We played the Stornoway course early on 14 April 2010 before catching the afternoon ferry to Ullapool and although my game sunk to new lows, this was a magnificent course in excellent condition, with fast running fairways and smooth quick greens. This is a view of the 5th hole and the moorland upper part of the course, which barely does justice to the quality of the fairways. It would be difficult to play badly in such surroundings, but I managed it with some style. Almost every middle iron shot played on the front 9 had been an sh---, so it was with some trepidation that I approached this, the 9th, a short 142 yard par 3, requiring accuracy off the tee. An easy 7 iron found the green and a couple of good putts later and I'd parred the hole and gone out in 45 against the par of 35. So, I'd one stroke of my handicap left and surely I couldn't play as badly on the back 9. The 182 yard 10th hole is an uphill par 3, surrounded by bunkers. I (eventually) finished this 10th hole at 10.10 on a sunny day in 2010 and yes, I took a 10. I'd played a good 7 wood from the tee but found an awful lie in the back left bunker, took my lob wedge rather than sand iron and generally footered about before missing a 12 inch putt for a 9. Here's the view from the tee. Not my finest hole, but we all had a good laugh at my expense. In times gone by, I would have reacted less charitably to such a pathetic performance, but I think I've finally realised that golf is a game and what matters most is the enjoyment of it and the respect for the game. Throwing a tantrum wasn't going to change the score, but it might change my partners' enjoyment and there's no fun to be had in playing with someone who's lost patience with himself for no good reason. So, bad golf or not, I really enjoyed the Stornoway course and even parred the last 3 holes as some kind of reward for persevering. I'd certainly love to play Stornoway again, but that was the end of our trip around the Western Isles.
We were moving on to play at Ullapool, Gairloch and Aigas but we took with us some outstanding memories. We'd had great weather and thanks to The Vatersay Boys, Karl Denver's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" will never be the same again, everyone we'd met had been so kind, welcoming, friendly and generous, we'd seen the outstanding Hebridean landscape at its best and we'd played a succession of very good golf courses. We'd also learnt that golf's survival in the occasionally harsh Hebridean climate depends crucially on voluntary effort and that the game here remains strong, despite the various challenges each club faces to attract and retain members and remain financially viable. Being familiar with joint golf course marketing schemes that operate in the mainland, we also wondered whether the establishment of a Western Isles Golf Pass would help to generate golf tourism, with spin off benefits for bed night accomodation, restaurant and other traders. Our trip had started through Barra because the ferry timetables meant we could minimise our travel time that way. Even so, we'd needed 3 overnight stays to play the 6 courses and had seen more of the islands and their culture than we'd initially expected. Golf tourists primarily want to play golf, but few may have thought about the Western Isles as a short golfing tour destination. They don't know what they're missing but in our view, it's a lot!
There's a richness and depth of experience to golfing in the Western Isles that for each of us beats conventional trips to some of the more recognised golfing holiday destinations hands down. Playing on anonymous and contrived so-called championship (i.e. long and often tedious) courses has its place but this was natural golf, unpretentious in nature and all the better for it. Here, the people we met were clearly pleased to see us and we'll not forget Angus, Ralph, Hugh and Norrie and the many others who helped us in so many ways. When we met Councillor Donald Manford by chance on the MV Loch Portain, he was quick to see the potential of such a golfing parallel to CalMac's Gaelic Rings initiative, as were the various golf club officials we met on our travels. I plan to write to Donald in due course (having worked with him over many years in my former job in ferry operations for the Scottish Government) setting out how such a scheme might operate. As Craig commented so wisely as we walked off the Solles course, "if you don't understand why we're here, you don't understand golf." Maybe that's a wee bit simplistic, but having played every Western Isles hole with him, Stu and I understood fully what he meant!