Askernish – Making The Journey Adds So Much To The Golfing Experience.

It was not lost that in 1891 Old Tom Morris made the same journey from the Home of Golf at his beloved St. Andrews to then unknown reaches of South Uist.

Eight-and-a-half years before the dawn of the 20th century it had taken Old Tom and his dear colleague and back-to-back British Amateur champion, Horace Hutchinson close to three days travelling by rail, by ferry and then by horse-and-cart to reach a stately-looking abode overlooking what would then be Old Tom’s blank golfing canvas.

Nowadays, and by car, it is just over a three-hour drive from the Old Course at St. Andrews to Oban where you board the Calmac ‘Lord of the Isles’ for the five-hour journey to Lochboisdale in the Outer Hebrides.

Caledonian MacBrayne ‘Lord of the Isles’

The drive took us through the Bridge of Earn and Perth before a wee coffee break in Creiff and then on to Crainlairch on the northern edge of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, past mighty Ben Cruachan and finally into Oban.

Oban is the home to Scotland’s highest world-ranked golfer (As at June 2020), Robert MacIntyre and with the 23-year old MacIntyre residing with his parents at close-by Glencruitten Golf Club.

After some lunch in the pretty resort and fishing fleet town at Oban we made our way down to the ferry terminal for the near five-hour passage to Lochboisdale on the island of South Uist and the second largest island in the Outer Hebrides.

The ‘Lord of the Isles’ berthed within a wedge shot of the Lochboisdale Hotel.

The ‘Lord of the Isles’ leaving Lochboisdale.

It’s not the first time I’ve travelled to South Uist but actually a third occasion.  After checking-in and obtaining tickets, I could not help but notice two ‘walk-on’ passengers awaiting the board the ‘Lord of the Isles’.  Why I noticed these two fellows?  Well, they were each carrying an overnight bag and golf clubs.

“Are you heading for Askernish?” I asked.  “Yes, and looking forward to it”, was the reply.

“Have you played Askernish before?” and the now the journalist coming out in me.  “No, we haven’t but we’ve heard so much about it.”  I responded:  “Oh, you’re going to love it.  My first visit was back in 2012 and I promised myself I would return and I did that three years later.  It’s a just stunning and a very much ‘in the raw’ golf course laid out at it is right along the shoreline of mighty Atlantic Ocean”.

I also asked:  “Where are you guys staying?”  “The Lochboisdale Hotel”, they said.”  I replied:  “So, are we.  We must meet-up for a drink or two.”

The very stately-looking Lochboisdale Hotel.

The gentlemen were spending two nights at the hotel and in between a full day playing two loops of Askernish.  We were spending four nights at the hotel, and where we had also stayed on a first visit, and three full days that included two days playing Askernish and a day that would include playing the 9-hole Benbecular course laid out in 1984 alongside the airstrip at Benbecular.

Finding your way by car and ferry is a strong part of the Askernish adventure.

It was now around 12.15pm and time to board the ‘Lord of the Isles’ ahead of our 1pm sailing.  Nothing could be as simple than following the line of cars down the ramp and into the very heart of the ferry.  Grab want you need, lock the car and make your way upstairs for what is a most relaxing journey along the Sound of Mull, and with the Isle of Mull to your left and the Scottish mainland off the starboard side.

Bernie’s golf clubs arrive at the Lochboisdale Hotel

The land on either side then gives way to the might of The Minch.

The Minch is the body of water separating the north-west Scottish Highlands and the northern Inner Hebrides from Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in the north while the southern portion of this famed body of water separates Skye from the lower portion of the Outer Hebrides.

The ‘Lord of the Isles’ lived-up to its name proudly conquering The Minch and then sailing into the body of water that is Loch Boisdale proper.  A few minutes before docking we made our way downstairs, jumped in the car for one of the shortest drives ever to a residing hotel and that was the most stately-looking Lochboisdale Hotel that commands a stunning vista all the way up the loch and from where we had just sailed.

Indeed, the front door of the hotel is honestly just a wedge shot from where the ‘Lord of the Isles’ was berthed.

We unpacked the car and were warmly welcomed by Karen MacCaulay who, along with her husband, runs this historic hotel.  After checking-in and a quick freshen-up it was downstairs to the charm and comfort of longue and dining room.

The hotel was commissioned by Lady Gordon Cathcart the estate owner in 1880 as a fishing hotel.  It welcomed its first guests in 1882 and the hotal boasts the original guests’ books are still resident in the hotel along with the daily fishing catch records.

The district is much associated with Prince Charles Edward Stuart – Bonnie Prince Charlie – who spent at least one night in June 1746 on Calvey Island at the mouth of Lochboisdale which can be seen clearly from the front of the hotel, before setting sail for Skye with Flora MacDonald.  Flora was born at Milton, six miles north of Lochboisdale and the ruins of her birthplace are commemorated by a cairn monument.

The house where Old Tom Morris and his good friend, Horace Hutchinson are believed to have resided after their nearly three-day trip from St. Andrews to South Uist.

The excitement builds as you’re almost there … The greenkeeping shed and clubhouse at Askernish.

The Askernish clubhouse – Nothing spectacular nor overbearing but simple and practical.

After a refreshing pint we headed into the dining room to be greeted by guess who?  The two gentleman we’d met back in Oban. We agreed to meet afterwards in the bar and so we did, and with golf still the strong topic of conversation.

Unlike ourselves, they had an early tee-time while my collleague and I were flexible in arranging to arrive at the course around 10amish for a pre-arranged video chat with Askernish Head Greenkeeper, Allan MacDonald.

Arrived – One the first tee at Askernish GC and so worth the journey

After a hearty Lochboisdale breakfast it was again a joy to be taking the short drive from the hotel following the A265 as you do through Daliburgh and then about a half-mile along the road there was a very familiar sign reading – ‘Aisgernis’ (Gaelic) in large letters on top and underneath in smaller writing ‘Askernish’.

It’s then just a short drive along a sealed road to a simple, unimposing clubhouse.

In just over 24-hours since leaving St. Andrews, and including the overnight stay of some 15 hours at the Lochboisdale Hotel, we’d arrived at Askernish Golf Club.

In June 1891, Old Tom had travelled by train from St. Andrews to Glasgow, and then by train north to Oban before also boarding a ferry, and then in arriving on South Uist he was met by a horse-and-cart for the final portion of his journey to arrive at the noble-looking house that you past on the road leading to the course.

Waiting for us welcome us was Allan (MacDonald) who has been a greenkeeper at Askernish for some 25-years and if look closely at the first hole tee marker Allan’s name is proudly recognised as among an eight-man committee that on 22nd August, 2008 witnessed Scottish footballing legend, Kenny Dalglish hit the first tee shot in the official ‘re-opening’ of Askernish Golf Club.

Another on that committee was Ralph Thomson who had arranged for my first visit to Askernish in 2012.

We grabbed a scorecard, eagerly headed back to the car to grab the golf clubs and made the short walk to the first tee, and where it was now around 11am.

“Hey, it looks like we have the course to ourselves”, I remarked.  My colleague said in pointing to the 18th fairway:  “No, hold on.  Who are those two guys?”  I looked hard to the left and replied:  “They’re the two fellow we met in Oban and shared the odd bottle of wine last night at the hotel”.

The pair, and who had lunch before catching-up with us over our inward nine, were then halfway through their 36-hole Askernish experience.

On a sun-splashed late Wednesday morning on June 17th, 2019, and 128-years after Old Tom left his ‘fingerprint’ on this magnificent stretch of Scottish links land, I set my ball atop of the tee and then in looking-up to a sweeping left-to-right par-5 opening hole, I thought to myself:  “It does not get any better than this”

Askernish is becoming very much akin to a love affair.  The more you embrace the course, the more you want to continue making the long journey to savour the experience.

 

THANK YOU  …

I am indebted to the following for their arrangements in travelling to South Uist and tee-up at Askernish Golf Club.

Peter Griffiths, CalMac Ferries – http://www.calmac.co.uk/

Karen MacCaulay and the team at the Lochboisdale Hotel – http://www.lochboisdale.com/   

Allan MacDonald, Askernish Golf Club – https://www.askernishgolfclub.com/

Jennifer MacLeod, Storas Uibhist, South Uist –www.storasuibhist.com



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