In June 1891 “Old” Tom Morris accompanied by his companion Horace Hutchinson travelled to South Uist at the request of the landowners to inspect the machair lands with a view to laying out a new course. “Old” Tom eventually laid out eighteen holes on the rolling dunes of Askernish Farm, although he declared that the choice of links land available was “staggering.” Horace mentioned the trip in a magazine called “Golf”, the forerunner of “Golf Illustrated”, for which he was to contribute regularily over the next thirty years.
The pair continued their journey, moving north to Stornoway to inspect a new course which had been completed the year before.
During its early years the course would have been used to entice visitors to the island, as a form of sport to be enjoyed along with the traditional persuits of fishing and shooting. We know from Frederick Rea’s book “A School in South Uist” that some of the residents were regular players but these would have been mostly confined to the local clergy, doctors and teachers. It was maintained by local farm workers using scythes - they were also seconded as caddies for the visiting gentry.
Askernish farm was adopted into crofting tenure in 1922 and a lack of consistent maintenance led to the course’s general decline until Scottish and Northern Airways started a regular air service from Renfrew to Askernish in 1936.
Simon MacKenzie of Lochboisdale Hotel was in charge of the aircraft bookings and he commissioned a resident of the hotel named Derek MacReadie to lay out a 12 hole course using the flatter area of the machair which incorporated the landing
area for the aircraft - this area was maintained easily by the grasscutting machinery used to keep the runway in trim. Derek MacReadie was a notable amateur golfer and avid fisherman who made the annual pilgrimage to Lochboisdale Hotel for the excellent sport on offer.
The air service continued until 1938, by which time Benbecula had become the main airport for the islands - Askernish was used only “on demand” or for landings by the newly formed Air Ambulance service. Post World War Two the course was used regularily by visitors, although the condition declined due, once again, to lack of regular maintenance.
The next significant development was the arrival of Dr Kenneth Robertson to South Uist in 1956. He was an enthusiastic and excellent golfer who immediately saw the potential of the course and, ably assisted by his wife Asp, worked tirelessly in reviving the membership and encouraging the youth of the island to adopt the sport. A rocket range had recently opened in the northern part of the island and this brought an abundance of army personnel and construction workers who had a passion for golf. A portacabin was used for a clubhouse and a new layout was designed and adopted in 1970 which had nine holes and eighteen tees. The seventies were the glory years of the club with large numbers of players and fiercely fought competitions which revolved around an excellent social scene.
Dr Robertson left the island in 1982 and with the decrease in construction work and the numbers of resident army personnel the course once again fell into decline.
The Modern Era
The nineties were a decade of mixed fortunes for the club. The course only remained playable due to the determination and endeavour of a few locals until the idea of building a new clubhouse sparked some life into the club. The idea collapsed as no grant funding could be found: the club had no title deeds to the proposed site. The situation was so bad that at one point a vote was taken on whether or not to disband the club. Michael MacPhee, Donald MacInnes, Allan (A.C) MacDonald, Iain Francis MacPhee, Peter Steele and Neil Elliot are all to be commended for their efforts in keeping the club alive during this period.
In 2002 a retired policeman, Colin MacGregor, arrived in Uist. An enthusiastic golfer with plenty time on his hands, he started a daily routine of grasscutting and eventually managed to create an excellent playing surface throughout the nine holes. This generated enthusiasm, and a healthy nucleus of players were participating in competitions until an eventful phonecall in September 2005 brought about the “Restoration Project”
Via Askernish GC