All set for Askernish

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When almost sixty golfers head out to play in a Jackson Medal qualifying round, it is pretty certain that many of them have been drawn by a promising weather forecast. The weather did not disappoint; last Saturday was arguably the finest day of the year.

The fact that only a dozen or so participants equalled or bettered par suggests that, despite the glorious sunshine, light winds and soft greens, the course was not there for the taking. Nevertheless, there were a few golfers who did post very low scores.

Murdo O’Brien halted a dispiriting upward slide in handicap with round of nett 66 that brings him back close to his handicap at the start of the season. The curse of making a good score on the opening hole seemed to be fulfilled when his excellent birdie on the Castle was immediately followed by a double bogey. That proved to be his only slip in an otherwise excellent outward half. On the home straight, Murdo birdied the Ditch and then made par on the final three holes to equal his best nett score of the year.

Murdo had to be content with fifth place. Two strokes better, Kenny “Spoonyan” Maclean came to the final tee knowing he was on a good score but, rather than protect what he had, went for the green and was rewarded with a birdie for his best total of the season. He was edged out of third spot by Eddie Rogers, whose level par inward half included a birdie on the Caberfeidh.

A few weeks ago, Martin Flett was bemoaning the fact that he had failed to capitalise on a one over par outward half. Last weekend, successive birdies on the Heather and Memorial helped him reach the halfway point only two over par. He held his nerve on the inward half to beat his season’s best score by three shots and secure the runner-up spot with a nett 63.

Al “Greens” Macleod made a blistering start to his round, with birdies on the first two holes. A third birdie, on the Whins, took him to one under par and it was only a bogey on the Miller that pegged Al back to a level par round and nett 63 to win the qualifying event.

The midweek competition was also a qualifying round: the final qualifier for the Caledonian Medal. It was also played in ideal conditions and a Stornoway exile took full advantage. Dave “Coachie” Maclennan played steadily throughout and was rewarded with a nett 62, winning the competition by two strokes.

John Cunningham took second position, helped by birdies on the Short and Caberfeidh. Pete Middleton and Alastair Henderson both posted excellent nett 65 and were placed third and fourth respectively.

In the Ladies’ section, Jane Nicolson notched a superb 42 points to win the Cancer Relief stableford competition. Perhaps Jane was limbering up for the annual visit to Askernish, a course on which she has previously had success. The Askernish Open weekend begins tomorrow, with a stableford competition for the Mackenzie & Ebert Quaich. Saturday sees the main event, the Askernish Open, followed by a Texas Scramble competition.

The links course at Askernish was laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris and today that connection draws golfers from all around the world to South Uist. The course fell into disuse for decades until a comprehensive restoration programme began in 2006.

The course improves each year and is a magnificent example of traditional links golf.

Course consultant Gordon Irvine and Martin Ebert, the golf course architect who was engaged by Donald Trump for the recent improvements made to Turnberry ahead of the British Open, have been involved in Askernish for the past ten years.

The appeal of the course is such that Brandon Dunes course developer Martin Keizer and US course architect Tom Doak have both lent their expertise to Askernish.

Finally, a belated result in the competition for the Kenneth Mackenzie Jubilee Trophy. Eddie Rogers led after the first round, by one stroke from Norrie “Onions” Macdonald and by six from David Black.

After a shaky start to the final round, Eddie steadied himself and, with birdies on the Manor, Redan, Gunsite and Caberfeidh, posted nett 67. His aggregate on 129 was unassailable and secured the trophy.

Calum Tom Moody had a superb second round nett 61 to take second place overall. In third place, Norrie “Onions” Macdonald added a nett 70 to match Calum’s 133 total.