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When I asked for the daily greens fee, he took fully 10 seconds to answer. "Uh, five pounds, I think. Yes, they put it up this year."
Steedman's interest in the game dates from his childhood on the mainland in Scotland, where he had played regularly at the Falkirk Tryst Golf Club in Larbert, Stirlingshire. This Steedman admitted freely. Otherwise, he was a bit reticent. On the subject of the rowdy army golfers: "That's a bit of a sore point around here." On the pavilion (his and Voy's term for the ramshackle clubhouse, which has since been leveled): "It's in a state of refurbishment at the moment."
As for the legitimacy of the Old Tom Morris legend, he shrugged. "There's a certain difference of opinion on that."
There seemed to be a difference of opinion about everything related to Askernish's past, seeing as how there was no documentation. When I had asked Voy if he had any records concerning Old Tom and the building of the course, he shook his head.
"The only thing we have is this," Voy said, pulling a ledger from a row of ancient books behind his desk. He turned pages until he found what he wanted.
"This is a very strange piece of paper. It's an extract from a legal document dated 1922, and I think the best interpretation of this document is that, concerning golf, if there is sufficient goodwill, good and well. But if the crofters say no, it'll go to Land Court to be decided." He looked up. "I'm quite certain the court would hold that the common grazing would prevail over playing golf."
The paper he showed me was signed by Lady Gordon Cathcart, widow of John Gordon of Cluny, who bought the island in 1838.1 knew nothing about Lady Cathcart.
Of Old Tom Morris, I at least knew the basic biographical data: four-time British Open champion (1861, '62, '64, '67); father of Young Tom Morris (winner of four Opens himself by the age of 22, dead tragically at 25); professional and greens-keeper at Prestwick and St. Andrews; designer of Lahinch in Ireland and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, Muir-field, the New Course at St. Andrews and a few dozen other layouts in the British Isles. But it was impossible to compare Askernish with, say, Muirfield, and conclude that they were the work of the same man. Nowhere on Askernish was there a bunker like that guarding Muirfield's 13th green—six feet deep with a vertical face. Nowhere on Askernish was there a green like that on Muirfield's par-3 16th—ringed by seven diabolical bunkers.
Later, I read in The Road to Mingulay, a book about the Outer Hebrides by the noted Scottish author, columnist and broadcaster Derek Cooper, that Lady Cathcart had ruled South Uist with "imperious disdain" until her death in 1935. It was a remarkable example, Cooper wrote, "of the tenacity of the wealthy."
Showing a certain tenacity of my own, I returned to Askernish the next afternoon. Pat dropped me off by the dead crows and took the car to look for seals somewhere south of Lochboisdale.