Bonus Section | Golf.com
This is the natural environment for golf," Martin Ebert says, watching a flock of seagulls glide and hover over piles of tangled kelp on the beach. "This is a living museum of how golf got started."
It's a dreary afternoon in January with nary a sunbeam squeezing through the stack of clouds hanging over the Atlantic. But to Ebert, who will never forget the first time he stood atop this pinnacle dune, the 7th tee at Askernish Old is golf's equivalent of the glass-pyramid entrance to the Louvre. Looking down the shoreline to the south, he sees a canyon fairway snaking up through monster dunes to a distant green that plugs the end of the corridor.
If Ebert's smile seems a little broader than that of your average tour guide, it's because five years ago he stood on this very spot and saw the long, pinch-waisted fairway and the bowsprit green—before they existed.
That's because this old course, which we habitually refer to as "an Old Tom Morris links, vintage 1891," was not here in March 2006. This course was conceived, in a mere two days, by the Scottish links consultant Gordon Irvine, working with Ebert, who is a partner at Mackenzie & Ebert Ltd. of Chichester, England, the firm entrusted with the remodeling of Turnberry for the 2009 British Open. Gordon received a lifetime membership for his work on Askernish, while Ebert, after protracted negotiations with club chairman Ralph Thompson, agreed to be paid 10 shillings a hole, the same as Old Tom was paid. "It was very cheeky, but Martin agreed," Thompson recalls, "and we had a large check made out to Mackenzie & Ebert for £9."
Neither payment nor design credit are issues for Ebert because, as his "living museum" comment implies, Askernish is first-generation golfing ground. Thanks to its early abandonment, the new course more closely resembles a links of Morris's time than does, say, present-day Muirfield, which the best players of the 1890s mocked as a "pitch and putt." Askernish has never had a Donald Trump charge in with bulldozers, railroad ties and artificial rocks. Askernish has never had a pipe threaded through its flesh or had ball washers installed on its tees.
"You can't get more sustainable than Askernish," says Ebert, extolling its environmental virtues. "No irrigation. No pesticides. Natural application of fertilizer. Zero drainage. It couldn't have been constructed for less or be less intrusive on the site."
We should explain that Ebert is paying a quick visit to South Uist to collaborate on some design tweaks with Renaissance Golf's Eric Iverson, who is somewhere out in the dunes at the controls of a small excavator. Ebert has been kind enough, during a stroll through the opening holes, to answer a few questions about the machair, the fabric from which his course has been woven. In the 3rd fairway, for example, he invited us to squat and examine the closely mowed turf. Doing so, we discovered that its vaguely green hue was actually a blend of colored stalks—a sort of botanical pointillism.
"There's no pursuit of pure strains here," Ebert said, drawing a contrast with modern courses that advertise zoysia fairways, bluegrass rough and bentgrass greens. A square meter of genuine linksland, it turns out, can yield up to 45 species—a riotous mix of fescue, red clover, daisies, buttercups, barley, eyebright, cotton grass, wild carrot, bird's foot trefoil and orchids.
"You look at the colors on the greens, it's just the same," said chairman Thompson. "They're simply nibbled closer."