It was a golfing challenge to beat all others when three men teamed up to raise money for a cancer cure – and now it has involved a quick round in Fair Isle, as well.
Amateur golfers Alan McPherson, from East Linton, Craig Watson of Carnoustie and Penicuik man Stuart Fleming joined up to raise £10,000 for Cancer Research UK.
But raising the money has been something of a tall order for the avid sporting enthusiasts. The trio have pledged to play every golf course in Scotland.
They were already in Shetland in 2011, when they played at Whalsay, Dale and Asta.
But while the Scottish Golf Union recognises 597 courses north of the border, the men have set themselves the task of playing smaller courses – including those with fewer than nine holes.
That takes the tally up to 648. It also gave them the excuse to visit Shetland again.
The men landed back at Sumburgh Airport earlier this month. They played a quick nine-hole game at the Knab before hopping over to Fair Isle to play the Lighthouse Keeper’s course.
That course was restored in 2008 by island resident, American Tommy Hyndman, who just happened to be interviewed by TV presenter Paul Murton for an episode of Murton’s <i>Grand Tours of Scotland</i>, which is planned to go on air this autumn.
Mr McPherson is a retired civil servant whose work involved Calmac and, latterly, NorthLink ferries.
He admits to being a latecomer to the group. But as he was already filling in his spare time on as many courses as possible after stepping down from his job, he was keen to take up the challenge.
“The two lads, Craig and Stuart, had been personally affected by illnesses and deaths in their families.
“They had started it all off. I retired in January 2010. I just decided when I retired I would play all the remaining courses, because at that time I had played over 200.
“It was just a question of when and how am I going to do it. By coincidence, Craig had been my auditor in work, because he worked for Audit Scotland. He and I were talking one day and I said I was going to do this and he said, ‘well, why don’t you join us, because we’re already doing it for charity.'”
So, did the Fair Isle course live up to their expectations?
“It’s a tremendous little course. I’m really impressed by what he [Mr Hyndman] has done there. It takes a lot to turn an ambition into a reality.
“There’s one outstanding hole, which is the sixth. If you took that hole and shoved it on a top-class links course it wouldn’t look out of place.
“It’s 170-odd yards. The green is about 20 feet wide, and it sits on a rock promontory with 70 or 80-odd feet of cliffs on either side of it. You either hit it, or you lose your ball.”
He added, somewhat proudly: “I got a par.”
It is believed the men were the first visitors to the island who had come specifically to play golf.
With over 500 courses now under his belt, Mr McPherson is somewhat ahead of his two companions, who began from scratch when they started the challenge in July 2009.
Doing so has helped the men raise around £4,000 so far. Mr McPherson said the long-term nature of the task meant it was important to pick up donations as the men went along.
“You might remember for the next six months that you were talking to some nutter about golf, but if I come back to you in five years time and say, ‘you owe me a tenner,’ you’re going to ask, ‘who are you, again?’
Playing absolutely every golf course in the country could have a serious impact on your marriage, but Mr McPherson insisted his wife Polly – herself a ladies captain at the couple’s local club in North Berwick – was no so-called golf-widow.
“She’s quite happy for me to get out of her hair and go away and play a couple of courses.”
The problem with playing every course in Scotland is that not all of them are open to the public. Mr McPherson admitted they had needed to persuade some very influential people to let them on their land.
“What we’re trying to do is play absolutely everywhere. Anything that’s got a fixed tee, a green, and serves the purposes of golf.
“There are people we know – they are millionaires, basically – and they’ve got their own private golf courses at the bottom of their gardens. We’ve been in touch with them and said, ‘it’s a course, we’d like to play it, and we promise not to take up too much of your time’.
“As far as we know one guy has claimed to have played every nine and eighteen golf course. He reckons there are 611 of them. But he doesn’t feel it’s a golf course if it’s only a three-par course, or if it’s got less than nine holes. That’s just completely arbitrary. We just think, you wouldn’t have gone and played the Lightkeeper’s course, and you wouldn’t have seen what there is in Fair Isle.”