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This Old Course
JOHN GARRITY
February 21, 2011
More than two decades ago, the author rediscovered a long-abandoned gem designed by Old Tom Morris on a wild, remote Scottish island. Today, with an assist from American friends, Old Tom's Ghost Course is coming back to life. This is the first of a five-part series chronicling its resurrection
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February 21, 2011

This Old Course

More than two decades ago, the author rediscovered a long-abandoned gem designed by Old Tom Morris on a wild, remote Scottish island. Today, with an assist from American friends, Old Tom's Ghost Course is coming back to life. This is the first of a five-part series chronicling its resurrection

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"It was never a conscious decision that we wouldn't ever use an excavator," MacDonald says, but his lowered voice suggests that some might disagree.

The bigger question is whether some greens need to be reshaped. The mini-contours, the subtle dips and knobs that make putting an adventure, are popular with visitors and club members alike, but the underlying slopes are so severe that whole sections of the "natural" greens aren't viable for pin placements. And it will only get worse, experts tell the clubmen, as the greens get firmer and faster over time.

Iverson, like a hospital resident reassuring the parents of an injured child, promises to leave no scars. "We take a great deal of pride in covering our tracks," he says, speaking for Renaissance Golf. "We try to make it look like we've never been there."

Liking the sound of that, the clubmen raise their beers to Iverson, who smiles and lifts his own for the traditional clinking of glasses.

"Cheers," says captain MacInnes.

"Cheers," says Iverson.

The work begins, then, on a bright, frosty morning. Fulfilling his promise to go slowly, Iverson maneuvers the rented excavator onto the brow of a dune overlooking the 7th and 16th greens, where a new 8th tee is supposed to go. Three men and two dogs watch from an even higher dune as he drops the bucket and takes his first bite of marram grass.

The gallery disperses after only a few minutes. With the dogs following, the three men walk to a four-wheeler and trailer parked on the leeward slope of the dune. They unload a machine resembling a lawnmower with handlebars and roll it uphill to an exposed spot at the edge of a cavernous pit. This is the location they have picked for a shared tee bigger than any they have ever built—a back tee for the par-4 8th and a members' tee for the par-3 17th.

The machine coughs to life and yields to the forceful push of greenkeeper MacDonald, who guides it along the ground to no clear effect—until captain MacInnes steps in and begins rolling up a foot-wide strip of turf, exposing a stretch of dark topsoil as straight and trim as a carpet runner. MacDonald, meanwhile, stops at a predetermined spot, makes a U-turn, and leans into his sputtering machine on a course parallel to the first path.

Only when you walk 100 yards or so along the high ground and look back can you fairly measure the scale of the Askernish renovation. The wee digger, with Iverson in the cab, looks no bigger than an insect against the blue backdrop of the Atlantic. The turf cutters, meanwhile, are far outnumbered by the sheep on the sea meadow.

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