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Machrihanish clubhouse fire

How the Machrihanish fire brought a community together

The blaze that destroyed the clubhouse at the historic Scottish club is revealing the best elements in human nature, writes club golf editor Steve Carroll
 

Unless you’ve taken the remarkable drive down the Kintyre Peninsula to Machrihanish, you’ll have little idea of how remote the village is.

It’s not much more than a single street and the golf club is at the absolute heart of it.

You come to this distant south-west extremity of the Scottish mainland for two reasons – to sample the incredible beach and to tee it up.

Machrihanish is a four-hour drive from Glasgow, first north to Loch Lomond and then south and west. Alternatively, it’s a boat from Troon, on the Ayrshire coast, to Arran and then another one to Campbeltown.

Old Tom Morris laid out 18 holes in 1879 at Machrihanish and ever since the course has been a must-play for any discerning fan of links golf.

The opening tee shot, which requires players to hit across the beach to the fairway beyond, is regarded as one of the best in the world.

Golf is central to village life and brings a constant stream of visitors. It’s why the fire that has completely destroyed Machrihanish’s clubhouse has resulted in such an outpouring of goodwill from all corners.

But the loss of the building has not just robbed the members of their long-cherished sanctuary. It also cost a family their home.

Club steward Iain McLean, wife Agnes and daughter Kirsten live above the club and, when firefighters were unable to save the building, they lost everything.

Iain has been a club employee for a long time, while Agnes is a special assistant at Campbeltown Grammar School and is also well known for her work with charity the CGS4Gambia.

Their sudden plight shocked the entire community and so when family friend Fiona Nelson set up a crowdfunding project on JustGiving something uplifting started to happen.

The response was rapid and heart-warming.

Within two hours, a stream of donations already had already raised £2,000 towards an initial £10,000 target to give the family some quick aid.

“Everything is gone,” Fiona wrote in her plea for donations. “We can only imagine how devastated they feel. We cannot replace all their precious memories, but we can help them get back on their feet with the basics.

“They will need clothes, toiletries, electrics, computer etc just to start. Please help, there is never a good time for a disaster like this, but it is even harder to cope with as Christmas approaches.”

The momentum has only surged as the hours have passed. At the time of writing, more than £8,000 has been collected. The appeal isn’t even a day old.

“They are a lovely family. In Agnes’ words she just said she’d burst,” Fiona told NCG, when asked how the fire had impacted on the McLeans and why she had started the appeal.

“They are bit like everybody else. They are so shocked that they don’t know what to think, say or do. Agnes is a person who is very tearful anyway.

“She cries at happy movies and cries at sad movies so I think with everyone’s kindness she has just been a bubbling wreck.

“Luckily, there’s a holiday home opposite the golf club and Agnes has always looked after it for the people that own it. They are staying in that just now but it’s rented out over the New Year period.

“It must really be quite hard because she’s staying there and looking at the burned building. It can’t be easy.”

That the appeal is taking off so quickly should be no surprise to those who know the village and the golf club well.

For the McLeans the trauma is just beginning. They are going to have to find somewhere to live, furnish, and try to find some normality.

But you suspect with the help of everyone around them, at the golf club and in the surrounding area, they are going to have every chance to do that.

“The golf club is the hub of that area,” Fiona added. “It’s where people go to meet up for a drink, for something to eat. Everybody knows everybody.

“Very quickly (after the fire started), the local support was there to help with some basics. The local Co-op were feeding the firemen. They sent food round for Agnes and the family and people dropped off toiletries and clothing.

“Agnes has been blown away by everyone’s kindness. The phone has never stopped and the messages have never stopped. She has got a couple of friends at Campbeltown who are answering messages as quickly as they possibly can for her.

“Whole workforces have got together and had a whip round this morning and popped it up onto the JustGiving page.

“I know there is a big quiz night planned locally for January 12 and people are saying ‘start donating raffle prizes and we’ll have a big quiz and raise funds as well that way’.

“There is an awful lot of support locally. When things like this happen, they are horrible but it just proves what a community they have got around them.”

You can donate to Fiona’s appeal and help the McLeans by visiting her JustGiving page.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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