Resurrection Men

A story of a fabled links designed by Old Tom Morris convinced a group of fanatics to rescue the forgotten layout hidden somewhere on Scotland’s Western Isles. Intrigued, Mark Alexander finds out how they did it

Golf can do funny things to people. Perhaps it’s the smell of the grass or the undulation in the greens. It could be the pressure on the first tee or simply a good walk followed by the pleasure of a pure strike that does it. Whatever it is, it is a powerful potion.

Of course some of us are more susceptible to golf’s charms. The golfer who diligently takes his weekly direction from the club pro or elopes to sun-drenched fairways while his bank balance, and wife, scream that he shouldn’t. From the unquestioning commitment of the youngest member of the club to the die-hard determination of the oldest, golf instills a love that few sports can match.

On South Uist, where 20 miles of brilliant-white shell beaches run continuously down the west coast of the island, that love has inspired a monument to golf. Lying roughly 60 miles west of the Scottish mainland, somewhere towards the outer extremities of the UK, a golf course has been built, by hand, on a pristine stretch of stunning linksland. Most importantly, it has been built by those who treasure the game and its origins.

“It was pure golf design,” admits golf course architect Martin Ebert, “and one of the best bits of land I had ever had the opportunity to work on.” Martin was one of an army of volunteers who have willingly given up their time over the last six years to secure Askernish Golf Club. “It was the pure love of golf. The project wasn’t really commercially orientated; it was more about making it as good as we could and hopefully re-finding some of those Old Tom masterpieces.”

You see, despite Honorary President Kenny Dalglish officially opening the club in the summer of 2008 and club captain Donald MacInnes hitting a sweet opening tee-shot with an aging hickory iron, the club has history, and plenty of it. In fact, records show the club stretches back 120 years to a time of tweed coats, white beards and snug-fitting bonnets. Indeed, the twists and turns of this enigmatic place were first conceived in 1891 by the grand master of golf himself; Old Tom Morris. This is a place of resurrection.

“There is no doubt,” Martin insists, “all the evidence is here that Old Tom was striding these links. It’s every architect’s dream to work with land of the highest quality, but to follow in Old Tom’s footsteps is something special.”

How Old Tom Morris came to be on a Hebridean island at the age of 70, just a few years before his death, is an intriguing tale. How a respected golf course architect together with a band of esteemed industry experts and fanatical enthusiasts returned 115 years later to unearth his lost course could easily become a poignant Hollywoodscript.