The 19th Hole, Norrie T MacDonald
It’s not beyond recent memory to remember a time in Stornoway when you would struggle to find a decent sandwich, far less a gourmet meal served up in classy surroundings.
Unless you had a predilection for a sausage supper or some pretty awful fish and chips, eating ‘out’ was generally a huge disappointment.
To say we settled for ‘average’ would have been a huge understatement: we settled for anything that was hot, battered and came with either soggy or completely crisp, ‘chips’.
The French would have at least have fried them properly.
Dining in hotels was strictly for those of a certain income, a family treat at Christmas (if you were very lucky), or for the recently bereaved.
As a student in Glasgow, my introduction to exotic cuisine was somewhat tempered by my student budget.
And other, conflicting, priorities.
The fact that late licences for ordinary punters were primarily conjoined with a sit-down Indian meal on a Friday/Saturday night were but a happy coincidence.
My fondness for chicken Madras and Tennents lager proved an irresistible combination.
Fast forward a couple of decades and on the island we had a connoisseur’s, or indeed Billy Bunter’s, paradise.
Several top-notch restaurants, a couple of Indian/Chinese establishments and take-aways, a Pizza parlour, some great cafes, and chip shops where the fare was so good, that the queues regularly spilled out the door.
It wasn’t too difficult to get decent fillets of fish after all and ‘proper’ chips have never required a PhD, though your server may have had one.
Heck, you could even get some decent tucker when you went for your fuel and paper in the morning.
Of course, there were stand-outs.
None more imperial than the majestic Digby Chick.
News of its closure has been greeted, quite rightly, with howls of disappointment.
The iconic eatery had given Stornoway something to be hugely proud of.
A restaurant that could hold its own with much that it regularly got compared with on the mainland.
I regularly took visiting customers home (back to their hotels, B&B’s or holiday accommodation), gobsmacked that they had just sat down to a five-star meal so far from their idea of a culinary/cultural metropolis.
It had become a beacon of excellence, revered both by its regular, local, diners and gourmands both national and international.
The town will be much worse for its passing.
I wish James & Co every success for whatever their future brings.
We’re all waiting.
Time to step up
The also excellent Harris and Lewis Smokehouse restaurant has also closed and, with Covid-19 still wreaking havoc amongst all types of businesses, particularly ones where social-distancing is proving a huge hurdle, I doubt we’ve seen the last of the carnage.
We may be down to our last handful of bars operating in the town.
The notion of outdoor drinking, given the weather in Scotland and the Western Isles in particular, is a complete anathema except for the clinically insane (smokers).
We’ve all measured the cost of the current pandemic in many different ways.
How big, or how much?
The loss of Digby’s requires the arms to be significantly outstretched.
Step up and step forward everyone else.
You managed before.
Magic in Harris
There must be something in the Harris air just now; something that mysteriously provides a magnetic action between ball and cup, more especially a ball struck off the tee.
The ‘magic moments’ are coming thick and fast, the calligrapher’s arm working furiously to provide the physical evidence of that most ‘unusual’ of feats: the ace, the hole-in-one, the large bar bill.
Except it’s no longer rare at Scarista.
The bars are shut and the man with the artistic pen has a back-log.
I predicted at the beginning of the season that, when Cal Robertson got the hang of the subtle nuances around the greens on the sublime links; given his natural talent, he would soon be on his way to his first win.
Despite his ace on the 16th hole in the ‘Island Bites Trophy’ last Saturday, he could only manage fifth spot on the leaderboard.
The winner, a man who knows the course like the back of his postal route, was Donald ‘Eito’ Morrison with an excellent 39 point total.
Birdies as the 6th, 10th and 16th steered him home by virtue of the dreaded better inward half from John Blunt.
John finished treble, then double-bogey to miss out by his fingertips.
On Tuesday, in the “Red-Yellow Tee” Competition, Russell Tennant’s solid 75(61) triumphed by no fewer than 4 shots from runner-up, Seumas Morrison.
Seumas will rue his opening 9 holes.
He came back home 13 shots better in his 91(65).
Russell was consistency itself, eleven pars and a birdie ensuring any rare lapses of concentration were already compensated for.
Don wins in Benbecula
Down in Benbecula on Tuesday, Don MacKay won the latest (5th) round of the season-long ‘Order of Merit’, with a 37 pointer in the Stableford format.
Harry Luney was runner-up on 34 pts.
Dami Steele (46 league points) still leads Shaun Brennan (32).
Dami has been in truly outstanding form this season, collecting yet another win in the two-round, “Stan Simmons Trophy”, competed for on Saturday and Sunday.
His 125(65+60) beat perennial challenger in the majors, W.J. Monk, 128(65+63), by three clear shots.
Overnight leader, Shaun Brennan, couldn’t match his opening 63 and fell away badly with an uncharacteristic 73(136).
At Askernish; from Colin Russell
“July Medal – 19 declared, 4 non-runners and 1 refused to race which left 14 at the off. A runaway winner, but unlike the Derby it wasn’t a 25/1 shot that bolted to victory as Ron MacKinnon converted his recent good form into silverware, as he knocked round in a superb nett 68.
“Well played Ron.
“Last week’s winner, Allan Louis MacDonald, was ‘steady Eddie’ again, with a 71 and further one behind was John Archie MacIntyre.
“We go again on Wednesday with the March Medal (don’t ask!)”.
60 at Stornoway
Back home here at Lady Lever Park, the fine weather brought just under 60 competitors out last Wednesday for the, aptly named, “Summer Cup”.
DA Stewart romped round in 94(66) to claim his first win of the season by BIH from Willie MacAulay, 78(66).
Scott MacIver’s recent fine form took him to his first win on Saturday in the “Cancer Relief Shield”.
His excellent 69(63) saw birdies at the 6th, 8th and 13th and took him home, two shots better than runner-up, Pat Aird, 81(65).
This time over 60 competitors took part, cementing the notion that golf is well and truly back.
Proving that it’s not just the Hearachs that can get the ball into the hole with a single blow off the tee; John M MacAskill aced the, par-4, 13th, the “Cabarfeidh” on his way round.
In the “Galloway Aggregate” (best 6 nett scores over the season), Peter Grant’s recent composure sees him atop the leaderboard, two blows better than David Black.
In the “Perry Eclectic”, Murray MacInnes leads by a single shot on 62(54).
In the ladies Stableford, habitual winner, Liz Carmichael, eventually pipped Jane Nicolson, thanks to the latter’s stuttering finish. With Liz picking up points on the closing two holes, Jane failed to register a single to lose by just one.
The junior section saw Calum G Ross continue his dominance: a solid 84(65) in the “Castle Trophy” enough for the win.
James Cunningham will rue his profligacy on just a couple holes in his 90(67) to finish runner-up.
The hardest two holes on the course cost him no fewer than 11 shots.
On an otherwise solid card, the 9 at the opening hole, the “Castle” and the 11 at the dreaded “Dardanelles” thwarted any ambitions of glory.
He will learn to minimise the damage and will bounce back a better player.