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"The excavator is basically a rake and a shovel," Iverson says during a sandwich break. "It's far less invasive than a rotavator or power tiller." Still chewing, he climbs back into the cab.
On Thursday morning we start to see the artistry. Like a painter blending colors on a palette, Iverson has scraped up about three inches of sand and mixed it into the topsoil. "It's like top-dressing," he explains. "It helps with drainage."
But he's not a painter, he's a sculptor. He drags his dirt this way and that, leveling here, digging there, manipulating his joysticks like a seasoned gamer. Over hours the prow of the green expands; it will henceforth be spacious enough for a front-left hole location. The bank in front, while still running diagonally away to the right, is perhaps a foot lower, the slope less severe. And somehow Iverson has tied the bank into the surrounding contours.
Come mid-afternoon, Iverson parks the excavator to the side and takes to the green with a wooden rake. He's practically a cosmetician at this stage, erasing blemishes, restoring subtle contours, stepping back to see how things look from the fairway. He's aided by a late-afternoon sun, which turns the flanking dune into a curtain of gold.
Finally, after minutes spent leaning on his rake, Iverson says, "I think we're finished here." Immediately greenkeeper Alan MacDonald and his crew begin the tedious process of resodding, kneeling on boards to press the grass slabs back into place, trimming with turf knives when necessary. They work through a sunset that turns the clouds pink, they work into the ice-blue gloaming under a crescent moon ... and they finish in sunshine on Friday morning.
"It's brilliant," says club president Donald MacInnes, pulling off his grimy work gloves. "When the grass heals, nobody will know we touched this green. But it's a better hole now. It's an absolutely stunning par-4."
Iverson has driven the excavator to the 11th green, so he doesn't get to hear this. But the clubmen make up for it that evening when they gather for a few pints at the Borrodale Hotel. After a series of toasts—Well done, Eric! Cheers!—Alan MacDonald sits down to share something with Iverson. "I never thought using the excavator was a problem," the Askernish greenkeeper says. "It was a question of finding the right operator. Because if you don't have the experience...."
Iverson, understanding completely, flashes his best grin. "You simply didn't want a cowboy out there."
MacDonald nods sheepishly.
In the next installment of This Old Course we'll examine the Irvine-Ebert routing to see how closely it conforms to Old Tom's ghost course. And if we can hear him over the wind, we'll catch Iverson opining that Askernish "doesn't have to be the hardest course in Scotland."