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Open again after 117 years
– the legendary golf course that time forgot

Hidden at the end of a single-track road in the Western Isles lies a little-known golf course dubbed the sport's "Holy Grail". Askernish Golf Club on South Uist is regarded as potentially among the best links courses in the world, but for decades it has been out of use.

Today, though – 117 years after it was designed by legendary golfer Old Tom Morris – the newly restored course will be reopened by the football hero Kenny Dalglish, who is the club's honorary president.

The association with Morris – who also had a hand in designing courses at St Andrews, Prestwick, Royal Dornoch and Carnoustie – has helped the club attract 100 members from as far as the US, Canada and Sweden.

And it is estimated Askernish will soon be attracting 5,000 visitors a year, and double that within four years, bringing in £1 million to the South Uist economy by 2012.

Morris described the links land available at Askernish as "staggering", but use of the course declined after the nearby farm was brought into crofting use in 1922. In 1936, part of the course was lost when Scottish and Northern Airways used it for a runway. A 12-hole course was later established but latterly it remained as a nine-hole until the restoration project began in 2005.

Gordon Irvine, a golf course consultant, heard of the "lost" course during a fishing trip and when he saw it announced he had found the "Holy Grail".

The redevelopment cost just £50,000, largely because Mr Irvine's team, including golf architect Martin Ebert, worked on it as a labour of love.

Mr Ebert, who has worked on 60 courses in 16 countries, told The Scotsman: "The first few days, looking at the land, seeing where the holes should be, were probably the most enjoyable I've had in my career.

"The course is like a living museum of golf. It's been designed in the spirit that Old Tom Morris would have designed it."

Money generated by the course will be ploughed back into the area by Storas Uibhist, the community company that bought South Uist Estates for £4.5 million in December 2006.

And Storas Uibhist hopes the golfers who arrive will also take part in shooting and fishing.

The income they bring in will help fund other projects, including a five-turbine wind farm, plans for which will be submitted later this year, and which will generate £250,000 annually.

It will also help the regeneration of Lochboisdale, four miles away, where housing and pier improvements are planned.

Interest in the course could help a campaign for a ferry between Lochboisdale and Mallaig – a three-hour link to the mainland rather than the present seven and a half hours.

Angus MacMillan, chairman of Storas Uibhist, said: "It's probably now our greatest asset and one that other communities would die for."

The only hazard ahead is a pending case at the Scottish Land Court raised by a group of crofters who argue the course removes valuable grazing land and who are angry that today's opening is happening.

Willie Macdonald, one of the opponents, said: "They have not got our consent, they have no determination by the Land Court, so how can they have an official opening?"

Mr MacMillan said: "We will abide by the decision of the land court but are confident we can successfully defend the action."

Grand old man who played pioneering game

"OLD" Tom Morris was born in St Andrews and was one of the pioneers of professional golf. He was an apprentice to Allan Robertson, regarded as the first professional golfer, and worked as a greenkeeper, club-maker and course designer.

As a player he was second in the first Open in 1860 and won the following year, going on to win the championship another three times, in 1862, 1864 and 1867. He still holds the record as the oldest winner of the Open at the age of 46.

He later became a pioneering course designer, helping to create many famous courses including Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie and Nairn, charging £1 a day plus expenses for his expertise. He was an inspiration for a generation of course architects like Dr Alistair MacKenzie, mastermind of Augusta National, and Donald Ross, creator of the US Open venues Pinehurst No 2 and Oakland Hills.

He died in 1908 aged 86 after falling downstairs and fracturing his skull in the New Club, St Andrews.

Askernish Golf Club Watch the video

Source: John Ross, The Scotsman, Friday, 22nd August, 2008

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