “as close as we’re ever going to get.”
Tom Mackenzie, another golf course architect, offered his thoughts on Askernish as well. Mackenzie claims that it is a “proper thoroughbred golf course. It’s a bit wild in places but, it’s a proper, proper golf course that’s been built to museum standards, I suppose.” Askernish is presented as not just an amazing links course in its own right (it was ranked #86 on a list of Great Britain and Ireland’s Top 100 Links Courses in 2015) but as a museum and shrine to the legendary Old Tom Morris. Mackenzie claims that the long trip to South Uist is well worth it for the reward of playing perhaps the most authentic Old Tom Morris course in the world. At the end of the Golfing World video, he says “It’s worth the pilgrimage, and that’s exactly what it is.”
In 2017, Skratch TV included Askernish in the second season of its popular “Adventures in Golf” series. In an episode entitled “The Lost Course” host Erik Anders Lang travels to South Uist, plays the course, and interviews many of the same people that appeared in the 2014 Golfing World video.
While sampling some of the local fare, Lang and company conducted a phone interview with Gordon Irvine, the driving force behind the “Restoration Project.” Irvine contends that Askernish is a true miracle, describing it as the “only Old Tom Morris course that’s never been changed by another architect.” Irvine also described the course as “The Holy Grail,” because it “lets golfers see what Old Tom Morris would have deemed as a green complex. It’s got no chemical inputs, and we very much work in harmony with nature.” Lang also met with Macdonald, who still serves as Askernish’s Head Greenskeeper, despite not being a golfer himself. Macdonald says that the course is still largely maintained by volunteers, “giving their time for the love of the game, really, to bring something that’s been lost back to life.”
Today, Askernish Golf Club is open year-round to golfers and visitors alike. You can choose to play 6, 12, or all 18 holes, and green fees will range from 15-45 pounds depending on the time of year and how many holes you decide to play. Expect to find what Lang describes as a “self-sustaining golf course,” complete with rabbit holes and grazing areas for the island’s many cows and sheep. Askernish and it’s history fit right in to the romantic ideas that come to mind when you think of Scottish golf. Even Billy Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, was moved to compose a poem entitled South Uist, which is featured on the Askernish Golf Club website…
There’s plenty of reasons to come here. The salmon’s as good as the drinks.
Some like the whisky, some like the beer, but I’m happiest when out on the links.
It’s fine to be a student of genealogy, busy tracing your family’s course.
But the only ghost I need for company, is the ghost of Old Tom Morris.
The hikers come for the air and the sights, and the anglers are here for the fishing.
But nothing is better under blue skies, than when I’m Askernishing.
Quotes taken from interviews conducted by Golfing World in 2014 and Skratch TV in 2017. For more information, visit the Askernish Golf Club website.
Cover Image Via Instagram
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