Colin Byrne: Farewell Mac and thanks for the memories
Value of life should have been put before the amusement of a golf tournament
Caddie Ian McGregor: “Farewell Mac . . . You left too soon but touched the tour with your raconteuring and camaraderie.”
Santo da Serra, 2,000 feet above sea level on terrain that would challenge the most balanced of goats, was where one of the European Tour’s veteran caddies, Iain McGregor, passed away, seemingly peacefully heading up the ninth fairway during this year’s final round of the Madeira Islands Open.
We have all joked about a certain venue potentially being our last one due to the severity of the inclines on the course and the Madeira track is pretty high up on the physical assault course list. There are two great challenges at the Madeira venue; the taxi ride up the mountain driven by impatient drivers, who seem to include hair-raising overtaking as part of the fare. If you are not shaken by the scary ascent then the trek around the mountain, with the golf course on top of it, is sure to leave you gasping in a different way than the taxi ride itself.
After a traditional week of low, dense clouds and mountain mist delays, the tournament looked like it was going to reach a conclusion without further delay on Sunday albeit with half the amount of holes that should have been played. It had been reduced to a 36-hole event.
Iain was heading up the ninth fairway towards the top of the mountain with Alistair Forsyth’s bag on his back when he collapsed and died, the cause is still not clear. I suppose despite the sadness that we all feel for Mac’s passing at such a young age – he was only 52 – it was, perhaps, a fitting way for a club Sherpa to take his final step very much in the thick of what had become his life for the past couple of decades. Left school Iain joined the army when he left school in what was his native Rhodesia and developed a reputation for being fearless and capable of survival in the bush for long periods of time unarmed. He left the army and moved to South Africa where he became a cabinet maker of bespoke furniture. He was a good amateur golfer and like so many of his fellow southern African colleagues decided to use his golf knowledge as a way out of Africa and towards a new life in Europe.
I first met Mac in the late 1990s in south west France, where a number of us spent an enjoyable week together in a farmhouse while working at the French Open in Bordeaux. Mac introduced me to bobotie, a southern African dish which he presented to us on the night it was his turn to cook. With evocative tales of Africa and the bush, there was no doubt about his affinity with wildlife and survival.
There was a different sort of wildlife in the European caddie-shack where survival was a very useful tool.
Although Europe was a whole new way of life for Mac, he embraced his new departure with the enthusiasm of a bright-eyed teenager. How he and his fellow countrymen dealt with what was happening in his native Zimbabwe was always something I marvelled at. Despite many Europeans now becoming economic refugees, having lost the opportunity to earn a living in their native land, the Zimbabweans all but lost their country and naturally their livelihoods.
They seemed to take the loss so well and rarely expressed any bitterness at the demise of their homeland. There were a number of middle-aged men from Zimbabwe who had reached the end in their land of birth and when most were settling into a comfortable stage of their lives, they were forced to take economic refuge elsewhere. Better future When Mac established himself on the European Tour, I remember him starting the quest to get his daughter out of Africa and give her some hope of a better future in Europe. He carried a worn old photo of his “pikinin” in his wallet and cherished his short calls back home to her in Zimbabwe. She obviously developed her father’s sense of wanderlust as she has recently qualified to be an ocean-going yacht captain.
Slowly you could see how Mac became more comfortable with the strange new world of Europe and he began to embrace his new life. He gained confidence as a caddie and thrived in trying to shave a shot off his player’s score. With his slightly uncompromising nature he was very much part of the decision-making process with his player. He was old school, never letting his player give up, he was a straight talker who was really as tough as an old bushman.
We are all aware of who the stars are in our relatively small little travelling golfing circus. None of us caddies, when we reflect carefully, expect the same treatment as our golfing bosses. Despite the lack of precedent in our much-loved Mac suffering a fatal attack in Madeira with the bag on his back, our humanity should have prevailed. The value of life should have been put before the amusement of a golf tournament. My own guess is that if a similar fate had befallen a player, the show rightly would have stopped.
Farewell Mac and thanks for the tales of Africa over braii’s, beers and bordeaux. You left too soon but touched the tour with your raconteuring and camaraderie.