It is a sign of the times that neither Golf World, Golfweek nor Golf Channel covered last week’s Askernish Open. I, of course, covered it for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, having left the Solheim Cup in Colorado as soon as the European ladies’ victory there was certain.* I even took the extraordinary step of imbedding myself in Saturday’s stroke-play competition at top-ranked Askernish Old, a tactic which gained me a top-100 finish and an automatic exemption for 2014. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my editors that I was going to Scotland, so there was no room in the magazine or on the Web for my game story, which was, in any case, accidentally deleted when I mistook my iPhone for the Bomar Brain.
*For me, that moment came on Saturday afternoon when America’s Michelle Wie celebrated like it was VJ day upon making a putt and then ran uphill to the next tee before Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall could answer with a putt of her own to halve the hole.
Fortunately, Europe’s golf writers know how to find the Western Isles. Here’s a taste of John Gillies’s coverage from the August 29 Stornoway Gazette:
Once again, last weekend, a truly international field of close to 150 golfers contested the Askernish Open. The sun shone and, naturally, the wind blew and the course lived up to its reputation as a supreme test of skill. Brutal rough punished every wayward shot. The terrifying beauty of the eleventh green, perched on the edge of the ocean framed by the hills of Barra, did little to calm golfers trying to shape a 200-yard tee shot into the wind across a deep gully. But no one who stood there would have wished to be anywhere else. This is no ordinary golf course. For John Garrity, who has reviewed the most famous courses on the planet, “there is no greater golfing experience than what we have here.” The course has consistently topped his list of the world’s greatest golf courses and, as John confirmed at the Open prize-giving, while it may occasionally share the top spot with another challenger, Askernish will never be surpassed.
Gillies graciously hinted at the Top 50’s involvement with Old Tom Morris’s renowned “ghost course.” I was, in fact, made “captain for a day” and tasked with opening the Open by striking the ceremonial first shot with a hickory-shafted cleek. This antique club, I hasten to point out, was about as long as a conductor’s baton and had a rusted head no bigger than a commemorative stamp. Ralph Thompson, recently retired as Askernish’s chairman, tried to ice me by saying that “no captain so far has actually botched the shot,” but I took no more than sixty seconds to experiment with various stances and tee heights before smacking a ball that whistled off the elevated first tee and reached a height of ten or twelve feet before landing with a satisfying thud in the first cut of rough, a foot short of the fairway.
Gillies’ description of my cleek shot was apparently cut by his editors, but he appropriately recognised some of the better Hebridean golfers:
David Black took three putts on each of the last two greens to miss out on victory by one stroke. A win would have meant a clean sweep of the championship events in the Western Isles this year but, instead, like many of the prizes at Askernish, the Open Championship title went overseas. There were local winners: Jane Nicolson once again took home the Ladies Championship Trophy with a performance that had her head and shoulders above the competition, and Danny Steele from South Uist won the Handicap Trophy.
To sum up, the 2013 Askernish Open champion, with a score of 79, was pipe-smoking life member Deal W. Hudson of Fairfax, Va., who played in a dress shirt, tie and plus-fours. Second place, as reported above, went to Stornoway’s David Black, who shot 80. In third, also at 80, was Askernish co-designer Martin Ebert, whose second club is the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Fourth prize went to U.S. Army Reserve Major General Wayne Brock, who carded an 81.
Askernish Open scores, by the way, are not the equivalent of conventional scores turned in for handicap purposes. The summer rough at Askernish is so deep and pervasive that virtually any ball hit off the fairway is lost. To keep play moving, a local rule allows golfers to take a penalty stroke and drop a replacement ball in the fairway. This inflates scores, but it boosts the sale of 18-ball zip bags of “American Lake Balls” sold in the Askernish golf shop.
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs open with the Deutsche Bank Championship at 128th-ranked TPC of Boston in Norton, Mass. Phil Mickelson opened with a first-round 63, which is equivalent to an Askernish summer score of 69.