My Visit to Askernish

Twice per year, six R&A Scholars are chosen to work and study one of the most environmentally friendly golf courses on our planet. I was honoured to have been chosen to spend a week at Askernish Golf Club where I learned from three individual and influential forward thinking professionals and that locally sourced seaweed is used as a natural tee and green fertiliser.
Who needs a Toro 5500D when you have cow power?
Askernish or ‘Aisgernis’ as the locals call it, is situated on chain of islands off the West coast of Scotland named the Outer Hebrides which believe me are constantly windy. The golf course itself was designed by Old Tom Morris in the late 1800’s and is laid out on one of the most ecologically diverse patches of land that can be found anywhere on the planet. The land is called the machair and is home to around 200 different species of wildflower such as the nationally scarce Irish Lady’s tresses. Rare birdlife including the Golden eagle, greenshank and the now extremely uncommon corncrake with its distinct call can also be seen depending on the time the year.

My personal task for the week was to take in as much information as I could possibly manage by listening to the three of the most influential speakers that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. 

First to share his knowledge with us was Martin Ebert, golf course designer. Martin is a former R&A golf course advisor who was instrumental in helping to ascertain the whereabouts of the previously lost Askernish golf course. When I mean ‘lost’, I mean that the golf course had fallen into disrepair for around seventy years only to be found by chance by an overheard conversation in a pub!

Gordon Irvine master greenkeeper was next up to tell us all about the grass species to be found on the course. Fescue was by far the most extensive cultivar with the 25 metre dunes being dominated by marram grass. Gordon also gave us a practical demonstration on how to revet a bunker face so that it looks as natural as possible without losing any of the original character.   

Dr Keith Duff is a former government advisor on environmental practices and was kind enough to lend us his experience and knowledge for the final day’s learning. We were asked to pair – up and develop a half hour presentation on the external factors and ecology affecting the links with reference to how the bunker (shown below) was formed.
A natural cattle shelter and a wind eroded bunker, all in one! These are known locally as blowouts.
Typical Askernish Terrain
The hole shown above is situated adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and believe it or not, there is absolutely nothing but water between there and New York.

As I mentioned earlier, the fertiliser used is locally sourced; either in the form of seaweed and/ or cow and sheep manure. The local crofters (farmers) collect the washed up seaweed to introduce into the sandy sub soil which in turn adds nutrients to the developing crops and grass to feed the population and cattle of the island – A basic circle of life that works perfectly! The land is shared by the crofters and the golf course itself, so it is not uncommon to play a golf hole with a herd of cows or to find your ball perched nicely on a neat pile of sheep deposit – I was kind of glad we played preferred lies.

A badge I am proud to wear.
The R&A have awarded scholarships to over 100 students since its inception in 2004 and I am immensely proud to be associated with such a forward thinking organisation. The students are from all over the world including China, Nepal and Estonia and their scholarships are awarded on numerous principles including semester grades and personal achievements.  

I have kept this blog as brief as possible. I could talk all day about the greenkeeping practices that are undertook by the solitary greenkeeper or the social and professional benefits of being a scholar of the R&A, maybe next time.

Any questions then please just ask away. 
James Hutchinson.