Tag Archives: This Old Course

Irish, Scottish Links Contend for No. 1 at Fabled Askernish Open

Ralph Thompson, the recently-retired majordomo at top-ranked Askernish Old, has been busy with preparations for this week’s Askernish Open — but not too busy to complain about the current and unprecedented placement of Ireland’s Carne Golf Links as co-No. 1. “I believe after your visit this week we will regain our rightful and solitary position as No. 1,” he writes from his Hebridean hideout on the isle of South Uist. “If not, then we will bury you in the rough. Even with your long legs you will still not be noticed. Yes, it is that extreme this year.”

Searching for balls

Askernish golfers could find more than lost balls in its world-class rough. (John Garrity)

Putting aside the threatening tone, which I’m used to, Thompson’s words leave me wondering if I’ve packed enough golf balls to get me through three days of competition on the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course. If the rough is deep enough to conceal an NBA small forward, it will easily consume my meagre stock of Pro V1s.

Not that I care. My real purpose in returning to Askernish is to complete my “This Old Course” series on Askernish, which began a couple of years ago in Sports Illustrated Golf+ and will conclude this fall on Golf.com. To facilitate that coverage, I am traveling with state-of-the-art digital cameras, notepads, a pocket recorder, mosquito netting, quinine pills, a safari jacket and a fully-operational Bomar Brain. All this gear is currently piled on my bed at the Glasgow Marriott, which has long served as my base camp for expeditions to Ayrshire, East Lothian, the Kingdom of Fife and the Scottish Highlands.

This visit, as I patiently explained to Ralph, will have no bearing on the Top 50 rankings, which are issued by our staff at Catch Basin on the basis of scientific calculations far too sophisticated for either of us to comprehend.

Top 50 on TV:  Nothing this week, but an 18-year-old Englishman won the U.S. Amateur last week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., currently No. 31 on the Top 50. Coming 100 years after Francis Ouimet’s stunning victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory avenges the historic humbling of the British greats, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

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The Secret’s Out: “This Old Course” Returns to SI Golf Plus

It’s no longer a secret. The first installment of This Old Course 2011 has just appeared in the February 21 edition of Sports Illustrated Golf Plus, and the course getting a world-class makeover is [drum roll] …. top-ranked Askernish Old!

“This Old Course,” if you need reminding, is the award-winning, decennial series that gives readers a builder’s-eye view of a complete golf course renovation, from the first member’s complaint that the greens are too bumpy to the last grudgingly-signed check for excavator rental.* The 2001 series focused on Bobby Weed’s total redesign of the University of Florida Golf Course, an original Donald Ross layout. Number 421 in the Top 50 before Weed’s do-over, UF’s course is now ranked 39th — possibly due to SI’s 16 articles on the project (which is roughly double the attention that TIME devoted to last year’s mega-series on Detroit’s urban crisis).**

*Full disclosure: I am the author of the series.

**I was also the author of the 2001 series.

The return of This Old Course has been met with the expected acclaim:

Turf cutting at Askernish Old

The work has begun at top-ranked Askernish Old. (John Garrity)

Is it ten years already? It must be time to have the house repainted.” — SI’s Gary Van Sickle

“The 2001 series was better.” Course designer Bobby Weed

‘“Askernish Old’ is the name used by a number of golf writers to describe the 1891 Old Tom Morris designed golf course on remote South Uist, an island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides that was quite literally ‘lost in the sands of time’ and rediscovered in 2005. It has since been restored and as far as I know is currently the only course on the island … unlike St. Andrews you will find no ‘Askernish New.’” — Shivas Irons Society president Steve Cohen

There are subtle differences between the two series. The Askernish coverage will be shorter — five articles in all, terminating in late June. The course work is also scaled down. In fact, Old Tom’s ghost course will look pretty much the same in July as it did a month ago, when work started. “We like to cover our tracks,” explains Eric Iverson, the on-site man for Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design. “We try to make it look like we’ve never been there.”

That’s a good philosophy to have, it seems to me, when you’re working on the world’s top course.

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