By David Owen
Askernish is on the island of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of northwestern Scotland.
I first visited in 2007, on assignment for Golf Digest, and I went back late the following year on assignment for The New Yorker. Getting to South Uist requires determination. In 2007, I flew from Inverness to Benbecula, which is one island to the north and is connected to South Uist by a half-mile-long causeway:
In the air, I looked down, through breaks in the clouds, on the fjord-like creases that rumple Scotland's west coast and on the waters of the Minch, the stormy channel that separates the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish mainland. The only other passengers were the day's newspapers and two guys accompanying a load of cash for ATMs in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, where we stopped first. Here are the newspapers, in containers belted into the seats:
In 2008, I took a ferry from Oban, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Glasgow. The ferry sails three or four times a week and makes a brief stop at Barra, another island. I actually could have flown to Barra, although the flight schedule depends on the tides, because Barra's runway is a beach:
The South Uist ferry trip takes about six and a half hours in good weather. We passed the islands of Mull, Coll, Muck, Eigg, Rum, Sanday, Sundray, Vatersay, Hellisay, Gighay, and Stack, among others. We also passed this lighthouse, on a tiny island called Eilean Musdile. It's just off the shore of a larger island, called Lismore, which has a population of 146. The lighthouse was built in 1833:
Until 1974, cars on the South Uist ferry had to be loaded and unloaded with a crane, like freight; nowadays, you drive on and drive off. The ferry docks in Lochboisdale, a few miles from Askernish:
The original course at Askernish was laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris. At some point, probably during the Second World War, most of Morris's holes were abandoned, and until roughly a decade ago they were essentially forgotten. Since then, a plausible version of the old course has been restored, by a group that included Gordon Irvine, a Scottish golf-course consultant; Martin Ebert, an English golf architect and links-course specialist; Mike Keiser, the founder of Bandon Dunes; and Ralph Thompson, who used to be the manager of the island's main agricultural supply store and now works full-time as the golf club's chairman and principal promoter. Here are Irvine and Ebert, discussing the routing in 2008:
My New Yorker article about Askernish caught the attention of David Currie, a reader and retired investment banker who lives on a small farm outside Toronto. He first visited Askernish in 2010, and since then has joined the club and returned two more times -- most recently in June, for the first annual gathering of its "life members." (I'm one, too, but couldn't make it.) Here's part of the group, on the clubhouse steps. The architect Tom Doak was there, too, but isn't in the picture. Currie is front-row-center:
Currie also sent two photos of the course. Here's the eighth hole:
And here's the sixteenth, Old Tom's Pulpit, which is one of my favorite holes anywhere:
*I had always known that my roots were in the west coast of Scotland. Although my paternal grandparents came from the Glasgow area, I was aware that the Currie DNA was scattered along the coastal shores north of Glasgow. (Apparently, my ancestors slept around.) Other than that, I had little family history to go by. In 2011, Ralph Thompson mentioned that a Robert Currie had traveled to South Uist from New York to meet with the local council about erecting a memorial cairn acknowledging the contribution of Clan Currie to the cultural development of the island. I was present at the dedication of the cairn, in 2012:**
MacMhuirich was our original name centuries ago. And here's a shot of my opportunistic wife, Liz, who never could resist a handsome man with his own whiskey bottle. Actually, the handsome man is Alasdair Macdonald, the owner of the croft where the cairn was erected:
The Life Members Challenge was a Stableford. Currie came in second, one point behind Doak's associate Eric Iverson.
*The initial six holes at Askernish can cause one to question what the fuss is all about. They are certainly quite nice, but nothing unusual or special. However, the WOW factor kicks in as you climb the dunes from sixth green to seventh tee and you stand there gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean. I thought I had died and gone to heaven, but I wasn't about to allow that to happen, at least until I finished my round!**
*If you visit South Uist, drive carefully. Most of the roads are single-lane, and you have to share them.