Book Review
“The Auld Sod” by Dave Edson
by Jim Pasero

When a banker asks you to read a book he’s written, your first reaction has got to be … uh oh, this could be pretty boring.

And worse, when that banker happens to be the president of a bank and his book is a novel … egads.

But, once in awhile there’s a banker who can write. Dave Edson, president of Umpqua Bank and author of “The Auld Sod,” is that banker. His novel is more than just a golf novel — it’s part golf, part travel log, and part history of the British Isles. And Edson weaves the pieces together in a very readable way.

But back to the banker.

In between Edson’s retirement as president of Idaho’s Bank of America in 2000 and his current job as president of Umpqua Bank, this Nebraska native and his wife made a two- month trip of a lifetime to golf’s home, the British Isles. During those eight weeks, Edson kept a journal of the sights, sounds, characters, and moral tales he found in his pilgrimage. The journal would be the basis of his novel.

Once home, Edson, who minored in English literature in college and lists his favorite authors and poets as James, Thackeray, Yeats, Hemingway, and even Jane Austen, believed he’d found the rudiments of a novel, where life’s passions and betrayals are played out against the romance and backdrop of competitive amateur golf, as it was played in the 1920s and early ’30s. In Edson’s romantic tale, life is brutal and golf is its civilizing force.

Edson is not alone in his belief that golf is this civilizing force. Arnold Palmer told BrainstormNW in May 2005, “It would be nice with all the problems and conflicts throughout the world to bring golf into those countries having these problems. Iraq, Arabia and Pakistan are now interested in golf. The more golf gets started in these places, the more influence golf will have on their political leaders. We can have our conflicts on the golf course. Sure you can say introducing golf into conflict areas is just scratching the surface, but scratching the surface is where you have to start.”

Edson’s novel is told mostly through the memories of three friends and competitors: Angus Mackenzie, a Scotsman; Collier Ames, an Englishman; and Mick Callahan, a citizen of Northern Ireland. The three travel by train across Ulster, across the Republic of Ireland to Lahinch to attend the funeral of their Irish friend, Riley O’Neill.

By the time of O’Neill’s funeral in 1975, the four share strong bonds and have discovered an even deeper relationship. But that’s not the way their story starts in 1921. When Irish-tempered Riley O’Neill is defeated on the 40th hole of the British Isles Cup by Collier Ames, he reacts to the Englishman’s incessant political taunts:

Standing in the center of the fourth green, the impetuous little Irishman became airborne to compensate for his eight inch height disadvantage and landed a sweeping right hook to Ames’ jaw, crumpling him to his knees like a heron whose spindly legs had failed. He was poised to lay Ames out with a left cross, when Sir Thomas Forgan raced onto the green and intercepted Riley’s punch mid-flight. By the time Angus reached his side, Riley was being unceremoniously ushered from the grounds.

Score one for the Fenns over the Prods.

American golf legend Bobby Jones makes a brief appearance in a match against O’Neill. Throughout the 1920s, O’Neill and Ames compete in amateur golf, while O’Neill and Mackenzie fight for the novel’s love interest, London’s Sarah Shiells. Woven through both conflicts and driving both plots is O’Neill’s involvement with the IRA. But O’Neill mellows with age, which allows the final plot resolution, much in the way Northern Ireland and the British government eventually reconcile with the Republic of Ireland.

Plot construction is the great challenge of first novels — how to keep the plot moving so readers stay engaged. Edson’s mathematical mind may have helped because he book is divisible into four sections named after four Old Tom Morris designed courses: Muirfield, St. Andrews, Royal County Down, and Lahinch. Each of the four sections hold nine chapters — 36 in all, precisely the number of holes O’Neill and Ames play in their epic British Isle Cup matches.

Finding out that your banker can also pen a pleasurable story is something like discovering an overlooked savings account, with compounded interest.

BrainstormNW - August 2007

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