It is difficult to explain the allure of Askernish. Perhaps an American visitor, Deal Hudson, a past winner of the Askernish Open who makes an annual pilgrimage from Fairfax, Virginia to South Uist, sums it up best. Askernish is not just beautiful: there is a wealth of beauty in the Hebrides, but Askernish is sublime. The course itself is both breathtakingly stunning and intimidating in equal measure.
A golfer standing on the daunting eleventh tee, with its panoramic views of South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and the endless Atlantic Ocean, would not wish to be anywhere else on the planet. Until it is his turn to play, at which point anywhere else on the planet would be decidedly preferable.
It is no surprise that Askernish continues to draw golfers from Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and beyond. One visit is usually the first of many, the start of an emotional attachment to a gem of a course being restored to its former glory.
No one epitomises that spirit more than Martin Ebert, a highly regarded course architect whose skills have most recently been sought by Donald Trump at Turnberry. Martin has played a pivotal role in the resurrection of Askernish. His fee was restricted to that paid to the original course designer, Old Tom Morris, when he laid out the spectacular links in 1891. Old Tom was paid 10 shillings for his work, the design of a course that he described as “second to none”.
It is fitting that the first trophy played for during the Askernish Open weekend is the Mackenzie Ebert Quaich. The winner was local golfer Ron Mackinnon, with a sensational 35 stableford points. As golfers appreciate, 35 points is generally average but, last Friday, a howling wind and scudding clouds meant that the usual adjectives of majestic and beautiful were tucked away and replaced by merciless and brutal.
Ron’s victory was emphatic, his closest challenger trailing him by three points. Jane Nicolson, one of ten Stornoway golfers making the trip to South Uist, put in a resilient performance on the inward half to win the ladies’ stableford event.
The weather for the main event added squally showers to the strong wind but over 130 participants contested the Open competition. Stornoway golfers again acquitted themselves well. Jane Nicolson won the Ladies’ Open handicap section by three strokes, while Alasdair Gillies was fourth in the Men’s handicap section, one stroke short of the winning score. Sornoway’s David “Spider” Macleod posted a hard fought four over par nett 76 to win the handicap section.
In the Men’s Open, Neil Rowlands was five over par with only four holes to play but, having negotiated the most exposed parts of the course with aplomb, Neil dropped four costly strokes on the home straight. His gross 81 put him into third place, a stroke behind Carter Jerome and two strokes adrift of the winner, Eriskay exile Donald Mackinnon. It may seem remarkable that Donald put his winning performance down to not losing a ball. His stableford round had been an ordeal with five lost balls and a miserly 22 points but Donald contested the Open a changed man. The cardinal rule at Akernish is staying on the fairway and that, coupled with a burst of three birdies in four holes on the inward half, secured a well-deserved and popular victory.
More than thirty ladies played in the Open competition, the highest total to date. The scratch winner was Fiona Macphee, another exile, this time from South Uist.
The other face of Askernish was put on for the Texas Scramble competition. A drop in wind speed made all the difference for the international teams participating and made a fun event even more enjoyable. Stornoway members Neil Rowlands, David Macleod, Eddie Rogers and Darren Beattie finished with 63 gross, nine under par, their nett 59 the winning score. A day earlier, that would have been unimaginable.
The Askernish Open is an unforgettable weekend. Old friends are reacquainted, new friendships are forged and a diverse group of golfers from around the globe create a unique atmosphere in an equally unique setting.
Askernish is well worth a visit. The course is regularly listed as one of the finest links courses in the world.
On the last weekend of August in 2016, there is only one place to be. Make a note of it. Whatever the weather, it will be a memorable few days. And you will go back.