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The American smiles as he approaches the little yellow excavator, parked on the grass between the cattle guard and the 1st tee. The cab windows, streaked with raindrops, catch glimmers of silver from a sunset lurking behind offshore clouds.
"Is it bigger than you're used to?" asks the club captain, his eyes full of mischief.
"It's wee," says the American. "It's a wee digger."
Still smiling, he walks around the rented machine, inspecting the metal tracks and the reinforced bucket. Peering into the cab, the American lets his smile turn sardonic. He has two weeks to work his miracles, but two weeks with this machine might not be enough.
Then again, that could be the jet lag talking. In the 24 hours since his wife dropped him off at Denver International Airport, the American has changed planes in Newark, crossed the Atlantic under a crescent moon, cleared customs at Glasgow International, boarded a 34-seater for the one-hour flight to the Hebridean island of Benbecula, driven his rental car southward another 30 minutes on a single-lane road—threading through bogs and lochs and across a stone causeway onto a 22-mile-long island with a mountainous eastern coast and a sandy Atlantic shore, its boulder-strewn grasslands punctuated by whitewashed farm houses and grazing sheep—before turning in, finally, at the gabled Borrodale Hotel in the village of Daliburgh. Now, after a desperate nap and a hurried sandwich, he stands at the edge of a pasture that stretches a flat quarter-mile before rising 20 or 30 feet to meet the sky above a seaweed-mottled beach.
The locals have a word for these low-lying fertile plains: machair (pronounced MOCKer). Among the rarest landscapes in Europe, they are found in the north and west of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and nowhere more extensively than in the Western Isles of Scotland.
Golfers know them by another name: linksland.
Welcome to another season of This Old Course, the series that gives you a builder's-eye view of a complete golf course renovation. This year's project is Askernish Old, a 120-year-old links course on the isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. First imagined in 1891 by the pioneering course designer Old Tom Morris, Askernish Old is the home links of the 18-member Askernish Golf Club.
We'll meet the club's larger-than-life chairman in a later installment, but the men watching the American inspect the excavator are Askernish's captain, Donald MacInnes, and its greenkeeper, Allan MacDonald. It's January, so the clubmen have wool caps pulled down over their ears. MacInnes wears a hooded, fleece-lined jacket and jeans. MacDonald has on a quilted pullover and twill work pants. Golf garb.
The American sports a blue wool cap, a pale blue windbreaker with a PACIFIC DUNES logo, navy-colored rain pants and rubber shoes. His name is Eric Iverson, and he's a design associate for Renaissance Golf Design of Traverse City, Mich. He's the pro from Dover.