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A Journey to the Western Isles
John Garrity
November 18, 1991
The author traveled to the Hebridean island of South Uist in search of a nearly lost golf course
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November 18, 1991

A Journey To The Western Isles

The author traveled to the Hebridean island of South Uist in search of a nearly lost golf course

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The dining room of the 20-room Lochboisdale Hotel, four miles southeast of Askernish, afforded a picture-window view of the sea loch, and at 9 p.m. on this late spring day, the rocky foothills and the ferry slip were still bathed in afternoon gold. It wouldn't get dark till around 11, so we lingered over coffee, enjoying the warmth of an open peat fire. The hotel menu, to our delight, was quite sophisticated—fresh salmon, local venison and other Hebridean specialties served with delicate sauces and fresh vegetables.

After dinner we moved to the cedar-paneled lounge, which was equally warm and cheery. Of the dozen or so people at the bar, perhaps half were from Lochboisdale, population 300, and only one—a 40ish man in a leather jacket—was a golfer. He was Charles Bruce, a local construction worker.

Bruce had a working-man's fatalism about golf and a long memory for indignities suffered at Askernish. "I've lost 50 balls there in the chickweed and buttercups," he said plaintively. "It's tame now, but in six weeks time, you hit it anywhere off the fairway and you won't find it. And the rabbits! They pick the ball up and sell it to the next guy!"

A waitress and a barmaid had joined our group. There was also a young man in a white tunic with the words HEAD CHEF embroidered on his toque.

Bruce said, "But if it's the golf course you've come for, it's Angus you'll want to talk to."

The chef straightened and nodded a bashful greeting.

That's when I recognized him. He was one of the young men who had driven onto the golf course with the flags and mowers.

Angus Johnstone was the greenskeeper at Askernish.

On the third day, Askernish touched me. I was practicing on the machair, hitting short irons into the 9th green, when I suddenly became aware of my solitude. With the warm sun at my back, I wandered over to the boundary fence and took in the surrounding crofts: the green meadows filled with grazing sheep, the stone cottages, the bare brown mountains beyond the main road.

Travelers to the Western Isles invariably remark on the special quality of the light, the depth and texture of the colors. It's as if the landscape were made by an artist laying on translucent glazes with a knife. The sounds—lambs bleating, a lark's song—seem similarly layered. The buzz of an insect catches the ear as surely as the sharp squeal of a seabird.

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