The 4th annual Highland Games kicked off fittingly on Friday, honoring Scottish history with a whisky tasting at the Hampton Inn in Laurinburg.
Lead by Laurinburg’s Ray Bowen, the event sold out with 35 of the $25 tickets being purchased in advance.
Bowen, who also helped organize the event, introduced each of the seven bottles of whisky available for tasting. Complimentary food catered by Jerry’s Deli was also served along with samples from each bottle.
“The whisky tasting is something that people had been talking about for a while, but no one actually took on the project until now,” Bowen said.
“We would have been happy to have 15 tickets sold, and when we went over 25 we were golden,” Bowen said, optimistic that the whisky tasting will now become a Highland Games staple.
Joining Bowen in coordinating the tasting was local Noran Sanford, who wore a kilt as he served drinks to attendees.
“We are excited to bring the whisky tasting to the Highland Games for the first time,” Sanford said. According to Sanford, a strength of the tasting is the passion of those who chose to participate.
“We had local folks who were proud of their drink choices and that fits well with the spirit of the Highland Games.”
So passionate are feelings about whisky that Sanford joked that “you can argue politics and you can argue religion, but you can’t argue single malt.”
Visiting the Highland Games from Hobe Sound, Florida, Joe and Ann Phillips attended the whisky tasting after having made it to each of the first three Highland Games in Scotland County.
“The Highland Games are a lot of fun, and we especially like the games — but we also like Scotch, so we hope (the whisky tasting) will return next year,” Ann Phillips said.
The Phillips family first learned of the Highland Games after attending a similar event at Grandfather Mountain.
“And we have lots of family in this area,” she said.
Local judges Bill McIlwain and John Horne each presented a single malt of their choice to the assembly, taking the time to describe the flavors and history of their chosen drinks.
The Highland Games grounds will officially open at 8 a.m. today, with athletic competition and solo piping, drumming and highland dance set to start at 9 a.m.
At 11 a.m. the opening ceremonies will commence featuring massed pipe bands, followed at noon by the opening of the Celtic entertainment stage.
Scottish games and activities will take place throughout the day and the pipe band competition will begin at 1:30 p.m.
The day time fun will conclude with a 4:30 closing ceremony and awards presentation. At 7:30 p.m. the Highland Games ceilidh will take place at the St. Andrews University Belk Center.
Sunday will see the weekend finish up with the Kirkin’ of the Tartans worship service at Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, which was founded by the Scottish Highlanders in 1797.