A Journey to the “Lost Course” of Askernish

aerial photo of Askernish golf course on the Isle of South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland (Image: Askernish Golf Club)

Askernish Golf Club was laid out by Old Tom Morris in the 1890s. (Image: Askernish Golf Club)

After fantasizing about it for years, my pilgrimage to the fabled “lost course” of Askernish in the Outer Hebrides was even more thrilling than I had imagined.

How wonderful life is when the fulfillment of a long-cherished goal exceeds every expectation.

On my most recent trip to Scotland, I finally got to to play the so-called “lost course” of Askernish, located seaside in remote South Uist, the second largest island of the Outer Hebrides. I’d been fantasizing about a visit to the Old Tom Morris beauty ever since its celebrated relaunch in 2008 following an almost archeologically precise restoration.

Old Tom Morris (Image: St. Andrews Links Trust)

Old Tom Morris. (Image: St. Andrews Links Trust)

Askernish Golf Club has a long and almost mythical history. In 1891, Lady Emily Cathcart, a wealthy landowner, lured Old Tom north from St. Andrews to this stark and windswept isle to build a course that would impress her high-society guests. But after flourishing for a few years, the 18-hole layout was slowly reclaimed by nature. By the early 2000s, only nine holes remained.

Enter Scottish golf-consultant Gordon Irvine, who toured the links when he visited South Uist on a fishing trip. Hearing the tale of a once great but now disappearing course, Irvine helped recruit English golf architect Martin Ebert—famous as the R&A’s preferred renovator of Open Championship venues—to restore all 18 of Old Tom’s original holes.

Ebert used satellite photographs to retrace fairway contours, and then had his crew painstakingly sift and dig through the sand to reveal long-abandoned greens. No pesticides or artificial fertilizers were used, nor was an irrigation system installed. The goal from the start was Victorian-era authenticity.

Reborn Askernish is now a kind of holy temple for everyone who loves the game. Wildly undulating greens, rapid elevation changes through the formidable dunes, and humped fairways booby-trapped with the island’s apparently ubiquitous rabbit holes challenged and exhilarated me with every swing. Equally thrilling are the sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, especially from the elevated seventh tee.

But most remarkable of all, Askernish plays and looks almost exactly as it did in Old Tom’s day, offering pilgrims like me a welcome journey back to simpler times.

Getting There

Located about fifty miles off Scotland’s west coast, South Uist is the second largest island of the Outer Hebrides. You can get to South Uist by ferry from both Mallaig and Oban on the mainland.