Norrie T MacDonald: Appreciating home and a return to the golf course

Norrie T MacDonald

There’s been a fair bit of discussion recently about people’s sense of community and place since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown.

Of course, it’s a good thing.

Very often we tend to forget where we feel we belong, particularly if we have been ‘transplanted’ elsewhere, either through natural migration or simply not being allowed back to your own bed because you are perceived as a walking (driving), potential germ time-bomb.

Despite Gaina being willing to take the daily risk, and my being eternally grateful that she is; Marvin Gaye was wrong.

Roads lead home to Point

Wherever I lay my (metaphorical) hat, it’s certainly not my home.

I lived in the centre of Stornoway in a previous life.

It was tolerable because the front door of the Royal Hotel (lounge and public bars, back in the day) was the distance of a free-kick from just outside the penalty box away.

Barring that, the Wee Co-op and the Trading Post provided hugely comforting ‘book ends’, sandwiched as I was, comfortably in between.

When nary an eyebrow was raised when you ordered a can of Special Vat cider at 8 in the morning, paying with a handful of change where a 10p was undoubtedly king of the finds; the determination of where my ‘home’ was largely depended on proximity to alcohol.

Luckily things have changed.

It doesn’t take much to calibrate where you truly belong.

I dare say that for each and every one of us that calibration is measured differently, using different tools and metrics.

Each to their own.

There are bound to be many for whom the lockdown has heightened their state of anxiety.

Townies, I respectfully suggest, much more than others.

Waking on Sunday, after a night burning not much rubber, to the noise of whatever it was that had driven herself indoors from her crocheting in the sun; I could feel the sap rise.

A terrace in the capital is no place when the sun shines brightly and the neighbours are Status Quo fans.

The decision was immediate.

It required just the two connected synapses to flicker briefly.

“Pack what you need, we’re going to Point”.

Picture perfect in last weekend’s fine weather

As she continued with the never-ending blanket in the warmth and safety of the Republic, I decided to head for the shore.

Something I don’t do nearly often enough is walk through my own village, in my own time, grown increasingly comfortable in my own head.

With a colander on the cranium, attached to many electrodes and a Sinclair ZX81 (that should get them Googling), a compass and a barometer handy; I reckon my epicentre would be found somewhere between my front door, Shinigeadh, Loch an Duin and Allt Diobadal.

Shinigeadh was picture perfect.

The walk down to the geodha was spectacular.

Even the sheep knew I wasn’t a tourist.

I’d wax more lyrical, but I know you’re already jealous.

‘Mata’ MacIver, in his wonderful monthly column, ‘My Portnaguran’ in our local magazine (and previously in his book, ‘Playing for the Red Jersey’, a history of Point FC) alludes to the importance of our local football team when it comes to our sense of community.

Guess who were amongst the very first to respond and offer their services when the Covid19 crisis struck?

Along with the people you’d expect (there are always, thankfully, more than a handful around these parts that you can depend on to ‘just do it’ when the going gets tough and something needs to be done); they were the first to coordinate support to anyone in need.

Never mind the locally elected representatives and the Community Council; we were left standing whilst the people of the Roo did what decent folk do.

By the time we caught up, deliveries and safety nets were already in place.

It was happening all over these islands and the people who don’t require prompting to do the right thing and never stop to look for recognition or thanks.

It’s not what they’re about or why they get involved.

But can we take the time to recognise each and every single one of them next time we step outside to clap?

The whole weekend was confusing for many unable to restrain themselves following weeks of conflicting messages.

There was, of course, the return of golf and fishing as part of the easing of the lockdown; but throw in Dominic Cummings, the huge sense of relief at ‘something’ positive happening, no new cases in the Western Isles for nearly six weeks plus spectacular weather, and you could feel the collective engines revving.

We should have been thinking of going from neutral into first gear as part of a gradual process back to a semblance of normality (be it new or not).

What we saw was akin to the starting grid of a Formula 1 race.

The lights went from red to green and, with added Buckfast and MD20/20, a little bit of mayhem ensued.

It was, in hindsight (and even with foresight) entirely predictable.

A scientist, rocket or otherwise, wasn’t required.

Luckily, or unluckily, the weather has returned to normal and, after some warnings, people recognised that their actions were premature and inappropriate.

This ‘thing’ isn’t over and we need to remain vigilant.

Complacency is our biggest danger, still.

Let’s get back to keeping it real.

The return to any form of golf at all last Friday was of huge relief to hackers the length and breadth of the country.

Truth be told, we couldn’t wait.

After a ten week lay-off, it was never going to be pretty.

Especially for those of us who might still tend to struggle having played ten rounds in ten days.

Colin MacRitchie, left, resumed in excellent form

Naturally I started with a par at the, stroke-index one, hugely troublesome, opening hole at Stornoway.

I may only ever manage a handful of fours in a season at the ‘Castle’, so the huge joke was on me and playing partner, Alan ‘Biddley’ MacLeod.

‘Bid’s’ tee shot had last been seen heading left towards the Woodlands Centre and I fully expected to follow suit.

I managed the plumb centre of the trees on the right, but miraculously played some decent recovery golf, albeit only briefly.

It wasn’t so much a case of ‘it’s downhill after this’, which it certainly was, more a case of ‘who cares, isn’t this wonderful?’.

Much like halitosis, any golf is better than no golf at all.

We kept score, briefly, before it all became a bit too much and we decided to enjoy ourselves.

The course was full.

The sun was shining.

Genuinely it was hotter than it had been in Florida last October.

‘Things’, generally couldn’t be better.

We will, naturally, spend a couple of weeks ‘acclimatising’ before we plunge headlong into competitive golf proper.

That night my legs and feet ached, my back required some WD40, but a’ bhalaich, I was a happy bunny.

I wasn’t alone.

Who was keeping score anyway?

Colin MacRitchie’s playing partner on Saturday, that’s who.

Whilst some of us require several layers of cobwebs to be removed before we can be considered ‘contenders’; the talented require nothing more than a robust practice swing.

Starting with a bogey, 5, at the ‘Castle’, nobody could have predicted the explosives to follow.

Yes it was just a ‘bounce’ round and yes, we were still only playing off the yellow tees: but that didn’t detract much from the incredulity with which his card was greeted.

From the second hole he went birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie (finishing with two, boring, pars) to be ‘out’ in a breath-taking, 6-under, 29.

He started back with yet another brace of birdies before completely losing form and racking up ‘just’ seven straight pars.

5 4 2 3 3 2* 3 4 3 – 29

2 4 4 4 4 3 4 3 3  – 31

Going round anywhere, at any time, in 60 blows is a stunning achievement.

It certainly posts a warning to the other serious contenders for the summer season and the ‘majors’ ahead, however truncated it/they may be.

The Scarista faithful, too, were busy finding themselves at the weekend.

Nobody was too keen to blow anything resembling the remotest trumpet, regards any semi-official scoring; but the sense I got was that greenkeeper James Dunne was possibly the man to keep a close eye on.

He spent the weekend asking about the bounce and loft on wedges.

“52 or 56 degrees loft with 4-6 degree bounce?”, he queried.

Billy Fraser, who actually does know what he was talking about, chipped in with what appeared to be sound, indeed polite, advice.

‘Bounce is your friend’ Captain Kuna opined.

Now there’s a man in touch with his inner Barbara Woodhouse.

Having latterly abandoned the notion of flailing around with a driver, or any fairway woods, James has found (miraculously?) that his scoring has dramatically improved.

The ‘Essence of Harris’ Trophy this Saturday may well be his opportunity to demonstrate his new-found Karma.

Benbecula threw themselves straight back into competitive action with their May Medal last Saturday. Donald MacKay won with a nett 61, two shots ahead of Dami Steele on 63.

Both qualify for the end of season gold medal.

On Tuesday they began the season-long Order of Merit with a Willie Monk (35 points) win. Dami continued his runner-up habit.

Down at Askernish they’re still probably trying to get over the shock of my naming it as my favourite course on ‘Spors na Seachdain’.

I’ve been lucky enough to have played some wonderful courses these past 25-odd years; but the South Uist links still ‘does it’ for me every time.

I even considered becoming a member this year, along with Stornoway and Harris; before Covid19 took a hold.

Too far?

Maybe I should approach the Tiumpan Head grazings committee.

What a course that would make.

You’d never get me out of Point.