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Alas, he spoke the truth. He told me some things I already knew—that Askernish was a landing strip for mail planes in the '30s, that the Highland Games pitched their tents there every July—and something I didn't know: "Barra used to have a very picturesque nine-hole course until the early 1950s, but it closed for lack of interest."
Boyd looked up. "Was there not a banker that looked after Askernish?"
The canon nodded, still bent over his pretty weeds. "The semicolonial types always looked after it—doctors, lawyers, bankers, that type." Robertson had been the last in this succession, and no doubt the best, but the privatization of recordkeeping had robbed the course of its past.
"He is coming back," the canon said, meaning Robertson, "but only on holiday."
I felt a pang of disappointment for the young crofter MacPhee. No messiah would restore Askernish this spring.
We chatted a while longer. Finally, the shirtless priest held out his arms in apology: He had nothing more to offer. The historical committee was preparing a history of the island, but they had not yet researched Askernish.
"No one can afford the time."
Nor could I—afford the time, that is. After thanking the canon and Boyd, I drove back to Askernish for one last round. Pat and I were taking the car ferry from Lochmaddy to the Isle of Skye at dawn the next day.
I had not given up looking for the lost 14th tee, and I finally discovered it, miraculously. My pencil-drawn map had it immediately adjacent to the 5th tee, but it was atop a wall of high dunes defining the golf course's southern boundary. When I reached the top of these dunes, puffing a bit from the weight of my clubs, I froze in my tracks. Behind me was the gentle meadow of Askernish; ahead, stretching south along the sea, was—to my astonishment—Ballybunion! The terrain was suddenly as violent as a storm-tossed sea. Canyons wound through grassy dunes carved by winter gales. Sand spilled down dune walls. Shadows collected in sinister pools. If this was not the closest thing to Ballybunion, on Ireland's southwest shore, I was damned.
There were no fences and no signs—and no witnesses—so I teed up and drilled a two-iron shot into the area I immediately dubbed Askernish Old. There was no guesswork about this shot, as there had been that first day with Pat. I saw a golf hole in the wilderness. I visualized a fairway on the valley floor leading to a natural greensite in the shelter of some dunes, 400 yards away. If Old Tom Morris once stood where I stood, I'm sure he saw the same hole, and I bet he sent his lad scampering down the valley with a wooden stake and a red ribbon.