Lack of facilities no barrier to enjoyment on outer fringes of golf

WHAT is the least you would expect from a golf club in facilities provided?

A locker-room? Plenty municipal courses don't run to those.

A pro shop? You would be surprised at the places that think flogging Lucozade and golf balls is beneath them - Muirfield is one such venue.

A caf, or a counter at least for the procurement of Spam rolls and milky tea? We all know of clubs where the only refreshments on offer come on bone china plates and require best bib and tucker for the enjoyment of same.

How about a toilet? Surely every golf course should offer a place for taking what the Americans call a comfort break? This is not, as I used to suppose, a room where a player could walk in and recline on a big sofa for a few minutes.

I ask these questions because I recently returned from playing two courses which have absolutely none of the above. That's right, nothing: not a clubhouse, not a shop. Not even a car park.

I can add that the greens on one of them are like badly-mown fairways complete with rabbit burrows, and that the other features expanses of cracked tarmac as an integral part of the course, and that both think that a bunker is nothing more than a flat bit of sand so overgrown with weeds that you don't know it is a bunker until you're in it.

But I enjoyed myself immensely.

In other words, there is more than one way to guarantee golfing satisfaction - and such experiences do require even a minimum level of amenity. The golfing explorer needs to be prepared to take his preconception of the game as a fully- catered, competitively priced and packaged leisure/sporting experience, and stand it on its head. Especially when visiting the Outer Hebrides.

Oh yes, it's golf. But not as we know it.

The startled looks from staff and travellers at Benbecula Airport as the clubs descend the conveyor belt are perhaps the first clue that you have strayed from the well-trodden golfing path. You might as well have stepped off the bus in Airdrie with a surfboard under your arm.

But the seeker after far-flung fairways can be no slave to convention, and at least you can be pretty sure that you won't need to book a tee-off time in advance.

Askernish, or Aisgernis in Gaelic, is in South Uist, under an hour's drive from the airport. As settings go for a golf course, it must rank somewhere between Pebble Beach and heaven. With the hills of Beinn Mhor - how many of these exist in Scotland? - and Hecla above, the impossibly beautiful silver sands of Aisgernis stretching out below and the green shores of Barra just 20 miles out to sea, you play a fiendishly devised nine-hole/18-tee course carved from sand dunes and machair.

It was designed more than 100 years ago by Old Tom Morris, and it costs 10. That's 10 for nine, 18 or 246 holes - however many you can manage in a single day.

The same princely sum secures similar access to Benbecula's golf course, a rather more modest layout that evolved from the few holes that the RAF chaps built to occupy themselves when not test-firing rockets into the North Atlantic.

This course is dead flat, which isn't surprising given that it runs alongside the existing airport runway, and over some bits of the old one. Scenic is not a description that is readily associated with Benbecula Golf Club.

On the other hand, its collection of par threes and fours is never less than challenging with greens, proper ones, difficult to find on account of their usually being no bigger than a dining room table.

It strikes me, however, as being a little hard on Benbecula to say that it shares Askernish's total lack of anything you could vaguely call a facility.

It is true that the 10 charge is again paid through an honesty box, and that any buildings nearby not in imminent danger of falling down are boarded up. But Benbecula does allow visitors access to its ramshackle and rapidly-rusting tool shed. Here you can shelter out of the wind in about four oily square feet of space while you collect your scorecard from the pile next to the old paint tins on a dust-covered shelf.

Aye, in Benbecula they're a soft lot.

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